Spiritual counterfeits need to be recognised and resisted:
Did you ever buy something that you thought was pretty special – and better yet, that you got for a bargain? You may have been so proud of your purchase until someone with a bit more nous than you regarding the particular item comes along and gives you the bad news: ‘You have been scammed. It is a fake.’
That can be devastating, especially if you dished out plenty of cash for the object. It happens quite often. The truth is, anything that is of value, anything that is important, anything that is popular, will be counterfeited and will be faked. That has always been the case. Do we have fancy and expensive Rolex watches? Yes we do, which is why we have so many counterfeit Rolex watches out there.
Do we have famous paintings by Rembrandt? Yes we do, so that means we have various counterfeit paintings, pretending to be done by the great Dutch master. Do we have cash being counterfeited? Do we have jewels being counterfeited? Do we have Nike Air Jordan shoes being faked and counterfeited? Do we have Louis Vuitton apparel and accessories being faked? Yes to all.
If all this is true in the everyday realm, how much more so in the spiritual realm? Anything that is true, that is good, and that is important will be counterfeited. We have the One True God, and we have Satan who hates him and his people. Satan is known as the great deceiver. He wants us all deceived, tricked and hoodwinked concerning the truth of God. So of course we will find spiritual counterfeits, heresies, and cults – all trying to lead people astray from the truth of God.
I have written about such matters before. As to how cults operate, and how they distort basic biblical doctrines, see this piece: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/01/06/dealing-with-cults/
And I have often written on essential Christian doctrine and teaching. As to the basics of Christian orthodoxy, one simply can start by consulting the early church creeds, such as the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. Here are three of them for example: www.gci.org/articles/three-historic-christian-creeds/
The lure of heresy and the cults is always with us. That is why it is essential that all Christians have a sound grasp of basic biblical teaching, of the major Christian doctrines, and a grasp of sound theology. Those who know little or nothing of such matters are prime candidates of the cults and of falling into theological error – even damnable heresy.
When it comes to recognising theological error and cultic teaching, the analogy of the banker is often rightly appealed to. The properly trained banker does not need to know all about the numerous fake bank notes out there. He does not need to be an authority of the host of counterfeits that are circulating.
Instead, he needs to only know one thing, and know it well. He needs to know what the real thing is – what it is like. He is so familiar with genuine currency that when a counterfeit bill comes his way he can spot it in an instant. The same is true in the theological realm.
If we have a good, solid grasp of basic Christian doctrine, and know a bit about the history of theology, we can readily spot heresy or error or cultic beliefs a mile away. It becomes much easier to see theological error the more we know the real thing.
That is why the study of Christian doctrine is so vital. In order to not so easily be snared by the cults and false doctrine we really must know what we believe. Otherwise we will simply be tossed about by every wind of doctrine as the Apostle Paul warns about (Ephesians 4:14).
There are of course countless good books on sound doctrine and orthodox Christian teaching, as well as many hundreds of books on the various cults and heresies that are out there. But let me finish by citing just one book that deals with these issues.
Some years ago Trevin Wax released Counterfeit Gospels (Moody, 2011). In it he reminds us of the spiritual war we are all in. This is inevitable since God is a God of truth, while Satan is all about lies, falsehoods and deception. No wonder there are so many counterfeits out there.
Says Wax: “All Christians everywhere must realize that we are at war. Our battle is not ‘against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers . . . of this [present] age,’ Ephesians 6;12 (NKJV). Awareness of the battle can help alert us to counterfeit gospels that the Enemy wishes to spread into our churches, counterfeits that will destabilize us, confuse us, and cause us to lose confidence in the biblical gospel.”
The bulk of the book examines a number of contemporary counterfeit gospels that are snaring believers and unbelievers alike. Let me briefly mention two of them. The therapeutic gospel “confuses our spiritual symptoms (a troubled marriage, anxiety, anger, addictions) with our spiritual disease (sin). Because the diagnosis is superficial, the treatment is also superficial.”
He likens it to the Happy Meal at McDonald’s where there is the “promise not only of the toy, but of happiness.” He continues, “Sometimes we package the gospel in a way that makes God out to be a kind of Ronald McDonald who wants to give kids a Happy meal. We make ‘pursuing happiness’ the central goal of life.”
All the slick promises of ‘having your best life now’ certainly appeal to the flesh, but they are hardly biblical: “Of course, there is truth in saying that life gets better when one trusts in Jesus. But what is ‘better’? Without defining what ‘better’ looks like, we leave the door open for Jesus to become just an accessory, an addition to an old way of life. The church begins to sound like an infomercial. Name your problem, and Jesus is the answer.”
Another counterfeit gospel that Wax looks at is the judgmentless gospel. Wax reminds us that the Apostle’s Creed speaks of Christ coming again to judge the living and the dead. He goes on to say this:
The temptation in our day and age is to let the last part of the Apostle’s Creed slip by unnoticed. Many evangelicals talk a lot about justice and very little about judgment. Justice here and now is a popular subject. Judgment there and then? Not so much.
But justice and judgment are two sides to the same coin. You cannot have perfect justice without judgment. God cannot make things right without declaring certain things wrong. It’s the judgment of God that leads to a perfectly just world. Try to take one without the other and you lose the good news.
The judgmentless gospel distorts a major part of the gospel story – the end. And if you’ve ever heard a good story, you know that once you change the ending, you alter everything….
Neglecting or denying the idea of God as Judge changes the story. Without judgment, sin becomes less serious. The implications of human rebellion are downplayed. No longer is human sin considered cosmic treason against our Creator, and the offer of forgiveness loses its power. If there is no eternal judgment, just what do we need to be saved from?
So the judgmentless gospel alters the gospel story, diminishes the need for the gospel announcement, and eventually changes the make-up of the gospel community as well. When we fail to see God in His role as Judge, we lose our distinctiveness…
No one likes being conned. No one likes being scammed. If you head out to buy a nice work of art, only to later discover that you have been had, and you bought a fake, that can be quite demoralising. How much more so when it comes to the issue of truth, including spiritual truth.
Deception is rife in this world, and there are all sorts of fake spiritualities out there. Make sure you have the real deal. Do not settle for dodgy alternatives or cheap imitations that will send leanness to your soul, or worse yet, send you to an eternity without the One True God.