There is a crisis in the church today that most people are unaware of. That crisis is that of counterfeit Christians. These are people who may go to church on a regular basis, they tithe, they may even serve in positions of leadership or be teachers and preachers in the church, but they are not really saved. How is this possible? Because the “father of lies” is busy convincing people that they are really saved when they are not.
2 Corinthians 11:14-15 says, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” Satan deceives people through false religious systems, and false and heretical teachings and teachers that call themselves Christians. Many people think they are saved, but instead are trapped in a counterfeit religion or a counterfeit form of Christianity. Many trust in their own conception of salvation born of many years of inadequate teaching but they are actually damned to an eternity in hell.
To be deceived about the true nature of your relationship to God is the most frightening deception of all. Jesus speaks to this in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”
God’s word constantly calls on us to examine our faith. Psalm 17:3 says, “You have tried my heart; You have visited me by night; You have tested me and You find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.” Psalm 26:1-2 says, “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, And I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart.” Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:40, “Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the LORD.” Ezekiel 18:28 says, “Because he considered and turned away from all his transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” Haggai 1:5, 7 says, “Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways!’…Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways!’”
In the New Testament there are near constant calls for us to evaluate, to examine our salvation. In Matthew 3:8 John the Baptist said that the genuinely saved are to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” In Acts 26:20 as Paul is speaking before King Agrippa he said, “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” In Galatians 6:4 Paul wrote, “But each one must examine himself…” In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul calls on Christians to examine themselves, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?”
Included in and the inevitable result of genuine saving faith is good works. Christ redeemed the church for this reason. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Titus 2:11-12 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” When the writer of Hebrews illustrates the essence of saving faith, he shows us the obedience of all those Old Testament saints in Hebrews 11.
No passage more clearly presents the tests of true and saving faith than the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gives us a series of tests that He used to reveal how short of genuine salvation the Scribes and Pharisees were. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus unmasks the false religion, hypocrisy, and counterfeit salvation of many people.
In Matthew 5:3-12 He shows us the attitudes that accompany genuine salvation: meekness, mercy, joy in persecution, humility, a sense of sinfulness, and a deep longing for righteousness. In Matthew 5:13-16, He reveals the outworking of the Beatitudes in the lives of the genuinely saved. He says that we are to be salt and light in a dark world. We are to be influencers for righteousness.
In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus reveals that the truly saved have a genuine commitment to the Word of God. In Matthew 5:21-48, He reveals that righteous behavior stems from the internal righteousness of the heart. In Matthew 6:19-34, we see what our attitudes toward money and possessions is to be if we are genuinely saved. In Matthew 7:1-12 He shows us how are relationships are to be if we are really saved.
Jesus concludes the sermon by describing the two different paths there are in life. The narrow path and the wide path. Most people are on the wide path that leads to destruction. In Matthew 7:15-20 He warns us against false teachers and prophets. He ends the sermon with the eternal consequences of an empty profession of faith.
James was profoundly influenced by the Sermon on the Mount. James probably heard these teachings from his half-brother Jesus. He may have been in the crowd that day as Jesus preached. The book of James then is a practical commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. James presents to his readers, a series of tests to see if we are genuinely saved.
Over the next few weeks, and who knows maybe even months, we are going to see what those tests are. My prayer is that each of us will follow the command of Scripture and examine our lives to see if we are really saved.