Be Before You Do

This is part 1 of 4 of a series where Pastor Taylor will share about 4 guiding principles that shape the mission, vision, values, and key convictions of Cross Community Church.

I’ll never forget the empty, sinking feeling. 12 weeks earlier, I had started a journey. While attending a ministry conference in Minnesota, we were given a customized journal that would help us hand write the entire book of Romans. The project was intended to help us internalize Scripture, forcing us to slow down as we read, comprehended, and put pen to paper. After a few days, I was hooked. I had experienced a season just a few months before where my daily Scripture reading felt dry, forced, and mundane, but now it felt as if I was revitalized. Each morning I woke up, eager to hand scribe the next section and excited about this newly forming habit.

After a few weeks, however, I started to realize something: I really wasn’t enjoying what I was doing at all. What felt new, fresh, and exciting just a few weeks ago was already starting to feel empty, forced, and stagnant. But I was determined. Whether it’s a movie, a book, or a project, my stubbornness does not allow me to stop until it’s complete. This was no different. So, for the next several weeks, I woke up and plugged away. I wasn’t about to leave this journal unfinished. Finally, it came to a close. But what followed was not a sense of satisfaction. It was not a joyful celebration or humble sense of accomplishment. It was a crippling and heartbreaking realization.

I had totally missed the point. 

What originated for me as a holy desire to become more fully immersed in God’s word and to deepen my intimacy with and knowledge of my Creator turned into an impersonal, lifeless exercise for my own glory. I had even imagined conversations I would have with people where they would learn that I had hand-written an entire book of the Bible and praise me for my noble accomplishment.  And they would learn, indeed. But not as a testimony to my humble devotion. It would be shared as a monument to my arrogant pride.

In Matthew 7, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes, perhaps, one of the most chilling and gripping statements of his entire ministry. After exhorting his listeners to be on guard for false teachers, he says:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
— Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

This is a pretty impressive resume. As a matter of fact, when I compare it to my own, it leaves me feeling extraordinarily inadequate. Both personally and corporately, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to experience many awestruck moments in my life as a Christ follower, but, to my knowledge, I’ve never cast out any demons. Can’t say that my “mighty works” category is exactly stellar, either. So you can imagine how inferior I felt when I learned that this person in Matthew 7—with all of his prophesying and demon slaying and mighty working—was rejected by God. 

I would be hard-pressed to find a more sober warning to followers of Christ than Matthew 7:21-23. It’s a passage that should make us stop dead in our tracks every time we read its warning. Because if there’s one thing Jesus wants to make plainly clear in this passage, it’s this: you can check all of the right boxes—go to worship on Sunday, pray and read scripture for 2 hours every morning, memorize the Bible in its entirety, give 10% or more of your income, go on overseas mission trips, volunteer within your church, or, in my case, hand-write the entire book of Romans—and totally miss the point. 

It is not the one with the most impressive resume, Jesus says, who will inherit the kingdom of God, but “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  This, then, desperately begs the question: What is the will of the Father? What can I DO to ensure that I don’t mess this up and find myself, as this person, on the wrong end of God’s judgment?

Out of all of the crooked, self-centered reasons I had for completing my Romans project, one stands clear above the rest. There were moments when I would convince myself that, by finishing this project, I would somehow earn God’s favor in such a way that he owed me. Subconsciously, I believed there could be a moment when I would, like the person in Matthew 7, stare the omnipotent ruler of the universe in the face, read off my impressive spiritual resume, and essentially say, “Look at everything I did. What would you have done without me?”

In Luke 10, we see a vivid picture of what happens when God’s people are granted the supernatural ability to do far more than keep a glorified diary for a few months. Jesus had commissioned 72 of His followers to go to surrounding areas and preach the Gospel and he granted them authority over—just like the guy in Matthew 7—demons. Here’s what happened when they came back from their mission:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
— Luke 10:17-20 ESV

Did you catch that? Don’t rejoice in your power. Don’t rejoice in your ability. Don’t rejoice in your resume. Don’t rejoice in the fact that people are talking about how awesome you and your church are and that they’re quoting you on social media and wearing your t-shirt and giving you book deals and speaking engagements. Rejoice in this, and this alone:

The God of glory knows your name

What, according to Jesus, should be the foundation of our desire to make the name of Christ known? It is the unfathomable joy of knowing that Christ knows my name

This truth is difficult for us to grasp because we live in a performance-based culture. In my own life and within the life of many of our churches, we get so focused on the doing that we neglect the being. We become so consumed with the task that we neglect, step over, or step ON the very people we’re called to serve. Our spiritual disciplines, instead of being the faucet by which God dispenses the water of life, become dry, weary lands of begrudging submission and legalistic duty.

This is why the Apostle Paul, who was the greatest Christian missionary who has ever lived and wrote a significant portion of the New Testament of Scripture, could not even fathom bragging about a single one of his extraordinary personal accomplishments in light of the greatest work of all. Which is why he says in Galatians 6:14: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

You and I must confront a difficult reality: in the last day, every moment where we’ve paid lip service to God but were internally seeking our own glory will be laid bare and exposed. It will be revealed that the things we said were “for His name” were, in reality, for our name. 

Our activity does not equal our identity. Our being is not the sum of our doing. In God’s economy, our doing is the result and fruit of our being. We don’t work for God’s approval, we work from God’s approval. And it’s not just a semantic game. It’s the difference between “well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master” and “Depart from me, I never knew you, you worker of lawlessness.”

Fight the urge to believe that all of your goodness and personal performance puts God in your debt. Refuse to value people based only on the gifts and abilities they have to offer you. Burn to the ground the Kingdom of self that has been established on a desire for the world to know your name. 

Every “look at what I did” of my personal resume collapses in the echo of “it is finished” from the cross. Because God knows our name, we are free from needing our name to be known and free to make His name known above all others without needing the praise or approval of anyone else. 

When we stand before God at the end of our lives, don’t let your response be “look at everything I did for you.” Instead, with tears of joy and gratitude, rejoice that the God of glory knows your name, point to the blood-soaked sacrifice of Jesus, and cry out: “look at what Christ has done for me!”