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How do you know whether you’re following the real Jesus and not a counterfeit?

Posted by Tom Lessing on March 23, 2009

The Emergent Church’s main priority is to be followers of Jesus Christ. A young man with whom I have become acquainted via the internet and in particular his blog ( once insistently asked me not to refer to him as a Christian but as a follower of Jesus. At first glance this may seem to be worthy of imitation. However, we really need to ask “Jesus who?”

I was shocked to the bone when I recently read an article in which several world-renowned figureheads in Christianity were featured as champions of the faith. I immediately thought of Paul’s words of warning in 2 Corinthians 11, proclaiming that there were false apostles who claimed to have worked on the same terms as he did. What a villainous, wicked, dishonest and deceitful thing to do! I can just imagine them saying, “Brother Paul endorses our work wholeheartedly because we are working on the same terms as he” This was not only a very subtle attack on Paul’s missionary work but a very fraudulent way of promoting their heresies. No wonder Paul felt compelled to use such a frank and outspoken approach to quash this very dangerous situation in the Corinthian Church:

2 Cor 11:4 You seem quite happy and pleased to endure it when a man comes and preaches another Jesus than the One we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the [Spirit] you [once] received, or a different Gospel from the one you [then] received and welcomed. You tolerate [all that] well enough.

How do we determine when a different Gospel is preached that leads to the reception of another Jesus and another spirit? The most obvious answer most Christians would afford is “erroneous doctrine” which is clearly correct. But what incites wrong doctrine? The driving force behind wrong doctrine is the obsessive desire to please man and to receive rousing accolades for doing so. Paul’s succinct description in 1 Timothy 4:2-4 fits the situation in the churches of our day like a glove,

1 Tim 4:2-4 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Willow Creek Community Church in Northwest suburban Chicago is one of the largest mega-churches in America of which Bill Hybels is the senior pastor out of a total of approximately 48 staff pastors. It claims to have a membership of 12,000 plus souls. Pastor Hybels did a thorough survey of the un-churched Harrys and Marys in their community to determine why they didn’t attend church. The answers they came up with formed the basis for a more upbeat and palatable gospel. The survey indicated that they “didn’t like to be bugged for money,” “found church boring, predictable and to much of a routine,” “didn’t think that church was relevant to their lives,” and “always left church feeling guilty (the Christian message was too negative with ‘sin’” etc. The result was a manmade mega-church with all the glitz and entertainment of an Oscar winning Hollywood film.

In order to accommodate the battle of the sexes (chauvinism and feminism) Hybels adopted two different gospels — one for men and one for women. The gospel for men is to rid them of their “mindless misrepresentations of masculine identity,” while the one for women offers them the freedom from ”being a people pleaser” and thereby allowing herself to satisfy her “need for inner security.” I was wondering whether Hybels’ male and female gospels had any influence on Angus Buchan’s Mighty Men conferences. The most alarming thing about Willow Creek is that thousands upon thousands flock to their staff to learn the techniques for church growth. More or less 15,000 people attend the Saturday evening and Sunday’s seeker services accompanied by contemporary music, multimedia displays, dramatic sketches and watered-down messages geared to reach the itching ears of the “investigative Christians.”

Sadly they are not building on the foundation that has already been lain. They are laying a completely new foundation, not of solid rock but shifting sands that cannot withstand the consuming fire of a Holy God. It is different gospel, with another Jesus and another spirit at the helm of things. I chose Willow Creek as an example amongst many others who follow the same pattern.

Jesus never mollycoddled or catered to the whimsical fancies of people so that they may “feel welcome, unthreatened and entertained” as Hybels would say. No! Jesus struck at the core of man’s problem, his sin which he expresses in his self-will, self-centeredness, self-worth, self-esteem, self-importance, etc. These are the very things that keep us from following Christ.

I would like to draw your attention to the word “finish” in Luke 14:25-33. The fact that it appears three times should make us attentive and to take special note of it. God’s purpose for our lives is to finish our course with joy (Acts 20:24). Repentance and the new birth is only the beginning of the course. Unfortunately preachers are often guilty of keeping their congregations ensnared in the beginning stages of their new life in Christ. They do not encourage them to press on, to such a degree that their church members become complacent and passive (satisfied with the status quo or the present state of their spiritual lives). Or, as some would say, “we don’t want to rock the boat,” especially when they need to warn their congregations against false doctrine.

Multitudes of people followed Jesus, most of them, however, for all the wrong purposes and reasons. The majority of the people followed Him because He had given them bread to eat. Others seem to have been more interested in the miracles He performed. Sheer curiosity motivated many people to follow Him. Jesus did not play along with their whimsical desires. He stopped, turned around and facing them He explained exactly what was required of them to follow Him. The great majority of people were usually offended by what He said and turned their backs on Him. It is evident from Jesus’ words that discipleship does not merely mean to follow Him. It involves a great deal more than that. One can only imagine what the huge crowd’s response could have been if Jesus had said, “Anyone who would like to accept Me as their Saviour, come forward and I will pray for you”, or “those of you who want to give their hearts to Me, put up your hands, bow your heads and close your eyes while I pray for you.” This may seem somewhat of an exaggeration. Nonetheless, this is happening in many churches throughout the world today. Although we should have a burning desire in our hearts to bring as many sinners as possible to repentance, we should always guard against over-eagerness.

