Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does (poieo) the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform (poieo) many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice (ergazomai) lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)
But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.’ Matthew 7:23 (NLT)
I always wondered about this verse. How could doing such good things as prophesying, setting people free, and doing miracles be considered “lawlessness” or illegality, unrighteousness, even wickedness? Why wouldn’t that be the will of God? Aren’t we encouraged to do good works? Aren’t we even told that faith without works is dead (James 2:26)? The answer to these questions lies in the meanings of the two Greek words “poieo” and “ergazomai.”
Jesus said you must poieo the will of God, and they asked back, “Well, didn’t we poeio?” Jesus answered, “No, you ergazomai.” Jesus is getting to the motivations of the heart here. Poieo is a beautiful word that is the root of our English word “poem.” It means to do, to make a thing out of something, produce, bear, shoot forth, form, fashion, be the author of. But is also means to carry out, celebrate or keep, to make ready. It has a very creative, fruitful meaning. It is the same word as Acts 14:15, “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made (poieo) heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.” Poieo is the root of “poiema,” translated “workmanship” in Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are His workmanship” – or work of God as creator and author – literally product or fabric (this makes me think of a beautiful tapestry), God’s poem-story. And when we participate in God’s poieo, we “shoot forth” and bear fruit.
Ergazomai, on the other hand, means to “do business,” to work, labor, to trade, to make gains by trading, to work for, earn by working. It is not that doing these good things were wrong, it is that they were doing them for the wrong reason. They were “doing business” or making a trade with God, saying in effect, “See? I did all these wonderful things. Now you have to let me into heaven.” As Timothy Keller writes, “Careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God” … “You can avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws. If you do that, then you have ‘rights.’ God owes you answered prayers, and a good life, and a ticket to heaven when you die. You don’t need a Savior who pardons you by free grace, for you are your own Savior.”¹
“Evil most often occurs when you think you are doing good or when you trust yourself to be well-intentioned and therefore immune from wrong.”–Suzanne Guthrie
“When you trust yourself.” Jesus said to the many in the above verse, “I never knew you.” In other words, “You never took the time to know me and know my will. You never trusted me to write your story.”
Those doing their own good works were not participating in creating God’s great tapestry, or writing His great poem-story, of creation and redemption. They were creating their own work, writing their own story or autobiography. They didn’t trust God to write it; they wanted to be their own god. I like how the New Living Testament translates it – “the things you did were unauthorized.”
Are you allowing God to weave you into His great tapestry? Are you participating with God in writing His poem-story of creation, or, are you writing an unauthorized version?
The difference between an authorized biography and an unauthorized biography is that an authorized biography is written with the input and approval of the biographee and an unauthorized biography is not. It would seem that an unauthorized autobiography – the writing of your own life story – would be impossible, an oxymoron.
How can an autobiography, the writing of one’s own story, be unauthorized? Only if you are not your own, only if you have been bought with a price, only if you have died and Christ now lives in you. Then it is His story you are writing – or rather, He is writing in you. It may be a story of the journey from doubt to belief, as Thomas’ story (John 20:24-28). Or, a story of guilt, shame, and rejection to forgiveness and acceptance, as Mary Magdalene’s story (John 8:2-11; Luke 7:36-50). Or, a story of a turning from self-righteousness, hypocritical Pharisee-ism and distain of others to repentance, humility and the revelation of His amazing grace, as Paul’s story (Acts 9:1-19).
For we are His workmanship (poiema), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (NASB)
It’s not “doing business,” it’s walking with God, abiding in his Presence, so we can know his will – the good works prepared for us. It’s trusting him, that he knows what he is doing. The thing about a tapestry is that it can look pretty messy before it is finished. And if you let the Author write the story, you have to wait until it is done to know how it turns out. You might have to let him write you into some situations you would rather not be in, doing some good works you would rather not do. But he has prepared beforehand. He has already done what he is asking you to do.
I know this post is getting long, but I have to share about the amazing word translated “prepared” here. It comes from a word that means to send before kings on their journeys persons to level the roads and make them passable. It means to prepare the minds of men to receive the Messiah. It reminds me of Isaiah 40:3.
A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.”
Could it be that when I do the good works that God wants me to do I am participating in preparing the way for the King?!
Lord help me trust that you know what you are doing. Help me seek your will and the works you prepared beforehand for me, and only me, to do. Let me prepare the way for the King. Write me into your story!
Write me into Your story
Whisper it to me
And let me know I’m Yours–Rich Mullins
For I have come down from heaven, not to do (poieo) My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 6:38 (NASB)
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do (poieo) the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” John 4:34 (NASB)
Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do (poieo) what I say? Luke 6:46
¹ Timothy Keller, Prodigal God. New York: Dutton, 2008. p. 37
Image: Creation Tapestry, c. 1100. Embroidered in wool and linen on a wool background, 12’ x 15’ 8″. Currently in the Gerona Cathedral Treasury in Spain.