Consider a recent study which found that four out of five Americans identify themselves as Christians. In this group of self-proclaimed Christians, less than half of them are involved in church on a weekly basis. Less than half of them actually believe the Bible is accurate, and the overwhelming majority of them don’t have a biblical view of the world around them.
The pollsters went even deeper, though, to identify men and women who are described as “born-again Christians” (as if there is any other kind). These are people who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus and who believe they will go to heaven because they have accepted Jesus as their Savior. According to the research, almost half of Americans are “born-again Christians.”
But out of this group of “born-again Christians,” researchers found that their beliefs and lifestyles are virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the world around them. Many of these “born-again Christians” believe that their works can earn them a place in heaven, others think that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, some believe Jesus sinned while he was on earth, and an ever-increasing number of “born-again Christians” describe themselves as only marginally committed to Jesus.
Many people have used this data to conclude that Christians are really not that different from the rest of the world. But I don’t think this interpretation of the research is accurate. I think the one thing that is abundantly clear from these statistics is that there are a whole lot of people in the world who think they are Christians but are not. There are a whole lot of people who think that they’ve been born again, but they are dangerously deceived.
Imagine you and I set up a meeting for lunch at a restaurant, and you arrive before I do. You wait and wait and wait, but thirty minutes later, I still haven’t arrived. When I finally show up, completely out of breath, I say to you, “I’m so sorry I’m late. When I was driving over here, my car had a flat tire, and I pulled over on the side of the interstate to fix it. While I was fixing it, I accidentally stepped into the road, and a Mack truck going about seventy miles per hour suddenly hit me head-on. It hurt, but I picked myself up, finished putting the spare tire on the car, and drove over here.”
If this were the story I shared, you would know I was either deliberately lying or completely deceived. Why? Because if someone gets hit by a Mack truck going seventy miles per hour, that person is going to look very different than he did before!
In light of this, I feel like I’m on pretty safe ground in assuming that once people truly come face-to-face with Jesus, the God of the universe in the flesh, and Jesus reaches down into the depth of their hearts, saves their souls from the clutches of sin, and transforms their lives to follow him, they are going to look different. Very different. People who claim to be Christians while their lives look no different from the rest of the world are clearly not Christians.
Such deception is not just evident in the United States; it’s prevalent around the world. As I was praying through the countries of the world recently, I came across Jamaica, a country that is supposedly almost 100 percent Christian. The prayer guide I use made this statement about Jamaica: “It enjoys one of the world’s highest number of churches per square mile, but the majority of self-proclaimed Christians in Jamaica neither attend church nor lead a Christian life.” As I read this, my heart was overcome by the unavoidable conclusion that multitudes of men and women in Jamaica think they are Christians when they are not. They join scores of people in countries around the world who call themselves Christians yet don’t follow Christ.
Spiritual deception is dangerous—and damning. Any one of us can fool ourselves. We are sinful creatures, biased in our own favor, prone to assume that we are something when we are not. The Bible says that the god of this world (Satan) is blinding the minds of unbelievers to keep them from knowing Christ. Couldn’t it be that one of the ways the devil is doing this is by deceiving people into believing they are Christians when they are not?
Platt, D., & Chan, F. (2013). Follow me: a call to die. a call to live. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale.