Counterfeit Christianity and Repentance with Joy

by Mike Ratliff

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NASB) 

Deception is our enemy’s most powerful weapon. When a person is deceived into believing a lie they are not intending to participate in something that is wrong. No, they believe they have the truth and all those who oppose what they believe are just wrong. When the lie leads people to believe that their form of ‘religion’ is true Christianity, regardless of how unbiblical it is, they are not actually intending to be evil following an evil system. They are ‘sure’ they have the truth. They are sincere. I am sure the priests of Baal whom Elijah defeated at Mount Carmel were sincere as well.

When I first started this blog back in 2006 its main purpose was to counter the impact of the ‘seeker-sensitive’ church growth movement. Back then those whose consciences were bound to the Word of God began raising the alarm that the ‘religion’ within that movement was not genuine Christianity. However, the spiritual forces behind that movement were very powerful. The impact of the movement was tragic as there were whole cities and towns in the U.S. where not one church remained that had not been compromised by the deception. Since the focus within those churches was wrong we find that solid biblical doctrine was replaced with self-improvement, self-help, entertainment, and a recreation of God in the form that man wants. The movement created a new “worldview” that became termed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which, in fact, was the actual religion of the seeker movement.

This Moralistic Therapeutic Deism religion is based around the following five points.

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Does that sound familiar? It should because it is still with us in other pragmatic false forms of Christianity such as the Social Justice movement, Critical Race Theory, and Intersectionality. There is nothing new under the Sun.

When I presented the gospel to my daughter when she was about 9 years old, I asked her some diagnostic questions about her understanding of salvation. These five points are pretty much what her ‘default’ religion was. She loved church. She loved Sunday school. She loved Jesus, but she had no concept of sin and hell. She understood that good people went to heaven and mean people did not. Who is responsible in this system for one’s salvation? It is each person. God is not involved. What does this do in relation to ones sanctification? Well, first, these people who believe that this ‘religion’ is equivalent to genuine Christianity will consider doctrinal words such as justification and sanctification as simply attempts by others to put them under some form of legalism. Since point 3 is what these people are all about, they react violently and vehemently against all clear Biblical teachings that teach that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. No, they hate that one since it is all about them.

In fact, when genuine believers, that is, those who are regenerate, look upon sin, especially their own, what is the result?There is always horror or revulsion. This reaction happens because genuine Christians understand that it is sin that caused their Lord to go to the cross. He suffered and died because of these sins. Notice that all professing Christians do not react to sin this way. In many of my posts about the need for repentance many professing Christians have, in fact,  responded negatively insisting that any call to personal holiness and walking in righteousness is wrong since there are so many ‘addicted’ to sins from which they are unable to find the victory. They insist that bondage to these sins is the product of shame in the face of the standard of personal holiness. Sometimes I am at a loss on how to respond that.

Carefully consider that last paragraph my brethren. What do we find in the Bible? Is there one mention in Sacred Scripture of support groups such as AA? No, the Bible does not mess around with calling sins addictions. No, sin is sin and victory is found in repentance. John Owen understood how to find victory over besetting sins my brethren. He wrote about it a great deal. His best-known work dealing with this is The Mortification of Sin. In this little book, Owen’s thesis is that sin is a living thing within each of us. After salvation we are given the duty by God to wrestle with it and do battle with it with the goal of seeing it lying dead at our feet just before we breath our last and go to be with our Lord forever. Owen’s scriptural base for this book, actually a series of sermons, is Romans 8:13.

13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13 (NASB) 

Imagine that my brethren. God gives us right here in this very powerful verse why so many professing Christians are unable to find victory over their sin and why others do. What is it? Those who find themselves constantly partaking of the sin “which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1-2) are neglecting what is holy while pursuing what is of the flesh.

1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB) 

To live according to the flesh is to not live by the Spirit. Those who live by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body. Those who live according to the flesh are consumed by an overwhelming drive to satiate the desires of the flesh. The writer of Hebrews tells us that victory over that is found as we ‘lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely.’ However, it does not stop there. Instead of being weighed down by desire, we run with endurance the race that is set before us. We must do both. If we try to run the race while being consumed by fleshly pursuits then we will fail miserably. If we try to stop sinning but neglect running the race God has set before us then we will eventually stumble right back into what our flesh wants. This passage is a picture of becoming controlled by the Holy Spirit.

The Greek word used here that is translated as ‘lay aside’ is apotithēmi. It means to cast off or lay aside or put away. It is in an aorist participle in middle voice. What this is describing is simple action, in other words, this is a command to do something deliberately. What are we to put away? The first thing mentioned is ‘every weight.’ The word translated as weight here is ogkos. This word describes a person or beast bending or bulging under a very heavy weight. This weight impedes or hinders movement. What else are we to put away? It is sin. This is the Greek word hamartia. It describes missing the true goal and scope of life. It is an offense in relation to God with emphasis on the resulting guilt. What is causing the heavy burden that hinders and impedes? It is the clinging to ones favorite hamartia. When our life is wrapped up in self then we are all about self-gratification. This leads to movement further and further away from submission to the control of the Holy Spirit and closer and closer to being a beast of burden to ones own self-gratification.

