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, leader 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?
(vv. 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?
(v. 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?
(vv. 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.

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? 


Sermon brief provided by: Don Pucik, associate executive director of the
Arkansas Baptist State Convention, Little Rock, AR

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