21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
(3 Nephi 14:21-23, Matthew 7:21-23)
Jesus values authenticity. Yesterday, I wrote about the dangers of hypocrisy—of trying to look like a good person instead of making the greater effort required to actually be a good person. Today, as I’m pondering the passage above, I’m learning more about that topic.
One characteristic of a hypocrite is a disconnect between their words and their actions. They say all of the right things, but their works don’t match their words. Immediately before this passage, the Savior warns his listeners against false prophets who speak well but who make wrongful decisions. “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” He says.
When the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820, the Savior’s answer to his question reinforced this same principle. Fourteen-year-old Joseph lived in western New York, in what has been called the “burned-over district” during the Second Great Awakening. Preachers from different Christian denominations flooded his community and members of the community aligned themselves with each of those denominations. Joseph’s question was simple: Which of these churches was right? Which one should he join?
He was already bothered by the hypocrisy he had observed among the leaders and members of these churches:
For notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions (Joseph Smith—History 1:6).
After considerable thought, Joseph concluded that he was unable to answer this question on his own, and that he would need to take his question directly to God. In a grove of trees near his home, he was visited by God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. In response to Joseph’s question, the Savior instructed him to join none of these churches, then explained why with a combination of three biblical passages:
They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). (See Isaiah 29:13, Mark 7:7, and 2 Timothy 3:5.)
The main point, in my mind, is that words are insufficient for true discipleship. The Savior needs disciples whose actions match their words. When He says in the passage above, “I never knew you,” I think He is saying, “The person you are claiming to be isn’t the real you. I don’t recognize the person you are describing.”
Of course we all fall short; we fail to fully live up to the standards we set for ourselves, which is why repentance is the second principle of the gospel. (See Articles of Faith 1:4). But a disciple of Jesus Christ makes a genuine effort to practice what they preach and to reduce the gap between their words and their actions over time.
Today, I will strive to live in a way that is consistent with the principles I teach. I will remember that discipleship is about action, not just about words, and that a disconnect between my actions and my words is unsatisfactory. I will strive to be authentic.