Read Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Walking in the hot summer sun, we were enjoying a wilderness hike near a saltwater marsh in south Louisiana. Suddenly my son Jonathan was crying out, “It moved! It moved!” I looked up and he was dancing in circles about 15 yards ahead of us. Running to his aid, I arrived to see a small snake gliding away into the grass beside the trail. Jonathan didn’t think it was real when he found it sunning itself on the path in front of him. Nudging it with his shoe, Jonathan was startled to learn that real snakes bear a striking resemblance to fake ones!
Throughout the centuries churches have struggled with counterfeit Christianity. Despite every effort to assure that all church members have an authentic, growing relationship with Jesus Christ, leaders are often devastated when they see little or no evidence of conversion among some of the souls populating in their pews.
In Matthew 13 Jesus anticipates many of the questions plaguing the church today, including the question concerning counterfeit Christianity. He compares the reign of God on earth to a man who plants a wheat field, only to learn later that his enemy planted weeds while he was sleeping. The dilemma created by the co-existence of wheat and weeds in the same field sets the stage for Jesus’ explanation of how to handle counterfeit Christianity.
Where do counterfeit Christians come from? (vs. 24-25, 39)
Mincing no words, Jesus fingers the devil out of the line-up of possible culprits as the source of this problem in the church (vs. 39). Calling the fakes “sons of the evil one” (vs. 38), Jesus exposes a demonic plan to frustrate the reign and purpose of God in the church.
Without the notice of the church leaders (vs. 25), the devil plants men and women in the church who will be useful and responsive to him. They share the same appearance as the “wheat.” They share the same “soil” as the “wheat.” These false believers are living in close proximity to real Christians.
Outsiders are quick to criticize the church and question the veracity of the Gospel because some of the historic leaders of the church have been scoundrels. Yet, far from undermining the reliability of our faith, this problem confirms the accuracy of the Bible: Jesus said it would happen!
How can counterfeit Christians be identified? (vs. 26)
Counterfeit Christians can teach, preach, profess faith, do miracles, and perform good works (Matthew 7:15, 21-22). In the parable, no one noticed the problem until the wheat began to reproduce, forming heads prior to the harvest (vs. 26). The key difference between wheat and weeds is not in what they do, but in what they are. Wheat reproduces wheat. They are different by nature.
What can we do about the problem of counterfeit Christianity? (vs. 28-30)
Nothing. I should always examine myself, but my ability to judge the heart of others in the church is very limited and subject to error. How can I tell the difference between a counterfeit Christian and a carnal, immature Christian? (1 Corinthians 3:1) The truth is I can’t. Nor should I try. The Lord clearly instructs us to leave the suspected counterfeits alone: He promises to deal with them in the final judgment at the end of time (vs. 41-42).
Notice the calm demeanor of the Master (vs. 30). He is not surprised or disturbed by the problem. He is coming again and in His presence all counterfeits will be exposed and removed from the kingdom of God.
What about the responsibility to exercise church discipline in the church? Church discipline is designed to be applied to unrepentant, sinful behavior and false teachers. Church discipline can never deal effectively with false professions.
So I cannot test the faith commitments of people around me in the church. But I do need to examine my heart with care. Remember that in this parable, the counterfeit is exposed by nature, not action. The ultimate test of authenticity is this: is the character and life of Christ being reproduced in me and through me? Am I coming to know Him more intimately and is that relationship causing me to reproduce my life in the lives of other Christians?