The Identity Thieves: Finding Christ in a World of Impostors
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
I wish that my early experiences with people who called themselves Christians were positive ones, but as a child my exposure to religious instruction was limited to a few self-righteous individuals who asserted on a regular basis that the lives of everyone in my household were steeped in sin, and that we were irredeemably on the road to hell. I soon began to wonder if anyone could please God, and how? Outside of what I had been told, I had no authoritative source for determining who God was or what he expected from me. My few early attempts at reading scripture (in the King James Version, as I was told was the only acceptable translation) were frustrating and confusing.
The culmination of my disenchantment with church-goers came shortly after my twelfth birthday. I attended church and Sunday School with a friend, and the lesson that day was about the crucifixion of Christ. Amazing as it seems, all of the people who had worked so hard in my early years to make me aware of my own sinfulness had never mentioned this story. As it was, I don’t recall being taught that day what the purpose of the crucifixion was. What I do recall is this: the teacher, in the course of discussing the role of the Jewish people in the story, made the ghastly statement, “I believe that what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust was their punishment for what they did to Jesus.”
Although, at the age of twelve, I was completely ignorant of the Biblical narrative, I was well-versed in the history of the Holocaust. For about two years prior to that (and many years after), I had absorbed every piece of information, every book, documentary, article, and movie. Although I did not have the slightest inkling of Israel’s role in Biblical events, I had cultivated a strong sympathy for the plight of the Jewish people, their persecution, and their mass murder. I also understood that the two events, the crucifixion and the Holocaust, were separated by 1900 years of history. From that moment I had nothing more to learn from that teacher. When I got my friend alone I confronted her about the statement. My friend assured me that no one else in the church felt that way; she never had liked that teacher anyway; they would get a different one if they could, etc. That particular church selected teachers and church officers by election – she was re-elected that very day.
My journey to Christ might have ended then and there, had it not been for one thing: the strange nagging feeling that this woman, whatever her role may have been, was no representative of God. I had held a vague hope for many years that somehow, the people who had endeavored to educate me about God had gotten it wrong.
When I was thirteen, a different friend invited me to church. Despite my previous negative experience, I was still hungry to know the truth…and by God’s grace, I finally did. Christ had been crucified, by God’s will, to take the punishment for my sin. Why? Because of His great love for me. As for all of the sin that my early educators insisted I was carrying…I was no longer burdened with it. I was a sinner, yes, but Christ had offered a resolution. As it turns out, many of the things they had labeled as sin were nowhere named as such in scripture.
Shortly after I became a Christian, my Sunday School teacher loaned me Corrie ten Boom's “The Hiding Place”. Finally, a vindication for what I had hoped all along...a true Christian would prove their faith by their actions, rescuing the oppressed, even laying down their lives.
The church as a whole has come under fire for hundreds of years for the “sins of our fathers.” The Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust have all been laid at our feet as evidence of the cruel, ambitious nature of all Christians. The name of Christ has been shamed in every way by these events, as ungodly men have flown the name of Jesus as a banner over all sorts of evil deeds. Their offerings, however, are like Cain’s offering, displeasing to the Lord. Cain, rather than accepting the Lord’s correction and producing a more suitable sacrifice, developed a blood-lust for his own brother. He was cut off from the Lord, and today has no living descendants. Such are those who have used the name of Christ to further their own evil deeds and to lead men astray: cut off from the inheritance of the Lord.
How can we identify a true follower of Christ? By their deeds, discerned by knowing Christ better through the testimony of His word. Throughout my Christian walk, I have had to assess and re-evaluate many of the things that I was taught, not only before coming to faith, but also by some of those charged with my Christian education in the church. When I have been dismayed by the behavior or beliefs of some of my fellow Christians, I have turned to scripture to clarify, disprove, or sometimes even vindicate them. Are some of Christ’s teachings difficult to understand or accept? He said himself that they were. But because I have come to trust him in the things I do understand, I trust him for the things I don’t understand.
Unbelievers will continue to throw at us examples of those who used their religion for false purposes. We can continue to be defensive, but efforts to justify the more well-known events of church history are futile. They happened, and we cannot undo them. If we played a role in them, we can confess and repent. Rather than focusing on the negative impact of these “pseudo-believers”, we can remember the witness of those who truly have born good fruit, such as Corrie ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who defied the Nazi’s “Final Solution”, or William Wilberforce and Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose faith compelled them to fight for abolition in the British Empire and in the United States. More importantly, when detractors point out the short-comings of a fallen humanity, we can again point them to Christ. I know that some unbelievers have studied scripture and find fault with it and with Christ. To these people, I can only say, they will have to take it up with Him. I trust Him and love Him, based on what I have found to be the truth of His word and the witness of true believers. I will not lay at His feet the bad fruit born by those who have attempted to steal His identity.