And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Galatians 2:6)
The other day a prominent Evangelical pastor tweeted, “My life’s commitment is to talk about the Bible in such a way that fake Christians feel fake — so that they can be saved.”
What is a fake Christian? I think the answer depends upon how you define “Christian”…the Bible says that a Christian is one who has faith in the person and work of Christ as his/her only means of salvation; that is that they’ve been put to death and raised into new life with Christ. A Christian is one (like Abraham) who trusts Christ alone as their only means of righteousness.
Can a person make such a profession and actually not be a Christian? Can one who has been baptized into Christ and declared him as the only way to salvation actually not be saved? It seems if you believe they can you would then feel an overwhelming obligation to rouse these charlatans out of their sham. Certainly, there is a place for such preaching…this is the work of the law — to diagnose our sin and push us toward Christ. However this kind of law preaching is pretty rare; instead what is typically done is a watered down cheapened law that makes religious people feel safe, and sinners feel condemned. In other words, it attracts the very people for whom Jesus repelled and repels the very people Jesus attracted. I’m not saying this is the intention of the author of this tweet, but this is what is happening in so many places in Christendom.
Overwhelmingly the primary way the law is preached is by preaching towards one’s behavior, turning the person in on themselves for assurance. Creating a haves and have nots mentality in Christ’s Church. If you have enough of the needed “fruits," then you can hear such “preaching” and feel very comfortable in your placement in God’s Kingdom. Too often this leaves the very people who might actually be “fake” Christians, that is those who believe they can manufacture a righteousness on their own by their good works, feeling very safe in their forgery. Transversely it pushes sinners, people who recognize their inability to please God apart from Christ, into despair and feeling ostracized from Christ and his Church.
That being said, I want to say something to those people. To those who believe that they can never be good enough to be accepted by God. To those who have felt marginalized by the Church. You are not a fake, if you are a fake then so am I, so are we all. The genuineness of your faith is not determined by your commitment, your faithfulness, or the quality of your behavior. If it were, we’d all be screwed. The good news of the gospel is that Christ is everything for you that you could never be for yourself. Despite your secrets, your hidden sin, and your continued struggle to live a life that is consistent with the commands of Scripture you are accepted and loved. Like you, I often feel like a fake. I live in the constant fear that if people really knew me, they’d reject me. In fact, over and over again this has proved to be true. As soon as I let people in and they learn of my sham, and they turn against me. This has happened to me so many times in my life that I struggle to trust that anyone (beyond my wife) really accepts me. This has caused me to keep people at a distance and to put up a facade around my life that I falsely believe will cause people [and God] to love me.
Christ in his graciousness not only allows me to erect this facade he consistently breaks through it to show me his unconditional love. He declares to me a word that I don’t hear anywhere else. That is that while I am fully known by him, I am simultaneously fully loved and accepted by him. It’s only this truth that has created in me any kind of desire to be better because I recognize that even if I don’t get any better, he will love me anyway. Sadly, this kind of love is very difficult to find amongst our fellow sinners — but know this the very people who have rejected you have done not because they have found the secret that you haven’t been let in on. They’ve rejected you because you are standing in their way of attempting to find a righteousness that exists outside of Christ.
Furthermore, it is actually those who believe that the genuineness of their faith is determined by their moral progress that are actually the fakes, Luther called them a “chimera”…or to use modern vernacular — a jackalope. That is something that we have dreamed up in our heads but doesn’t actually exist. Sure we can create a jackalope to hang on our wall, but we all know that they don’t actually exist. So too we can dream all we want about what a “real” authentic Christian looks like but the only way we actually find one according to their definition (that is by the law) is to manufacture it ourselves and then hang it up for all to admire.
I am a fake a Christian, but the good news is that Jesus is a very real Savior. Jesus does not need your genuineness; in fact, he doesn’t need anything from you. Rest in that my fellow fakers, the pressure is off, it is finished. Jesus is enough for you.
“The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it." (Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 28)