Dr. Jim Denison
Some criminals need to be in jail for their own protection.
For instance, I read this week about a man who attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street. However, the confused criminal plugged his hose into the motor home’s sewage tank by mistake. The owner declined to press charges, as the man had already been punished enough.
45-year-old Amy Brasher was arrested recently in San Antonio, Texas, after a mechanic found 18 packages of marijuana in the engine compartment of her car. She had brought the car in for an oil change, and didn’t realize the mechanic would have to raise the hood to change the oil.
Then there were the counterfeiters who sent their jammed printer for service. Trouble was, they left in place the counterfeit bills which jammed the press. They’re now awaiting trial as well.
With the new scanners and printers, counterfeit money is more a problem than ever before. And fakes exist in other areas of life as well. Fake antiques; knock-off watches and jewelry; pirated DVDs and identity theft abound. But the earliest counterfeit operation in history is still the deadliest: fake faith.
Satan wants you to reject God and his word entirely. If you won’t do that, he’ll try to get you to substitute a fake for the genuine article. If he can’t make you bad by refusing the right things, he’ll make you busy about the wrong things.
He doesn’t mind if you are passionate about the wrong faith. In fact, he’s rather amused by such deception. This week we’ll encounter one of the most practical issues in all of Christianity: the difference between full and fake faith, and why it all matters so much to you.
Religious activity (vs. 16-17)
There are three ways we know everything we know–the pragmatic, the intuitive, and the rational. Most of us are pragmatic about most of life. We use cell phones and drive cars, not because we understand them, but because they work.
One way to counterfeit Jesus is purely pragmatic: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (v. 16).
“What you eat or drink” refers to acts of worship in their culture. The Lord’s Supper and all-church fellowships come the closest in ours.
“Or with regard to a religious festival”–Jewish celebrations like Passover and Pentecost, Christmas and Easter to us.
“Or a Sabbath day”–the synagogue worship on the Sabbath, or its equivalent to the Gnostics. Sunday church to us. “Stop letting people judge you” by these things.
But why? It just makes practical sense that activity proves relationship.
You prove that you’re a member of the Dallas Women’s Club by attending events and supporting programs. You prove you’re a Republican or Democrat by how you vote, not what you say.
Years ago, Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca stepped onto an elevator. A man gushed, “I love your commercials.” Iacocca snapped, “I don’t care what you think about my commercials. What kind of car do you drive?” Activity proves relationship.
Except that it doesn’t. As Paul warns, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (v. 17).
Every real thing casts its shadow. Love for my wife casts its shadow in the things I do because I love her. But I can do them for someone I hate as well. Love for my church motivates me to preach, teach, and write. But I can do these things for my sake rather than God’s or yours.
Religious activity is but a shadow, and a shadow can be cast by anything, good or bad.
How does this counterfeit Jesus tempt us today? Church services, Sunday school attendance, singing in the choir, serving on committees, all the usual things. If they are an end rather than a means to an end, they’re counterfeit. If you think you are right with God just because you came to church, you’re mistaken.
Standing in a bank lobby doesn’t prove that I know the bank president, or that I even have a relationship with that bank. Augustine said that the church has some that God hasn’t, and God has some that the church hasn’t. Religious activity is no guarantee of real Christianity. Our culture is convinced that going to church makes us Christians. Don’t be fooled.
Religious experience (vs. 18-19)
Others of us are more intuitive than pragmatic. We discover truth by how it feels to us, how we experience it personally. Satan has a counterfeit Jesus for this person as well.
“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize” (v. 18a). “False humility” in their spiritual lives and activities related to fasting, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines. “The worship of angels”–the worship angels give and invite us to join, “angelic worship.” Worship in its highest expression.
Feeling equals relationship. Except that such experience can “puff us up with idle notions,” making us think we are closer to God than we are. If I’m so moved by worship, I must be right with the Lord. If I have been moved by prayer, I must be right with the One to whom we pray.
Such fake faith disconnects the body from the head, focusing on what we experience rather than the One we experience.
So don’t base your faith on your feelings. I questioned my salvation for more than a year because I didn’t feel anything when I trusted Christ. Only later did I realize that the Bible nowhere tells us how it feels to become a Christian, or to worship, or to witness, or to be obedient to God’s will. Feelings are the caboose at the end of the train, not the engine driving it.
And don’t base your worship on your feelings. If you came to church for feelings you came for the wrong reason. If you came to be inspired or uplifted, you came for the result rather than the Cause. When you focus on the experience rather than the God who gives it, you lose both.