This excerpt from the beginning of today’s gospel reading (Mt 7:21-29) is the first scripture I turn to when countering the “once saved, always saved” proposition of some Christians. The gospels, especially Matthew, are replete with commands from Jesus on the requirements (not options) of living out the Faith. Accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior is necessary, but our commitment cannot stop there.
Puzzling here, though, is that Jesus acknowledges that even those who prophesy, exorcise, and do mighty deeds in Jesus’ name after calling out “Lord, Lord” may not be saved and are “evildoers.”
The question that immediately arose for me was: How is this reconciled with another passage that states: John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.” (Mk 9:38-39; see also Lk 9:49-50)?
Upon personal reflection, it seems that Jesus, in Matthew, is warning that even doing great things in His name, without living out the gospel in one’s own life, provides no guarantee of being in, or remaining in, friendship with God. This is borne out by Jesus seemingly lumping such folks as described here in with the “false prophets” he describes in the paragraph just before this one (starting in v. 15). Some commentaries I consulted bear this out, build on it, and add other insights.
Acts versus disposition:
The point is that religious confession is no substitute for a personal relationship with Jesus and the obligation to obey his Father’s will. If our creed and our conduct are out of alignment, then our profession of Jesus as Lord is not a true submission to his lordship. The mere fact that believers can perform miracles in Jesus’ name, which is the exercise of charismatic grace, is not proof that sanctifying grace has penetrated their lives or brought them closer to Christ. (Edward Sri and Curtis Mitch, The Gospel of Matthew, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010], 121)
Expounding on these charismatic gifts:
These charismatic graces are…not conclusive evidence of one’s personal sanctity or membership in the family of God. (Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Gospel of Matthew, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible [San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000], 30)
What we do not want Jesus to judge:
I have ratified your words because they were true and of benefit to others; but as regards yourselves, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity.” (Alfred Durand, S.J., The Word of Salvation: The Gospel According to Matthew [Milwaukee: Bruce, 1957], 131)
Fr. John Hardon’s definition expands on this understanding of charisms:
Literally “gifts of grace” (charismata), described by St. Paul as gratuitous blessings of an extraordinary and transitory nature conferred directly for the good of others. Indirectly they may also benefit the one who possesses the charisms, but their immediate purpose is for the spiritual welfare of the Christian community. (Emphasis added)
So, whether we perform ordinary or extraordinary good works, our attitude must be not one of “Look what I have done!” but “Look what Jesus has done through me!” That is, humility must be operative, not pride. And living out what we profess, as the exorcist in Mark must have been doing.