The most terrifying words any professing Christian could ever hear would be the irreversible words of our Lord Jesus Christ, "Depart from Me, I never knew you" (Mat. 7:23). Tragically, Jesus will turn away "many" who call Him Lord on judgment day. They are people who may have been loyal to their denomination, who did mighty works and prophesied in His name, yet they will be unqualified to enter into heaven (Mat. 7:21-23). The phrase "Depart from Me" is the final sentence to hell as noted when Jesus uses it again in Mat. 25:41. He declares: "Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." You would think this unexpected and horrifying judgment would cause Christians to wonder who these people are and, if in fact, they could be one of them. Some would dismiss any idea that the warning applies to them because they know they believe in Jesus. But how do they know their faith is genuine?
James describes two kinds of faith in his epistle. He contrasts a living, genuine faith that justifies with a dead, spurious faith that gives only a false hope. James is warning professing Christians, whose faith is barren and unfruitful, that they are foolish if they don't recognize their faith is dead and useless (Jas. 2:17, 20). Only genuine faith bears fruit. Faith without works is the faith of the devils, mere intellectual assent without repentance. When James says, "show me your faith," he is asking for evidence of their new life in Christ (Jas. 2:18). Since faith is invisible, it cannot be seen by other men. Likewise, no one can see a gusting wind, but they can see its effects. True faith is vindicated by those who are "doers of the word and not merely hearers" (Jas. 1:22). That is why James said: "I will show you my faith by my works" (Jas. 2:18).
James is in harmony with our Lord Jesus who said those who bear fruit prove to be His disciples (Jn. 15:8). They are the branches that abide in Christ, the Vine. A professing Christian who bears no fruit is separated from Christ (John 15:6). The Lord's illustration makes a distinction between true and false converts, those who bear fruit and those who do not. The fruit reveals whether one is in Christ or separated from Christ. Fruit that glorifies God is the evidence of an abiding, living faith in Christ Jesus. True justifying faith will be evidenced by works and obedience to God's Word. Those abiding in the Vine will live to glorify God while turning from "lawlessness" (Mat. 7:23; John 15:4-8).
What did Jesus mean when He said, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness"? Clearly, He is omniscient and knows everyone. However, He does not know everyone in the sense of having an abiding, intimate, covenantal relationship with them as His disciples. This is similar to those who say they know Jesus, but do not know Him in a relational, experiential way. They may know that He was a historical person and even believe some facts about what He did, but they may not be personally involved with Him or experience Him in an intimate bond of love. It was for this reason, Paul said, "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:8).
Just as no one will know they are deceived until they are confronted with the truth, no one will know they are a false convert until they experience true conversion. May I lovingly invite you to examine yourself today and test your faith to see if it is genuine (2 Cor. 13:5). If you are truly saved by God's grace, it will give you further assurance of salvation. However, if you fail the tests that are given in James 2 and 1 John, trust the objective Word of God and not your subjective profession of faith. We have several links and resources available if you would like to study this important issue further. You can listen to the broadcast interview I did with my pastor, Jesse Barrington, on False Converts and Biblical Assurance. We also offer a DVD message on False Converts in the Church. If you would like to know how to help people examine their faith, listen to this message given by Jesse Barrington on "Walking Others through Biblical Assurance."