Treasury of Faith index
Watch Out For Counterfeits
by J. W. Jepson, D.Min
copyright � 1998 by J. W. Jepson
All rights reserved, including the right to grant the following permission and to prohibit the misuse thereof: The Author hereby grants permission to reproduce the text of this article, without changes or alterations*, as a ministry, but not for commercial or non-ministry purposes. *Permission is given for publication of excerpts and condensed versions.
(First published in The Pentecostal Evangel, February 6, 1977)
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Has anyone ever handed you counterfeit currency? Unless you examine your money with an educated eye, you probably don't know.
At one time or another many of us have accepted bogus "money" without realizing it. It claimed to be the real thing and so we innocently took it at face value and passed it on. Although counterfeit currency is harmful to the economy, we felt no immediate injury. It made no personal difference to us that we were aware of.
Such might be the case with counterfeit money, but counterfeit religion is a much more serious matter. Bogus beliefs can ruin a person forever.
Yet in our postmodern world we often hear such comments as: "All religions are the same. One is as good as another"; or, "All religions are good. There is good in all of them"; or, "It makes no difference what you believe as long as you are sincere"; or, "We make up our own truth. Decide what is true for you."
But is that really true? By analogy, one might ask, "How much is a phoney twenty dollar bill worth? Are the more realistic counterfeits worth more than the crude ones? Can we touch up the engraving on spurious money and raise its value? Can we take a candy wrapper and make it real money just by believing it is? If the person who gives away counterfeit one hundred dollar bills is a celebrity, does that make them real?
Of course not. No matter how much it is retouched, no matter who hands it to us, no matter what we believe about it--a counterfeit bill is still worthless.
Oh, we might use it as a bookmark. Or we might accumulate enough to paper the walls of our bedroom. What a shocker that would be to our friends--or to an agent of the Treasury Department!
Counterfeit money might even make its unsuspecting owner feel good. Nevertheless, it cannot do what it claims to do because it is not what it claims to be. It is a worthless misrepresentation of real value.
When it comes to money, we feel relatively safe in the knowledge that our government has agents working to enforce the laws against "homemade money." So we are reasonably sure that the currency we carry to the supermarket is the real thing.
Not so with religion. In our free society all religions and belief systems circulate freely so long as they stay within the law. Our government recognizes that the right of choice belongs to the people. There is no "Consumer Protection Agency" to safeguard us from something that can poison our minds and be fatal to our souls. The right of choice belongs to the people.
So does the responsibility, and what a responsibility it is! So "buyer beware." We dare not trifle with our souls. Truth is too important to take chances with it--and, yes, there is truth, "true truth," the real thing.
So for our eternal safety it is imperative that we recognize the marks of spiritual counterfeits. One of the closest associates of Jesus Christ and an eye-witness of His death and resurrection wrote, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1 NIV).
Counterfeiters aim at likeness, not difference. They copy, not create. They use the same words and pictures found on genuine currency. Their success depends on how closely their product resembles real money.
Counterfeit religion and spurious spirituality do the same thing. Their success depends on how much they can be made to resemble the truth. They uses the same words. They can even talk about Jesus; however, a close examination will reveal that it is not the real Jesus.
So how can we tell the false from the true? What are the marks of error and what similarities do we need to examine carefully? Watch for these telltale signs.
1. Recent origin.
God revealed the truth progressively over a period of time. It began in Genesis and was completed in Revelation. Also, God gave His Son when the right time came (Galatians 4:4).
By contrast, many cults claim that "truth" emerged with them. They say the truth was hidden until it was revealed in their system.
This does not mean that a religion or belief system is true merely because it is ancient. An old error is still an error. However, a common characteristic of counterfeit religion is its claim to be a modern revelation of some previously unknown or hidden "truth," something that had been kept secret until they came along.
2. A sacred book or sacred books.
God put the truth into a book. This is wise because writing is still the most permanent form of communication. The Bible has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt to be the word of God. It is a completed revelation. We are warned not to add to it or subtract from it (Revelation 22:18, 19).
Fabricated religion usually claims to have sacred writings other than the Bible. These writings might be accept instead of the Bible or in addition to it. In practice their authority is usually placed above the Bible. The net result is the subversion of the authority of the Bible.
3. An indispensable human leader.
One of the marks of a cult is a human leader who is indispensable to the movement. Usually he is the founder. His followers consider him to be the authoritative revealer of the cult's beliefs. He might come in Jesus' name claiming to be Christ himself.
We are solemnly warned to beware of such persons (Matthew 24:5, 24). There is only one crucified, risen, living Leader--only one Savior--Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). He alone is the Foundation of the Church (1 Corinthians 3:11).
4. An elite group.
The true Church is made up of all who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. They are God's own people (1 Peter 2:9, 10). This is the result of the grace of God and not personal spiritual superiority. God offers all the blessings and privileges of the gospel to everyone. Some accept and some reject. They who accept do so humbly, depending not on any merit or spiritual attainments of their own but only on God's grace.
By contrast, the followers of religious delusions usually claim to be a spiritual "elite." Heresy is never characterized by humility. On the contrary, its adherents usually claim unique knowledge that confers on them a superior spiritual status. This alleged esoteric "inner knowledge" creates the illusion of personal spiritual superiority. It is the effort to be saved by knowledge, not by grace through faith. Its hallmark is pride, not humility. It is a delusion.
5. Self salvation.
Jesus said that we will know the truth and the truth shall make us free (John 8:32). Any religious system, philosophy, or so-called "spirituality" that does not break the power of sin in the hearts of its adherents cannot be the truth. The truth sets people free from sin; counterfeits leave people bound by sin.
Counterfeits may give their followers a motivation for greater efforts at self-improvement or self-righteousness, but they cannot bring pardon for sin or freedom from sin. The true gospel of Jesus Christ emphasizes that we have sinned against a holy God. We cannot remove our own guilt and we cannot save ourselves. To be saved we must depend solely on what was done for us by Someone else--Jesus Christ.
Counterfeit religions and "spirituality" are notoriously "do-it-yourself" schemes. They aim at self-salvation. It might be by "good works," such as religious service and acts of charity. It might be by "actualization" of the inner self through Eastern meditation, personality development, attitude improvement, psychic and emotional experiences, and other egocentricities. In fact, one of the primary appeals of counterfeits is their self-effort angle. Many go for them because they leave one's pride intact. There is no humility, no confession of sin, no repentance. Self stays on the throne of the heart, feeling very spiritual.
The bottom line is this. If it does not face the problem of sin honestly and deal with it effectively; if it does not produce the morally liberating new birth; if it does not proclaim salvation in Jesus Christ alone; it is not the truth.
To be taken in by counterfeit religion or "spirituality" is a very serious matter. Heresies can bring the curse of God (Galatians 1:6 - 9). They can damn the soul (2 Peter 2:1).
If the bank refuses to accept someone's currency because it is counterfeit, that person has lost only some money. If God refuses to accept someone's "faith" or "spirituality" because it turns out to be counterfeit, that person has lost everything.
Is there a gnawing feeling down inside that something is wrong? Does your "faith" or "spirituality" leave your soul empty? Do you long truly to know God? With all your heart pray: "God, show me the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I want Jesus Christ to come into my heart and life and be my personal Savior and Lord."
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