The Scariest Thing Jesus Ever Said

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The following is a modified excerpt from Scott Sauls’s latest book, Irresistible Faith.
Used by permission from Thomas Nelson.


For some, the Bible is a comfort. For others, it is a disruption.

Through the Bible, God heals with reassuring words of forgiveness, kindness and welcome. Also through the Bible, God pierces with warnings meant to stir us toward repentance, restoration and peace.

Jesus, the center of the biblical story, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable; he gives grace to the humble and opposes the proud; he is kind to shame-filled prostitutes and fierce with self-filled Pharisees; he gives special attention to the poor and denounces those who ignore the poor.

One of the most disturbing things, and perhaps the scariest thing, that Jesus ever said is that at the last judgment many will say to him, “Lord, Lord,” and he will respond, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matt. 7:21–23). He will also say the following:

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. … Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matt. 25:41–45).

These words should jolt us, especially because they will be spoken to church folk—people who spent their lives attending church and reading their Bibles and giving their money and praying their prayers and getting their theology right and even preaching sermons and writing Christian books. And yet, like the ancient church at Laodicea, though they will have built reputations for being spiritually alive, Jesus will expose them as naked, poor, wretched and blind (Rev. 3:14–22).

James, the half brother of Jesus and leader of the church at Jerusalem, linked genuine faith with an active concern for the poor. He wrote, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15–16).

James answered his own question, saying, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Earlier in his letter, James said, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).

Both Jesus and James are putting a spotlight on our inclination to replace Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. We replace his call with a self-serving path in which we deny our neighbors, take up our comforts and follow our dreams. When we do this, we exchange true faith for a counterfeit. We exchange irresistible faith with a way of thinking, believing and living that God himself will resist. Why is this so? Because demonstrating active concern for our neighbors—especially those whom Jesus calls “the least of these”—is an inseparable aspect of a true, Godward faith.

The apostle John, who was probably Jesus’ closest friend on earth, gave a similar warning: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17–18).

One of my predecessors at Christ Presbyterian Church, Dr. Charles McGowan, says that our doctrine—that is, our stated scriptural beliefs about God, ourselves, our neighbor and the world—is the “skeleton” of our faith. Our doctrinal skeleton is a foundational, necessary structure around which the muscles, tendons, veins and vital organs of faith must operate and grow. In other words, our doctrinal beliefs provide the foundation for our Scripture reading, listening to sound teaching, prayer, spiritual friendship, involvement in a local church, observance of the sacraments and active love for our neighbors, including those most disadvantaged.

Yet as with the human body, so with faith: If the doctrinal skeleton is the only thing or even the main thing people can see when they look at our faith, it means either our faith is malnourished and sick, or it is dead.

Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

And a dead faith, like a dead corpse, is the furthest thing from irresistible.


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5 responses to “The Scariest Thing Jesus Ever Said”

  1. Debbie Ball says:

    I am taught every time I read your message. It is a fresh perspective on timeless truth. God bless your continued work for His kingdom

  2. Patrick McClarty says:

    Great word, may it be so in my life. A problem I have is when I read something like this I find myself under great condemnation. I have to know in my spirit from the Holy Spirit that I must abide by the words written here, but not fall under condemnation if I feel I am not doing enough. I desire works for the gospel, but has to be by God’s mercy and grace, and not something I pressure myself to do to attain proof of my salvation or that I am a so-to-speak dedicated Christian.

    • scottsauls says:

      Dear Patrick, as I say here also to Renee, the very fact that you are asking questions like this (ones of humble self-examination) are a good indicator that you are most certainly NOT at risk of being among the “never knew you” crowd. Press on in the assurance of his grace!

  3. Rene Gutteridge says:

    Echoing Patrick. I don’t know what is enough. How many and how much? I can’t ever find the balance of living in freedom and without condemnation. I give to the poor. But do I give enough? These words scare me every time I read them and I respond to them in fear and trembling, hoping I am not deceiving myself into thinking I am serving God when I am not. Thank you for tackling the tough topics, Scott. Praying for clarity in my own life.

    • scottsauls says:

      Dear Renee, the very fact that you are asking questions like this (ones of humble self-examination) are a good indicator that you are most certainly NOT at risk of being among the “never knew you” crowd. Press on in the assurance of his grace!

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