I always marvel when I read the part where Jesus says:

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ Matthew 7:21-23

In my earlier walk with Jesus I took it to mean that the Christians who were not as serious about God as me would have a ghastly surprise waiting for them. I now realize that at the time I thought this way, I was possibly one of the many who would have heard those words had it not been for the grace of God.

I just sat with my family tonight and we chatted about the Garden of Eden as an illustration of shame and guilt. I have one particular child that will bend the truth at times lately and once called on it, will duck in pure shame. It made me want to hug this child and convince her that she can overcome it right now and it will be gone as if it never happened. However, I know that she beats herself up instead of confessing truth and feeling free, she will often hide in the shame and anxiety.

So many Christians, myself included, will set standards of what we see as godly and feel a sense of satisfaction when we make the standard. However, we are just as likely to beat ourselves up and feel so guilty when we fall short of that standard. In the past, I would often emulate the leaders over me as best as possible (which is just fine depending on your motivation) and set that as the standard for myself. I would beat myself up terribly when I fell short of these man-made expectations and only learn to meet them again versus gain a deeper understanding of the grace God had for my life. I had to read a certain amount of Bible each day, pray a certain amount of minutes or hours, memorize a certain amount of scripture, write so many songs in a given time, etc. I lived this way for so long that at some point in time, I forgot why I even wanted to live this way.

My life was based on shame and guilt, the kind that Adam and Eve experienced and pursued in the Garden. I felt shackled to an ideal which in retrospect was purposeless because it was devoid of a true relationship with Jesus and based on a system of penance. If you have ever traveled the world, especially in the Middle East, India, South East Asia, you can witness the religions of the world that set standards of holiness that are impossible to meet. Millions of people constantly falling to their lofty ideals, living in a dark and depressive state that they hope will break into great hope. Christians can often live the same way! We go to church, pay our tithes, serve like crazy, do our devotions, raise our families as godly as possible, but within these life choices there must be the choice to partake of the tree of life versus the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (I will call it TKGE from now on for the sake of hand cramp)

The TKGE is a choice to live a life of the victim which hurts you and others around you, it causes you to hide in shame, cover yourself and run from blessing and freedom. The tree of life is a choice to live a life of innocence and freedom. Here is an example: Brad volunteers as a lifegroup leader at his church and he decides to lead a marriage group. Gary at the same time decides to lead a marriage group as well. Brad and his wife do date night every week without fail, do most of the Top 10 Happy Couple stuff and most would say have a good marriage. Gary and his wife do date night every week without fail, do most of the Top 10 Happy Couple stuff and most would say have a good marriage.

Brad and his wife have the group at their house and begin the time with their testimony and share what they believe the secret to their marriage is and have some books for everyone that they believe will change everyone’s marriage. Gary and his wife have the group at a coffee shop hoping the group will grow and they open up with questions for the other couples and listen to all the testimonies of the group and then hand out a book they believe will help with their time together as group regarding marriage. Brad and his wife, discuss the evening and remark over how many seemed to just not get it after a few weeks and how their group is shrinking. They keep saying to each other, “we have the answer to their marriages if they would just listen and change”. Gary and his wife marvel over the diversity of their group and they purposely find a common thread in all the godly marriages, after a few weeks the marriages that really need help come for help not just to Gary and his wife but to the other strong couples as well. The group grows so fast that they need to split up to make it a personal and engaging.

You see the difference between the two groups of leaders? It is subtle in real life, from the outside they both look the same and seem to have a similar goal in mind. The Brad group is the TKGE group while the Gary group is the tree of life group. My intention was not to teach anyone how to lead a small group but take any advice you may from it. My intention is to point out that our motivation should always be out of love for one another, out of care and concern. So many times we mask our desire to bring a critical spirit or judgement as CARE and CONCERN. Jesus was the pure picture of the tree of life, and in Matthew 5 we learn so much about real relationship with Jesus.

I believe that who Jesus was talking about in Matthew 7:21-23 is the one who lives by the TKGE and not shallow Christians as some would like to believe. He is referring to the religious, shame based person who goes to church but has never been free. Never mistake personal holiness as a license to bring shame on the masses around you. Let us turn away from the TKGE and partake of the fruit of the tree of life. We can be free, free indeed!