I’ve shared a few times on this blog (one of them just last week) that I find the “I never knew you” passage one of the most terrifying in scripture. That might seem like an odd place to start out a post about building a relationship with God, but that’s where we’re going to begin. Here it is:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into 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 expel demons in your name, and perform many miracles in your name?’ And then I will say to them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt. 7:21-23, LEB)
This makes it sound like you can be doing all the things you think are right and good, but still not have a relationship with Jesus. It’s not enough to say, “I know Him.” He has to know you, too.
Thankfully, we’re not left in the dark about how to be known by God. One key is found right here in the verses we just looked at: we need to do the Father’s will and not practice lawlessness. There are also other scriptures that talk about who the Lord knows, and we’re going to look at some today.
Humility, Obedience, and Awe
As I study through verses that talk about people the Lord knows a pattern emerges. Being known by God is connected with how we respond to Him and to His word.
Yahweh says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build to me? Where will I rest? For my hand has made all these things, and so all these things came to be,” says Yahweh: “but to this man will I look, even to he who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.” (Is. 66:1-2, WEB)
This is a perfect companion scripture to the one in Matthew 7 because both point out that the important thing isn’t what we try to do for God. The important thing is how we respond to God (or Yahweh, to use His personal name).
Yahweh seeks people who respond to Him with humility, obedience, and awe. If we tremble at His word, then we’re going to take what He says seriously. If we’re poor and contrite in our spirits, we’ll respect that He knows better than us and do as He says. These attitudes are key to being a person who does the will of the Father in heaven.
Righteousness In Spirit and Heart
It might come as a surprise to those who teach the Law is done away with that people will be denied entry to God’s kingdom for practicing lawlessness. You’ll also see this phrase translated “work iniquity,” but the Greek word anomia (G458) mean the condition of being without law through ignorance or violation (Thayers).
Righteousness cannot come by following the law (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:21). However, those who are righteous because they’ve been saved by grace will respond by following Yahweh’s laws. Righteousness stands as an opposite to lawlessness (2 Cor. 6:14) because those who are righteous by faith keep God’s commands from the heart (Matt. 19:16-17; Rom. 2:13; 6:19).
However, the solid foundation of God stands firm, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Everyone who names the name of the Lord must abstain from unrighteousness.” (2 Tim. 2:19, LEB)
Christ came to fill the law to the fullest extent, not to abolish it (Matt. 5:17-20). In some ways, what’s expected from us today is more than was expected from ancient Israel because Yahweh wants obedience on a heart and spirit level. It’s not enough to avoid committing murder — you shouldn’t even get angry enough to hate someone. Not cheating on your spouse isn’t enough — it’s also unrighteousness to lust after someone else (Matt. 5:21-28).
Thankfully, God gives grace when we repent and change so sins that would have incurred a death penalty under the Old Covenant (as a general rule, though King David, for example, was not executed after committing both adultery and murder) can be forgiven in the New Covenant. Still, if we want to be known by God we need to make righteousness our goal and our habit.
Be Vulnerable With God
In a human relationship, we know it’s important that we listen to, be there for, and open up with the other person. The same is true of relationship with God. We need to let Him in when He knocks on the door of our hearts. He wants a back-and-forth exchange and time spent getting to know each other as you live together (Rev. 3:20; John 14:23).
I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and I’m known by my own … My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:14, 27, WEB)
This relationship has to go both ways. Even though God is all-knowing and all-powerful, He still wants invited into your life. He’s waiting to hear, “Search me, God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts” (Ps. 139:23, WEB). Being known by God requires that we want Him in our lives and demonstrate that want through our actions.
Yahweh is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knows those who take refuge in him. (Nahum 1:7, WEB)
One way of letting God know you is to turn to Him whenever you need anything. Always saying, “I can handle it myself” isn’t a good way to let someone get close to you. We have to be vulnerable and let ourselves rely on God if we want to be known by Him.
Maintain This Priceless Relationship
Brethren, all the actions of righteousness are of no value without a relationship with God. The actions will happen if you know God and He knows you (righteousness given by faith), but without that core relationship our deeds mean nothing (righteousness you try to get by law). This real, intimate relationship is so important that Paul says all the things He gave up to follow Christ are like dung compared to what he gained.
… and may be found in him, not having my righteousness which is from the law, but which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God on the basis of faith, so that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:9-11. LEB)
If you keep reading, Paul talks about pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” as he works toward being in the kingdom of God (v. 12-14). We need to maintain our priceless relationship with the Father and Son if we hope to be in their kingdom as part of their family.
God wants to see a certain response from us to His word, His presence, and His invitation to follow Him. When we respond with humility, obedience, awe, vulnerability, and the pursuit of spiritual righteousness, we can truly build a relationship with Him. Let us all strive to be people whom Christ can look at and say, “I know you.”