I once heard someone compare the church of today to a shallow river. The path of water is wide and muddy and impure. It’s the opposite of a church forced underground– which just like a spring of water that runs underneath the surface of the earth– runs deep and pure with little contamination.
The problem with the wide river is that it can be so difficult to find the true believers. The ones who have repented of their sins and truly desire to walk with God. The ones that wouldn’t say “See you later” when the first wave of persecution comes.
And you may be thinking–why does it even matter?
I believe it matters because, while we can be good friends with all floating in the river, true and lasting fellowship only comes between members of the true church. Who are we going to be able to count on and trust as we move closer and closer to a one world religion?
Our pastor has given our church family a Bible reading schedule for this year. We are reading through the four gospels through five times each. He schedules it so that we read the same one to three chapters each week five times. I love this because I become so familiar with the passage. In addition to reading, I sometimes will pull up a sermon or two on the Grace to You app that corresponds with what I am reading. I find this very helpful in helping me to understand difficult passages and they also give me a deeper understanding of the context of the passage.
This is what I did last week, when I came across verse 33 in Chapter 6 of John–
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
What? Why? I was anxious to understand this verse and turned to John MacArthur for his wisdom on this passage. Part of what he had to share was so insightful and so helpful–especially in a world where everyone calls themselves a “Christian” –that I wanted to share it with you. I believe it will help us navigate this changing world.
He gave four different descriptions of a false disciple (the numbered list is by him but the commentary and the contrasts after it are by me, unless otherwise noted)–
(By the way, I want you to know that not everyone who exhibits one of these things listed below is unsaved. Even we genuine believers stray at times and can find ourselves a little lost. But keep your eyes out for those who hold to these beliefs or behaviors adamantly and arrogantly. Another sign is someone who takes verses out of context, who says that only parts of the Bible matter, or discounts the Word of God entirely. These are a few red flags)
1. False Disciples are attracted by a crowd.
They like to do what is popular and are always looking for what is trendy. They don’t want to be called names or take any heat for standing for Christ. They are of the sheep mentality, following the herd wherever it may lead– even if it’s over a cliff.
In Contrast–This would mean that true disciples are not ruled by the crowd. They are far more concerned with what Jesus thinks than what their families, co-workers, church friends, or classmates think. They may follow after the crowd for a bit until they realize that Living Water is not found there. True disciples are guided by the Word of God and not by what is popular.
2. False Disciples are fascinated by the supernatural.
They are looking for cool experiences and wonderful feelings and are driven by their desire for miracles, God’s personal messages, and encounters with angels. They want an emotional high and have little interest in truth–in fact most don’t believe there is such a thing as absolute truth and turn their backs completely on the doctrines of old as told to us in scripture.
In Contrast–While a true disciple may be temporarily fascinated by some of these things, as they grow in the Lord, they begin to recognize the danger in them. They understand that God’s Word has provided all we need and that voices and messages outside of scripture are not only unnecessary and irrelevant, but are generally downright dangerous.
Please note: I am not implying that miracles don’t exist but instead that our faith is not driven by them or reliant upon them. God has worked many miracles and still does so. We thank Him for those and continue to turn to the Word for our sustenance and faith and not to our personal experience to define our spirituality.
3. False disciples think only of earthly benefits.
Materialism, worldly goods, health, and wealth are why this disciple follows. He is looking for reward in this present life and if there isn’t any forthcoming is quick to turn away. This person expects God to be his personal genie–granting any wish he may have.
In Contrast–True disciples recognize the insignificance of earthly goods and success. While they enjoy them and thank the Lord for providing all of the things that makes for a wonderful life here on earth, they do not let themselves become too entangled with the things of this life.
4. False disciples have no interest in worship.
At first, when he said this, I thought–wait a minute. I know a LOT of people who like to worship. But then this made much more sense as he went on to describe it. This is what he said–
“But the false disciples, there’s no humility there, there’s no meekness there. There’s no adoring reverence. There’s no holy awe. They come for the external. They come for the show. They come for the promise, the hope of some temporal fulfillment. There’s no real obedience. There’s no longing for the glory and honor of God and the exaltation of Christ…They’ll watch a show and listen to music, but that’s a far cry from real worship.” (see link for sermon below)
So fake worship is given by false disciples. Fake worship contains no humility, no reverence, no holy awe. It is self-absorbed and is driven by an intense longing for an emotional high.
In Contrast–The true worshiper is a repentant, humble soul worshiping the God who saved him from death and destruction. He can worship through singing an old, obscure hymn as well as a worship song that contains biblical lyrics. It makes no difference to him. A true disciple recognizes that worship is a lifestyle. It isn’t about swaying to music or shouting aloud, but instead about a life that is lived every hour in submission and obedience to the Savior.
Has this helped you? Doesn’t it make a really muddy subject so much clearer?
And again, make sure you understand me–I am not saying that everyone who is caught up in some of this is not a true believer. What I am saying is that these are four clear signs that they might not be.
As we get closer and closer to the end, this is all going to sort itself out, isn’t it? As the persecution of the true church increases, the false disciples will fall away, just as they did in John 6. But, until then, let’s be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). Although it’s so tempting, let’s not put our heads in the sand and ignore the swirling chaos that is the church around us, but instead, let’s watch with careful discernment and be sure to run everything through the grid of God’s Word.
If you’d like to listen to these helpful sermons, you can find them here–