“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, you will recognize them by their fruits.” Mat 7:15-20
After church one day, I decided to take a break for a while and watch a little television. So, I went to the recorded TV on my DVR and watched one of my favorite programs, Walker Texas Ranger. Now, I know what many of you are thinking, WHY? How could this be one of your favorite programs? Well, Walker deals with positive moral issues, and is one of the few programs out there that has a truly positive take on Christianity and Christians in general. It is not perfect, but there is always a sense of closure with justice being served. And besides, I like to see the bad guy get his due.
The particular episode I watched focused on an Elvis impersonator who was competing with other impersonators to see who the best was at mimicking this deceased rock and roller. Now, I could go into celebrity worship, idolatry and the like, but this is not what I want to focus on. As I was watching these people perform in the guise of another rather than their own persona, I started thinking this is not just a fiction story being related on television, but there is truly a sub-culture that finds enjoyment and fulfillment in being someone they are not. There are many Elvis impersonators throughout the United States performing in large venues such as Las Vegas and Branson Missouri. And when the audiences of these shows see ‘Elvis’ on stage, they know they are watching an impersonator, and this makes it OK. No one is insisting they are the real Elvis Presley. However, there is a much more dangerous and sinister type of impersonation that causes many to be fooled, thinking they are seeing the real thing, when in reality they are viewing a performance by a charlatan. And these fakes are trying to convince us, and themselves, that they are the real deal.
There are two forms this deception takes. First, there are teachers who try to convince you their false gospel is the message Christ and the apostles presented. Paul wrote to Timothy, his protégé’, the following, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 2 Tim 4:3-4. You see this in the fact that many, not all, but many of the large churches are teaching heresy in the form of the prosperity gospel of Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar and others, and the self-esteem gospel of Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen as well as others. People want to believe they can get what they want if they only pray and believe. However, James said “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Jas 4:2-3. We are not promised that we will receive everything we want. But many so called preachers teach the contrary. Jesus said that we would know them by their fruits. So, what is the fruit of the prosperity gospel? Greed and the desire for the things of this world rather than the things of God. We have teachers within the prosperity movement driving Rolls Royce’s while many in their flock are struggling to just meet their monthly obligations. And they encourage their congregations that they too can be driving fancy cars and live in huge mansions if they would just have enough faith. And their followers believe them and focus their eyes on getting things from God rather than God Himself. What a shame, because their view of God is of a person who will give them what they want, rather than one who loves them and desires to spend time with them. Rotten fruit is all that comes from these charlatans.
Also, the world wants to know that they are basically good people, contrary to the prophet Isaiah who said, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Isa 64:6. Giving people the false notion that they are basically good leads them to believe they are in no danger. They might say, “I’m not so bad, so this message is not for me.” Or, “I don’t have much to change, because I am not that bad.” However, the reality is that we are to be conformed to Christ, which is perfection. Isaiah said our righteousness is as menstrual rags, which is the idea Isaiah put forth in the above verse. If that is our righteousness, what is our unrighteousness like? Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Moreover, these teachers also preach their own form of the prosperity gospel, which makes their message double dangerous. So, what is the fruit of the self-esteem movement? Contentment where they are, and a form of self-righteousness that can lead to lethargy and self-sufficiency.
Another dangerous teaching from the self-esteem gospel is that some sin is OK, for instance, homosexuality. There is a pastor in North Atlanta who admitted he is a homosexual, and that God has told Him that this is acceptable. And he has managed to convince the majority of his congregation that there is nothing wrong with this. Isaiah said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” Isa 5:20-21. God takes seriously His word and His reputation, and this man besmirched both.
The second form are people who believe they are Christians, but in reality they have never turned their lives over to Christ, making Him Lord. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.‘” Mat 7:21-23. This is due to the easy salvation that is filling the church today. All you have to do is say a prayer and you are now a Christian. Make Him Lord, not necessary. Give Him your all and become conformed to His image, an option. What a travesty. Paul said, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Rom 10:9-10. I think Paul mentioned here something about making Him Lord.
When we hear anyone promoting a gospel other than that which in the scriptures, the first thing we need to do is RUN, and as fast as we can. And in the process, warn others of this deception so that they also can escape. These teachers are either trying to deceive you for their own gain, or they are ignorant of the Word of God and have no business being in a leadership/teaching position. The Christian life is not about getting, getting, and more getting. It is about giving, giving and more giving. If God blesses you with things, great, but to seek after them and declaring that God wants everyone to get all they want is heretical. And if He does bless you in this manner, to simply hoard it and not help those in need is not what God had in mind. If we hear a teacher declaring that man is basically good, RUN. We are not basically good but evil. And the world needs to know that they are not OK, but they are lost and need Jesus as their Savior and Lord. He is not your Savior if He is not your Lord. And if you hear anyone say that what God has declared as sin is actually not a sin, RUN again. To make this statement, they are saying God is wrong. We are to believe everything God declares because He is truth. To deny this is apostasy. Be careful you do not fall prey to these Christian impersonators. Study the scriptures, know what they say. I was taught when attending bank teller training that the only way to know a counterfeit bill is to know intimately what the true bill looks like, all the nuances and peculiarities of each. The same is true of Christianity. We can only know what is false by understanding what is true. Dig into the scriptures. Submit yourself to Godly men who preach and teach the truth and be like the Bereans who researched the scriptures to verify the truth of the message given. Then you will be safe and secure from the wolves in sheep’s clothing who are trying to lead you astray, and you can be knowledgeable of the scriptures to help those who have been deceived to escape the clutches of these pretenders.