Unrestrained zeal often fails to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). When the whole counsel (will) of God is declared fearlessly, it compels any would-be follower of Christ to first sit down and count the cost. This is exactly what Jesus was saying to the huge crowds that followed Him. Sit down, (give yourself the time to ponder this very important matter with prudence) and count the cost (make very sure that you are prepared to pay the price for discipleship and finish the course). Pay the price? Isn’t salvation a free gift from God? (Ephesians 2:8, 9) Yes! Indeed it is and we need to thank God for His wonderful grace every day. However, Jesus clearly says that discipleship does not go without cost. What does this price or cost entail? To find a proper answer we need to review the world’s magnetic allurement on the human heart. Man’s natural inclination is to find security, solace, happiness, pleasure and acceptance in the world. As a matter of fact, every child is born into a family where the principles and standards of the world is impressed on his susceptible mind from early childhood. Very soon he becomes entangled in the things of the world “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).

According to 2 Peter 2:20, the world pollutes or defiles. It contaminates the one who associates himself with the things of the world. Everyone who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God (James 4:4). Could there be anything more devastating and dangerous than this — to be an enemy of God? It stands to reason that one needs to come out of the world before the enmity can be removed. A radical translocation is the only means to eradicate the animosity between a friend of the world and God. In Colossians 1:13 we are told that God’s children have been removed from one place to another, i.e. from the dominion of darkness and evil into the kingdom of His dear Son in whom we have redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of our sins. There is, however, always the danger of being drawn into the world again and saints are warned to beware lest any man spoil you (carry you off as a captive) “through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). The rudiments of the world is so strongly imbedded in fallen man that God Himself had to die on the cross to free us from its venomous tentacles. Through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection we have been cut off (severed) from the world. We are no longer of the world although we are in the world. In His High Priestly prayer in John 17 Jesus twice says, “they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Listen very carefully what Jesus is saying here, “we are not of the world as He Himself is not of the world.”

To live as an alien (foreigner) in this world naturally makes us enemies of the world. To be hated by the world, to be dejected, humiliated, and to be the target of scoffers and mockers is the price disciples of Jesus have to pay. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4: 11, “Up to this time, we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” Our flesh (the old Adam nature) is not capable of enduring this kind of treatment. Self-pity usually engulfs the soul like a dark cloud when persecution, tribulation and hardship befall God’s saints and many begin to compromise their position with the world. There is only one sure antidote against the slippery road into worldliness—self-denial and mortification. Listen to what Jesus says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself (forget himself, lose sight of himself and his own interests), and take up his cross (die to the world and its dainties) daily, and follow Me.” Napoleon, the great French conqueror in the previous century said, “Conquest has made me what I am, and conquest must sustain me.” The conquest of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross has made us what we are and it is only conquest that will sustain us.

Every true child of God is acutely aware of the Holy Spirit’s godly jealousy in his innermost being. He is particularly sensitive to the Spirit’s jealous supplications to “Come out of her, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues,” and “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” The prerequisite for God to be your Father and for you to be called His sons and His daughters is separation. We have no right to call Him Father while we frivolously compromise our divine calling to be separated from the world and the things in the world (James 4:4). The natural tendency of the human soul is to freely indulge in all the pleasures of the world without a twinge of conscience. Children of God who do not separate themselves from the world are no better than the unbelievers who naturally partake of the things in the world. In fact they are worse and are called “adulterers and adulteresses” or unfaithful wives who are having illicit affairs with the world. What are the traits or characteristics of those who compromise there calling to be separated from the world? They become friends of the world. It means that the world accepts you as its friend because there is very little left in your make-up to indicate that you are not of this world (John 17:16). The distinct demarcation or differences between you and the world has faded away to such a degree that the world begins to accept you as its own. The world no longer hates you the way it hated Jesus but rather develops a very congenial and friendly attitude toward you. We should be very concerned when the world starts to love us and cuddle up to us as its friend. If we truly desire to follow the real Jesus and not a counterfeit we should constantly remind ourselves where He is to be found.

Heb 13;12-14 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. (Emphasis added).

In stark contrast with the above, the Emergent followers of Jesus demand to have the Kingdom of God to come here and now. What they fail to see, is that they are playing into the hand of Antichrist whose wish it is to set up his own kingdom of darkness and destruction.

Dan 8:23-25 And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people. And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.

Who are you following — the real Jesus or a counterfeit?


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