I heard it again last week. I was talking with a friend about someone he knew. I asked whether that person was a believer–a follower of Jesus. His answer was, “mostly no”. I asked what that meant and he explained that this person had been exposed to so many people who claimed to be Christian (particularly church leaders) but behaved in a distinctly worldly manner that he had just decided it must all be garbage.
I have heard variations of this from people my whole Christian life. In fact, I said very similar things before coming to the Lord myself, and after giving myself to the King, refused for a year to have anything to do with “churches” (today’s term: organized religion) because of what I saw in the lives of the leaders and members of those churches.
Of course, there are explanations for this. The two most common are:
- Jesus came to seek and save the lost, so why would it surprise us when we see “lost” people behaving badly?
- Even after conversion, none of us is without sin (see 1 John). We aren’t totally perfected until the resurrection. So, again, why does it surprise us when someone who says they are Christian sins?
Both of these are true. But Jesus came to seek and save us–not to leave us the way we were. Throughout the New Testament, it is made clear that repentance (change of mind and behavior) are the marks of a true disciple–someone who is saved by Jesus. Yes, we will sin. But we will not sin habitually. We will not embrace and practice sin. John makes it clear that anyone who claims to know Jesus but practices sin is a liar and isn’t part of the body of Christ at all. He wrote: The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:4, NASU.) This is only one of many passages that make this clear. But it should be understood that John is NOT saying no Christian sins. The verb (“keep”) in this passage is present tense. It means someone who continues to do something. It is often translated “practice”, which gives a better sense of what John is saying. He isn’t implying that anyone who ever sins after conversion isn’t really Christian (He wrote 1 John 1:9 to Christians). He is saying that Christians don’t practice sin, they practice righteousness.
So, it is understandable that individual Christians who are immature would be seen as hypocrites when they sin. But in fact, they are simply people who used to practice sin and are now practicing righteousness. They aren’t perfect at it yet, but they are committed to practicing it.
That said, what about those who have been Christians long enough to have at least made some changes? What about those who are leaders–supposedly mature Christians–who are clearly of the world? What about those who continue to practice sin?
The fact is, the church has many imposters. They aren’t, and probably never have been, Christians. Jesus warned us that not everyone who calls Him Lord will inherit the Kingdom, but only those who practice the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21). In Matthew 25 He told us that what we know as the church is made up of sheep (Christians) and goats (imposters), and he told us the difference can be seen in their behavior. He told us that the road to destruction was broad and would be by far the most popular one, while the road to salvation was narrow, and few would find it (Matthew 7:13-14). I am often told this is “works righteousness”, but I am quoting the King Himself. It isn’t that we are saved by these behaviors, but that these behaviors are the marks of those who have come to know the King.
True faith produces change in us, but imposters say they believe without changing.
Jesus made these statements so that people would be warned. We get to choose whether we are a sheep or a goat. We have been warned to choose the right path, but that requires repentance, and not loving this world. That is hard. That is rare.
American Christians–real Christians, not the imposters–have to realize that the imposters are, knowingly or not, sabotaging our mission. We are stationed here to share the gospel and help people be reconciled to God. But when those people have been watching the imposters all their lives, they don’t believe the gospel. When they see people the world–and even the church–identify as Christians practicing immorality, bigotry, greed, vengeance, violence and other marks of the world, they believe Christianity is false. They don’t know or accept that these are imposters–largely because we in the body of Christ are slow to label them as such, and to disavow their behavior.
It is time for American Christians to see this and be honest about it. We can welcome anyone into our gatherings for worship, but let us be real about who is a follower of the King and who is not. Let us hold leaders accountable, and only put people in church leadership who meet Biblical requirements (yes, this assumes we know what those are!). Let us not allow public figures whose lives show the practice of sin to pretend to be Christian without challenging them. Let us stop listening to the false teachers in and out of the pulpit who tell us we can pick and choose which of the King’s commands to obey. Let us not tell people that the Christian life requires nothing from them when Jesus said it requires everything! Let us call out the imposters, and let the world know by our lives that they do not speak for us, or represent us.
Which leads me to the question I believe the King was wanting us to ask when He said the things I quoted above. Am I an imposter? If I am not, I will not accept the world’s values. I will not commit myself to a worldly kingdom. I will not practice the world’s values of greed, immorality, bigotry, hatred, bitterness, vengeance, etc. Whether I am white, black, brown, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander or a mix of the above, I practice righteousness, regardless of who tells me I should do something else. I do not get caught up in worldly movements because I know I was sent here to represent our King to the world, not be part of it. I will say this again: White Christians, Black Christians, Brown Christians, Asian Christians, Native American Christians–all of us–have no business being caught up in worldly movements. If we practice the values of our King, we will be the light that allows such movements to see what they can be. If we simply join the movement, we become part of the world again.
I am not saying we have to be perfect. I am saying we are known by what we practice–what we do consistently. We are to consistently obey our King, our occasional failures notwithstanding. If I do not do this, by definition, I am not Christian. I am an imposter.
I don’t want to be an imposter. Do you?
Know Jesus and Be Faithful Brothers and Sisters!