The Real Deal
Peter BeckPeter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
- 2009 Oct 12
Did you know that there's a zoo in
The Marah Land Zoo in
The mock zebras raise few eyebrows. Most visitors stop, stare, and move on unaware of the ruse perpetrated on their zoological senses. They've never seen a real zebra. They don't miss the real zebra. In their minds, these white animals with strangely neat black stripes are the real deal.
Our churches are full of donkeys wearing pinstripes as well. We fill row after row, pew after pew with people who talk and dress the right way. They wear jeans and flip-flops in accordance with the local custom. They seem to be authentic. Or, they're resplendent in their finest church peacockery, dazzling in appearance, certain to be true Christians with their microwave-sized Bibles. Yet, many aren't.
While only God truly knows what lies beneath the surface of the human heart, a cursory glance around the local denominational zoo quickly suggests what many of our unchurched neighbors already suspect. The place is full of hypocrites, people pretending to be something they are not.
You've seen the type. From a distance they vaguely resemble Christ. But, when you look closely, the reality you find is something completely different.
Instead of fulfilling the Great Commission, they fail to evangelize anyone.
Instead of studying the Bible to show themselves approved, they rarely open it, and see no reason to even bring it to church.
Instead of praying without ceasing, they cease to pray and resort to self-help.
Instead of running the race set before them, the bitterly complain from the sideline about how difficult the course seems to be.
Instead of giving sacrificially to the work of the Kingdom, the lie about it and keep their money for themselves.
Instead of picking up their cross and following Christ, they set it in the corner and leave it there until next Sunday.
During the six days between this worship service and the next, they cuss like sailors. They go home to their live-in lovers. They watch their pornography. They gossip like journalists. They complain like politicians. They act like their neighbors. In the end, they deny Christ as their Savior, not in words but in actions. Their stripes come off in the wash.
Two important lessons come to mind here. One, we are too easily fooled. We are lulled into evangelistic submission simply because someone wears a cross around his or her neck. We assume they're saved because they're sitting next to us. We believe their believers because they're in church. Perhaps the greatest mission field in the world stares us in the face every week. We don't need to go hunting for lost. God has brought them to us. If only we'd open our eyes and read between the lines.
The second lesson is much harder. Many of these counterfeit Christians believe they're the real deal. Worse, many of us are them. Look in the mirror. Evaluate your thoughts and your deeds. Are you authentic? Do you truly walk the walk and talk the talk or has your Christian costume fooled even you? My fear is that while we're standing their with our accusatory fingers pointing at the flaws in the camouflage pattern of others, we fail to identify the biggest hypocrite in the room - ourselves.
May God open our eyes to see the truth in ourselves and others. May he embolden us to confront our own sin and the sin that surrounds us. May he work the supernatural in our hearts and give us not new skins but new hearts. May he do it in a way that is apparent to those on the outside. May he do it permanently on our inside.