We are to cast aside or put away our pursuit of self-gratification. We are to deny self, turn to God then run with endurance the race He has set before us. The word translated as ‘run’ is a present subjunctive verb in active voice. What this means is that we are to run this race God has set before us continuously. Present subjunctive suggests that the action described is subject to some condition. Notice that we are to continually run this race with ‘endurance.’ The Greek word translated as ‘endurance’ is hupomonē. This word is made up of two other words that are translated as ‘under’ and ‘abide.’ It describes patience and endurance as to things or circumstances. That is one of the conditions that will enable us to run this race correctly. There is another. In v2 we see that we are to run the race looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.  The Greek word translated as ‘looking’ is aphoraō. This present active participle describes continuously looking attentively unto Jesus. Present active participles express continuous or repeated action. The context is determined by the main verb, which is ‘run.’

The mortification of sin is not something we can do by will power. We cannot will ourselves to stop sinning and be successful. This is what I call repentance with sorrow. No, we succeed at mortifying our sin when we repent with joy. We do this by forsaking our sin by laying it aside or putting it away as we turn to Christ the founder and perfecter of our faith, obey God by continually running the race He has set before us with our eyes firmly fixed on our Saviour. This involves prayer, devotion, and worship. It requires time taken away from the flesh and given to God. When tempted by an old besetting sin that clings closely, move into worship and prayer. Open the Bible and study it. Do not lightly read it. Study it. Pray about everything. Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the Saviour. Worship Him and pray for others. Do not give your flesh an opportunity. This is how we run this race. Endurance or patience is required, and those come to those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Carefully read the following passage.

17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Ephesians 4:17-24 (NASB) 

Paul used the same word here that the writer of Hebrews did in exhorting us to ‘put off’ the burden our sin has placed us under. Here Paul says to ‘lay aside ‘ our old self. In place of it we are to be ‘renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.‘ So, is running the race set before us by God, looking intently at Christ, the same thing as being ‘renewed in the spirit of our minds and putting on the new self?’ The Greek word Paul used here for ‘renewed’ is ananēoō. This is a different form of the word he used in Romans 12:2 that is translated as ‘renewal.’ This word means ‘to renovate.’ Both usages are present tense verbs, which describe continuous or repeated action. Therefore, I submit that  running the race God has set before us with our eyes firmly fixed on Christ and putting on the new self, created in the likeness of God is accomplished in our lives by applying Romans 12:1-2

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NASB) 

The way we mortify the sin, which clings so closely, is to become living sacrifices. This means, total self-denial as an act of continual worship of God. We are to turn from being conformed to the world by putting away or laying aside anything that smacks of flesh fulfillment. If that means turning the TV off then do it. If that means staying off the Internet then do it. If it means not being around certain people then so be it. Whatever it takes, turn from what is hindering you in the race AS AN ACT OF WORSHIP. Put what you formerly worshiped on the altar and ask God to destroy it. DO NOT stop there. Now pursue the Lord in the race God has set before you by continually being transformed through mind renewal. That means immersing self in the Word of God. Read it. Study it. Listen to godly preaching. Read godly books. Never stop learning about God and this walk. God will work a miracle in the heart of all who do devote themselves to this. This is mind renewal. This is putting on the new self, created after the likeness of God. Then you will know what is the will of God.

13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says,
“Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”
15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Ephesians 5:13-21 (NASB) 

We are able to run the race with endurance, become living sacrifices, put away what hinders us, and walk in repentance with joy because we become filled with the Spirit. This passage describes repentance with joy much better than I can do it. Putting away sin and walking before the face of God in victory and deliverance is akin to awaking from a dead sleep. It is as if God pours cold water over our heads. We awaken from our slumber and self-imposed darkness caused by the pursuit of self-gratification in a way so jarring that it is as if we have arisen from the dead. It is critical at this point to not fall back into the sin that had made us stumble. We do this by turning completely from it to devotion to our Lord. We rejoice in Him. We joyfully worship Him and understand that our standing before Him is based on His work in redeeming us, not in anything we have done. Then, with hearts full of thanksgiving, we submit to everyone out of reverence for Christ. This is the time we get into the Word and worship Him through our pursuit of Him.

This is how genuine Christians become spirit-filled. This is how they find victory over the sins that cling so close. They learn to mortify them. Counterfeit Christianity applies the wisdom of the world to the problem and is all wrapped up in religion. Genuine Christians know that their walk before the face of God is based in their relationship with Him not in what church they go to or what denomination they are part of. Victory over sin is not accomplished through religiosity. No, only those who learn how to repent with joy are able to mortify their sin and run the race with endurance that God has set before them. Then they can serve Him in any capacity He desires.

Soli Deo Gloria!