Is This All Just an Illusion?

During a youth weekend retreat when I was in the 7th grade, some friends and I were attempting to stay up all night and found ourselves at 2 or 3 in the morning with flashlights on reading the middle chapters of the Book of Revelation. We read about tattoos, dragons, bowls, and all kinds of other things. For most of us, it was the first time we had read this Book of the Bible, and we were terrified. But I suppose that was the point for all of us.

And though I’ve grown up at least a little since then, there are still some scary texts in the Bible. But not scary in the sense that it was that night so many years ago; in some ways, even more so. And I think there is no more terrifying text in all of Scripture than what we find in Matthew 7 straight from the Lord Jesus Himself:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matt. 7:21-23).

Now there’s a text that will make you take a second look at your life. What’s truly disturbing is the sense of absolute and complete surprise you find in these people. It never, until that very moment, entered their minds that they might be unknown to Jesus. They had lived – possibly for years, or even decades, under the delusion that they were safe. Secure. True servants of Jesus.

If Jesus said what He meant and meant what He said, then it’s not only possible but a certain reality that there will be people among us now that will go to their grave convinced they are eternally safe only to find out they had lived their entire lives in eternal danger. This is indeed a terrifying prospect.

So how do we know if our faith is real? The Bible gives us the answer:

What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself (James 2:14-17).

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How do we know our faith is real? It’s by a changed life exhibiting good works. To be clear, it is not these works that save us; not at all. It is that these good external works show the reality of what has happened on the inside of us. If our faith is real, then our lives will show us.

But wait – doesn’t that contradict what Jesus was saying in the above passage? After all, the people in those verses were doing what seemed to be great things for God, weren’t they?

Apparently, despite the things the people in Matthew 7 were doing, they were not only lawbreakers; they were also not doing the will of the Father. What, then, is the will of the Father? Well Jesus tells us the answer to that very plainly:

“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).

With that, we have a firm progression, and also the answer to our initial question: The will of God is that we believe. Those who truly believe will have their lives changed. A changed life results in visible fruit. And that visible fruit is how we know if our faith is real.

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This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.

Michael Kelley
Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is director of Discipleship at LifeWay Christian Resources and the author of Growing Down: Unlearning the Patterns of Adulthood that Keep Us from Jesus.