faith that moves mountains

4 Kinds of Fake Faith and How to Spot Them

Many years ago while visiting New York City, a friend and I were approached by a guy selling Rolex watches… for forty dollars each. My friend bought one. The watch kind of looked like the real deal. Although it wasn’t very heavy and the second hand didn’t move smoothly, it could fool the casual glance. You know the rest of the story: the watch kept poor time, scratched easily and stopped working within a few weeks.

Fake watches are tempting to buy, but so is fake faith. Fake faith is a faith that has elements of the real deal but that falls woefully short, lets us down in the long run, and denies the reality of our relationship with God. Like my friend’s watch, a fake faith doesn’t stand the test of time.

What is a fake faith?

A fake faith stands in contrast to authentic faith. A fake faith stems from a wrong attitude, puts the emphasis in the wrong place, aims in the wrong direction, and/or encourages the wrong expressions. Fake faith comes in many forms, but I see four clear and common examples among Christians throughout the West. Here’s my list of four types of fake faith and the premise behind each:

  1. Me-focused Faith – “Life is a story about me.”

    The Christian faith is not a means to get what you want or get your way. If you only read your Bible in order to get your daily dose of advice or encouragement, or if most of your prayer life focuses on what you want from God, your faith might be a fake. Authentic faith is God-centered, not self-centered.

  2. God and Country Faith – “The real story going on is what’s good for our country.”

    No matter where you live, you want your country to function well, but if your identity comes from being an American (or Canadian or Filipino or…), your faith is weak and fake. If you’re willing to fight and die for your country, but are not willing to suffer and live (and perhaps die) for Christ, watch out. And if you pray for your country in ways that make your country a winner at the expense of other nations, your faith is not centered on God whose heart beats, burdens and breaks for the whole world.

  3. Crisis du jour Faith – “What’s happening around us dictates where we place the essence of our faith energy.”

    God cares deeply about the injustice and pain in the world, but putting the most recent crisis at the center of your faith is a mistake. For some believers, God is a means toward ending suffering. But God is not a means; God is the end. We don’t choose to follow God in order to relieve suffering, solve problems, or address a crisis. A fake faith sees God through the lens of crisis (be it personal, regional or global); an authentic faith starts and ends with God and sees everything else through the lens of God.

  4. Foolproof Faith – “Figuring it all out is what faith is about.”

    A faith that leaves no room for mystery is not just a fake faith; it is a dead faith. It is weak and lazy to ignore theology, but it is arrogant and stale to think that getting all your theological i’s dotted and t’s crossed is the goal of faith. When you approach faith like a puzzle to solve, you’ve settled for a fake faith. If you focus primarily on the theory of faith and very little on the practice and relationship of faith, you may be attempting to control God by wrapping your mind around him. An authentic faith rests in the arms of God that surround us and knows God in mind, heart, and practice. Faith isn’t all mystery, but mystery is one of the main ingredients.

Instead of these fakes, we need to have the real deal. We need a faith that brings elements of each of these fakes underneath the canopy of a gospel-centered faith. Now that you’ve read my list of fakes, what about you? What other versions of fake faith do you see?


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About Chad Hall

Chad Hall is the Director of Coaching for Western Seminary and also serves as a leadership coach for ministry and corporate clients through his role as Partner with Coach Approach Ministries and iNTERNAL iMPACT.

7 thoughts on “4 Kinds of Fake Faith and How to Spot Them

  1. Thanks for these observations of fake faith in the Christianity of the west.

    In keeping with the artificial theme, I think there tends to be a lot of ‘Fakebook’ faith – expressing one’s faith primarily through social media, which can tend to be devoid of any meaningful expression in everyday life, and which builds a false sense of Christian identity and credibility.

    Or there is the celebrity-pastor-loyalty faith – I am committed to everything that my favorite national pastoral voice says, without question.

    1. Derek, great points. I love the “Fakebook” faith — that is so right, IMO. It’s much easier to give the impression of faith via social media than to actually live out your faith in rough and messy conditions of real life.

  2. Another might be Faith of Comfort, which is similar to your #3 and has been called the Self Help Gospel or the Therapeutic Gospel in it where people only read the Bible for comfort, or they just look at typical ‘verse of the day’ sites or calendars to get their typical comfort verse for the day. Nothing about seeking God’s will in how he wants us to live, obedience, knowing God, conviction of sin.

    1. Jeff, I think you’re describing a personalized version of what I meant by #3. And I think you are right on that this is certainly a fake faith that is commonplace.
      Thanks for reading and for commenting.

  3. Reminds me of a quote, “The most difficult lie I have ever dealt with was this, life was a story about me” wish I could remember the author. But this fits for anyone, myself among them.
    I remember when I was in AFG, I had a group of people wanting to start a bible study. Out of the 12 who expressed some interest, 3 showed up including myself. An older female, a male about my age, and myself. The older female immediately assumed command and wanted to ready some random books, barely associated with the bible. I sat there for a while, and when I finally could speak, I asked them this question. If life is not about yourself, what is it about? I let them go a while, and then I said, if we are going to have a Bible study, shouldn’t we study the bible? Again silence.. I remember that at some point in my life, I would have answered the same as they. At that point, this group had no understanding of living a life for GOD and the Story was about GOD and not ourselves. I remember I suggested Hebrews and they sounded like they agreed. The wanted to go look for a book on it.. I at this point breached the denomination question. We ended with them praying to the Mother Mary. I didn’t say much, I don’t pray to Mary, but I was suggesting we read Ephesians in the raw.. We never met for Bible Study again. We did cycle thru some prayers and ideas through email. I was sent to the Mountains of AFG, was labeled a possible trouble maker or something. It was in Gardez AFG. I will remember that well, I didn’t have a coat or a sleeping bag, Both were an absolute necessity. Slept in my clothes on a plywood bunk for weeks in the snow covered landscape. Its funny that I remember this so fondly.
    Wow I strayed. Sorry.

    1. Dave, your quotation is from Don Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz. I use that quote in the class I teach on Coaching Change, Transition and Transformation because I think it so well summarizes the most significant and challenging transformation any of us will ever experience.
      When we approach the Bible prior to that transformation, we make the Bible (and faith in general) about the only thing that matters (me). But when we approach the Bible in the midst of that transformation (not sure we ever really get through it), we experience the Bible in a radically different way.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your straying story. Hang in there.

  4. I enjoyed the article. I would add one big one for modern American Christians though. It’s the brand of “faith” that is sometimes labeled “easy-believism” or “cheap grace”. This is the gospel many of us grew up hearing, that Jesus died 2,000 years ago for your sins, and if you believe that then you get to go to heaven, and if you don’t believe it you burn in Hell for eternity. Following Jesus is costly, requires daily sacrifice, involves works, and yields fruit. Easy-believism cheapens these realities. Unfortunately, it has become very widespread, leading to much confusion and frustration in the church.

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