It’s true, there’s as much counterfeit Christianity in the world as anything else—fake money, fake love, fake promises, fake smiles, or whatever else you could name. So how can we tell when we’re dealing with the real thing?
Even though it’s not possible to know for sure in every case (we aren’t the final judges of such things), nevertheless there are some telltale signs that usually make things clear if you get close enough. A little careful inspection can make all the difference.
Real Christianity always has Jesus at the center of it. If Jesus is just an attachment, rather than the core issue, then you can be sure it’s fake. And, of course, it has to be the New Testament Jesus we’re talking about, not some homemade Jesus. There are plenty of those on the market, and we need to be ready to spot them.
Briefly, the New Testament Jesus looks like this:
He is the eternal Son of God who came from the Father (the Creator) to earth, was born into the human family, lived a sinless life, lived out his perfect life for us (then gave us the credit for it), paid the total price for our sins, was raised from the dead physically, and is now at the right hand of the Father ruling over the world. At the end, he will come to wrap up all history, root out every last trace of evil from the world, and with the Father recreates the New Heaven and New Earth as our eternal home.
In the meantime, without Jesus we can do nothing of consequence in the world. He is with his church every moment to bless and empower. And it’s never Jesus plus something or someone else. It’s he who prepares us, matures us, keeps us, and makes sure we end up where we need to go.
The fake Jesus looks like this: He isn’t really the only divine Son of God; what he does for us is nice and helpful, but isn’t sufficient for our maturity or salvation; his Spirit (but not his physical body) rose from the tomb on Easter morning. He’s our moral example to follow, but without our personal efforts and good works his sacrifice by itself isn’t enough to save us.
The fake Jesus can facilitate our spiritual growth, but doesn’t and can’t do it himself. Without us (and our best efforts) he can do nothing. Unless we do our essential part by getting involved in programs and using ancient techniques for increasing our spirituality, we’ll never experience the required personal transformation.
There’s more to say. Real Christianity, the kind that’s gone the distance for the last two thousand years, is based on the Bible and its authority. It’s not the Bible plus something (church tradition, the recorded experiences of saints, religious gurus, spiritual guides, and mystics), but the Bible as final authority for faith and practice.
Since the Bible provides the reliable narrative for the history of the family of faith, so it continues to nurture Christians in their faith and understanding. Therefore, it’s essential that it be read regularly and understood on an adult level. Where the Bible has been ignored or laid aside for other things and authorities, believers invariably go astray and are seduced by false gods, false faiths, and bogus spiritual leaders.
Real Christianity needs a real church in which to thrive. The real church can be very diverse and can take on many shapes, but it must have the essentials: Jesus Christ is central—the only way to God, the biblical Gospel is preached and believed, prayer is constant, worship is vibrant and God-focused, fellowship is loving, and sacrificial service is evident to the world. With these things firmly in place the church has a chance to make a difference.