It is interesting that the Bible clearly indicates that people who claim to be believers will unfortunately be cast from His presence into hell (Matthew 7:21-23). This raises a very important question about faith: how can a person of “faith” go to hell? Or, how can believers who serve the Lord still be condemned?
Some might argue the reason is because people ultimately will be judged according to their works. While it is true that works are a sign of genuine salvation, works cannot earn one a place in heaven. If that is true, then what is the answer?
The answer lies in Jesus’ response to those who claim to know Him, and who seek to offer their spiritual resume to Jesus. He responds by telling them, “I never knew you; depart from me you who practice lawlessness.”
Notice first, that when they face Jesus in judgment, they demonstrate that they, themselves do not know Jesus by virtue of the fact that they have to tell Jesus what they have been doing in His name. On the one hand that is an admission that they too do not know Jesus relationally. One only brings a resume to give to someone who is not familiar with you. People who know you do not need a resume to explain your accomplishments. How would your parents respond if you gave them a resume from you? First they would most likely laugh; then they may assume you want them to proof read it so that they can weigh their experience of you against your presentation of yourself. In other words, they would see if you have been honest about yourself. On the other hand, this is evidence that people are not judged by their works. Jesus gives little regard for what they have done. His only concern is that they are strangers to Him. He does not let strangers into His Father’s house.
Second, notice that they make a very real claim to having knowledge of Jesus despite the fact they do not know Him. When they approach Him they say, “Lord, Lord…” In other words, they are laying claim to a form of knowledge. Since it is established that they do not have relational knowledge of Jesus, it must follow that they have intellectual knowledge only.
In the book of James the half-brother of Jesus makes a very important statement: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). The statement is really a rhetorical question. The quote, “You believe God is one” is a reference to Deuteronomy 6:4-9. That section of the Bible is known by Jews as the Shema. These verses represent the entirety of the Jewish faith in their belief in God. In a sense it is the case that this one section of the Bible represents the entire content of the faith. So James, as a Jewish believer in the Messiah is asking this important question: You believe in the entirety of the faith that has been handed down to us from above, including the advent of the Messiah as the Lord Jesus Christ. Good! So, if that is true how is your belief any different than that of demons?
Ouch. Good question, but it hits right between the eyes. Demons have an intellectual knowledge of Jesus and God. They “know” God in that sense. But they also hate God. In a sense, however, they are “believers.” It is a true statement to say that, “Satan and demons believe in God.” So do a lot of people. And there will be a lot of people who believe in God that end up in the same destination as Satan and his demons – hell! But, neither the demons who James refers too, nor the people whom Jesus speaks with, have a relational knowledge of Jesus. They only know about Jesus, they have never experienced his person as a loving Savior who has graciously saved them from the destruction that awaits Satan and his servants. Belief in God does not save a person from damnation. This text proves that. This text also demonstrates that good words do not save a person either. An impressive resume does not get reviewed at judgment. It gets thrown into the trash can. No entrance!
Salvation comes only through faith. Faith is more than intellectual belief; it is also complete trust. If you trust in Jesus you must believe that He is real; but if you believe you don’t necessarily have to trust Him. You can believe on Him from a distance – an intellectual, abstract distance. You can even learn everything there is to know about Him. But if you have all that knowledge and do not know him relationally then you will be cast from God’s presence.
So how can you know Him relationally? You must believe that He is real, and then act on that belief by calling to Him as your savior and trusting that He will deliver you from judgment (Romans 10:9-13). I trust my car will take me to work. I trust the airplane when I have to fly on a trip. To trust Jesus means you put your life into his hands and expect that He will deliver you where He promised, heaven (John 14:1-6). Trust entails belief, but is so much more than belief.
When we demonstrate our trust by calling to Him in prayer, He promises that He will send His Holy Spirit to enter your life personally (relationally) and seal you for salvation eternally (John 3:3, Eph 1:13-14).