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:
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.
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.
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.
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?