“Consider the Apostles of Jesus. Even within the small church of Christ, Judas was found. He was one sent out to preach, teach, heal, and exorcise. Yet, he was filled with the devil and willing to play the role of an antichrist. Judas was a counterfeit Christian who remained undercover and quite comfortable in the church of Jesus Christ.”
What’s wrong with the church? Why do its members fall short in expressing love, encouragement, and forgiveness to one another? Why does culture seems to influence the church more than the church influences her surrounding culture? Why are there so many broken families within her walls? Why is there so little purity within her pews? If the church is God’s Kingdom on Earth, why does it looks so weak and rancid at times?
Here is the problem. Within every church counterfeit Christians can be found. And unless they are noted, addressed, transformed, or evicted, the entire assembly will soon wreak with their devilish odor.
Consider the Apostles of Jesus. Even within the small church of Christ, Judas was found. He was one sent out to preach, teach, heal, and exorcise. Yet, he was filled with the devil and willing to play the role of an antichrist. Judas was a counterfeit Christian who remained undercover and quite comfortable in the church of Jesus Christ.
This was not odd, for Jesus told his disciples to expect such counterfeit Christians within their congregations, He called such fraudulent believers “tares” amongst the “wheat” or “goats” amongst the “sheep.” In certain sermons, Jesus referred to these Judas-like disciples as “fruitless branches” that needed to be severed from the tree and cast into the fire. Such men and women were quite often proficient in visible ministry, but in the end Jesus promised to out them and declare, “Depart from me, I know you not.”
Paul described counterfeit Christians as leaven in the dough. Personally, he was troubled by such, and he knew his friends in Corinth had such ecclesiastical difficulties. He commanded his followers to identify, confront, and seek the reformation of such fraudulent brothers and sisters. He also commanded, lest they repent, they should be excommunicated so the whole church would not be ruined by such devilish influences.
Then there are the words of John:
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. (1 John 2:7-20)
John understood many counterfeit Christians were found on the rolls of his church. There were many “dark ones” who were walking about in the community of light. There were many who “hated their brothers” but promised to pursue the peace of the church. There were many “without love” proclaiming themselves to be members in good standing. There were many “worldly” and “fleshly”individuals who promised to promote and pursue holiness. In the assembly, many were found who were “disinterested in the will of God” but most interested in the salvation he offered. Such individuals claimed to be Christ-followers, but in reality they were “antichirsts.” And in John’s church, there were many of them with many more to follow. Such men looked the part and played the role, but John says, “they were not of us.” They were charlatans, frauds, pretenders, or counterfeit Christians, and they were dangerous to themselves and to others.
So how does one know whether or not they are a fraud waiting to come out of the closet? How does one recognize the factual Christian from the fictitious? How do we look at ourselves, our friends, and our family and know all is well with our souls?
Pastor John helps us in chapter three of his letter:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But 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. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Children of God find themselves a bit estranged from the world. John puts it as follows, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” Later he says, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” Try as we might to be charitable and winsome, there is something about our Gospel that is deeply disturbing to those in the neighborhood.
Secondly, true Children of God make progress in looking like Jesus. He is the Savior, Lord, and Role-Model of those being shaped in his holy image. Here are John’s words, “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure … By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God” Converted believers find themselves practicing sin far more than they desire, but they do not find themselves willing to consistently practice sin. Christians are worshipers who strive to “keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”
Finally, agape-love for the brotherhood is a distinguishing mark of a true believer. Cain was a fraud; he was willing to take out his brother when it suited his interests. In Jesus’ church, Judas is the great example. This Apostle harmed his brothers by stealing, offended a female worshiper by being legalistic and overbearing, and he participated in the murder of the Son of God by betraying him with a kiss. Judas had love for a movement; he also loved the idea of the Kingdom of God; but he had not agape-love for Jesus, the Twelve, his neighbors, and his enemies.
Therefore friends, as the Christmas season transitions to the New Year, much of the hope, love, joy, peace, tranquility, fellowship, kindness, and adoration of the babe in the manger will go away. Jesus will become a thing of the past. Do we know why? It is because many were counterfeit Christians for a month. For the holiday season, most pretended to have the mind and attitude of Christ. He was a big deal, but with the coming of the new year, their true colors are coming out. For one month, most in the world were Judases in the Kingdom of God.
But enough about them; what about you, your church, and your family. Are we the real deal? Are we struggling believers or counterfeit believers; they are not the same. If you, like me, are struggling to be less worldly, more holy, and more loving, then we can rest in the undeserved grace of Jesus Christ. He loved us as sinners. He loves us despite our sin today. And he will finish his good work in us; he promised. However, if we find ourselves interested in Christ, Christmas, and his Church, but find ourselves passionately in love with the world, persistently practicing sin, and refusing to show agape-love to those in the family of God, then we are a counterfeit Christians who will some day come out of the closet.
So let us preach the Gospel faithfully regardless of our worldly popularity.
Let us seek to please our Savior by pursuing holiness. Let us keep his commandments regarding our thoughts, attitudes, words, and deeds.
And let us make progress in the Fruit of the Spirit — especially agape-love. Let us love one another so much that we confront our brothers and sisters with the truths found in God’s Word. Let us not allow them to walk in sin without our seeking out their welfare. In addition, when brothers and sisters leave the fold, let us seek them out. Let us rescue those who are wandering and lost. Then, when they return and confess, let us quickly forgive as did the father of the Prodigal Son. And let us then respond to the love of Christ by loving the hurting in word and in deed. According to Pastor John, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” All those in Christ are filled with the Holy Spirit. And all those with the Holy Spirit are fruited by agape-love.
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog, and is used with permission.