Jesus alone can save you from your sins. No works will earn you salvation.
But following Christ comes with a cost.
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
Christ will help you carry your cross, but the narrow road will lead you away from seeking or finding security in the comforts of this world, and from heeding all the messages the world gives you (“you need to be famous, rich, “successful” in this life”, etc.). This road will bring you closer fellowship with Christ as you walk with Him.
These earthly losses will be replaced with spiritual security, significance, and peace in Him.
Because you have a relationship with Christ, you love Him, and it hurts you more to hurt Him than it hurts to displease others by honoring Him.
Christ promises his followers eternal life and a cross in this life.
We will have treasure in heaven, but we must lose our lives for Christ here. Christ and His will come before everything and everyone.
To sum it up, true Christianity is, well, Christ-centered.
True Christianity has nothing to do with denominational affiliation. It is not a religious system.
True Christianity has everything to do with a person – Jesus Christ.
If you trust in Him alone for salvation and seek His will in your life, you are living out true Christianity.
You can only know God’s will and direction for you if you have His Spirit living in you. Not if you’re simply “professionally qualified” as a spiritual leader or “charismatic”.
His Spirit lives in you if you are saved.
Many who profess to be Christians think that their Christianity is Christ-centered and is “true Christianity”. Yet their worship and their lives are filled with idols, in which they are trusting more than Christ.
Those idols could be secular or “religious”.
A good test for determining whether your Christianity is genuine is this:
How simple is it?
How hard is it?
Christ’s way is very simple, but very hard.
In fact, without God’s strength, it is impossible to live out this simple but self-crucifying Christianity.
Apart from God, we overcomplicate His requirements and commandments – tacking on old laws and the old covenant – and we also neglect His commandments for us (loving one another and believing in Christ).
This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.
1 John 3:23
We can only love and believe with the aid of the power and enlightenment (wisdom) of Christ.
If we are worshiping idols instead of Him – or putting gods before Him – living by these commandments will be impossible.
Our way is complex and tedious, yet “easy” in that it is within our fleshly scope to execute. We don’t need Christ.
Our plan for reaching God?
We memorize the Ten Commandments and slap on some other old Jewish laws, and then add on some more recent precepts of men and teachings of “the church”, and believe that this will please God and reunite us with Him.
We create some icons that depict what we think Christ might have looked like, and worship those.
We worship the figure of the cross, rather than the one who died on it.
We worship with our gestures and lips more than with our generosity and love.
We bow and pray to graven images or to men, calling it “Christ worship”.
True Christianity involves centering our faith and salvation around Christ alone (who lives and is worshiped in the heart, not through buildings made with hands).
True Christianity is simple, because Christ’s way is simple.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
True Christianity is to love one another.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
These things I command you, that you love one another.
True Christianity is to believe in Him.
“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
1 John 3:23-24
And True Christianity is to take up our crosses and follow Him.
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.
Of course, we all stumble. We all fail and mess up and sin. But someone who is truly saved will hate their sin, even though they still struggle with it. This inward brokenness over sin is a sign that the Spirit is at work. A sign that someone is truly saved.
True Christianity is stunningly simple, yet infinitely hard to accept in its simplicity.
It is simple because it doesn’t require membership in a church or certain religious rites or practices. True Christianity is of, in, for, and about Christ. Period.
He is the only source of all wisdom and salvation, and He is the primary focus in worship and in life.
It is hard because most of us think that we can impress or please God by something we do, or through something we add on to Christ.
It is hard for the one who wishes to “play some part” in their salvation.
It is hard for the one who believes they can “intellectually” “reason” a better way to the Father.
Christ’s sacrifice is to Jews (the religious) a stumbling block and to Gentiles (the intellectual) foolishness, but to those who are the called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The “foolishness” of God is wiser than men, and the “weakness” of God is stronger than men.
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom;
but we preach Christ crucified,
to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,
but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh,
not many mighty,
not many noble;
but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,
and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,
and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen,
the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,
so that no man may boast before God.
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus,
who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,
so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Baptism that happens before salvation (in the case of many infants, for example) is a work in the flesh, and by the flesh no man can please God. Our works apart from Christ are as filthy rags.
All we can “do” to be saved is believe in Jesus (though even faith comes from God). Receive His gift to us of eternal life. His payment for our sins.
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
True Christianity centers around one thing: Christ.
Not “righteous” acts in the flesh (and according to the wisdom) of men.
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling,
and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom,
but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
1 Cor. 2:1-5
True Christianity doesn’t center around worldly wisdom – around reason and tradition (which created the notion through cherry picking of scripture that water baptism can save).
True Christianity centers simply around Christ, and Him crucified.
All hope and confidence is placed in Christ, and Christ alone.
For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God,
so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak,
not in words taught by human wisdom,
but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
1 Cor. 2:10-13
(bold emphasis added)
How can we know whether or not church “leaders” were truly saved?
Those who have the Spirit can discern what is of God and what is not.
Even “lay” individuals within the church can know the voice and wisdom of the Spirit, and can interpret God’s word through that.
Much trust has been misplaced in antichristian bishops, popes, and theologians.
These men are not our fathers. Only God is our Father. (Matt. 23:8-10)
Christ’s true sheep – who know His voice – will be able to discern the deception of these leaders, and to know the difference between truth and error.
1 Corinthians 2:14-16
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Many religious people do not know the Spirit of God, and view as foolish those who say they are taught by Christ, know His voice, and have a relationship with Him.
Sadly, these religious but dead people are natural men and women, who do not accept the things of the Spirit of God, and cannot understand them, as these things are spiritually appraised.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.
1 Cor. 3:1-6
This strife is seen between denominations.
What then is Luther? And what is Wesley? Servants through whom you believed.
God is the center of Christianity, NOT Luther, the English Church, the pope, etc.
Yet many who profess to be Christians find more hope in their denominations and favored theologians than they do in Christ Himself.
So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:7
Luther, Wesley, Whitefield, bishops, popes are nothing.
1 Corinthians 3:8
Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
Luther and Wesley are one. Luther chipped away at some problems of the Catholic Church, and Wesley chipped away at more problems.
Despite its failings, the English Reformation prepared the soil for an English minister who turned eighteenth century England upside down. That minister was John Wesley. By the 1700s, the Church of England had largely regressed into a lethargic church of the educated, the cultured, and the wealthy. Not content with this state of affairs, Wesley began taking the message of the Gospel to the workhouses, village streets, and open fields—in order to reach the common people. As had been so true of the preaching of the early Christians, Wesley’s preaching radically changed thousands of lives. His gospel of radical-saving grace turned both England and America upside down.
Unlike so many of the spiritual reformers who preceded him, John Wesley realized that a spiritual revolution has to begin within a person. The Holy Spirit must radically change a person from the inside out. There can be no return to primitive Christianity without the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. Wesley also grasped that when the Holy Spirit fills a person, there will necessarily be an outward change in his lifestyle. No one living in the Holy Spirit walks in the ways of the world.
Luther planted, Wesley watered, but any and all growth was from God.
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:9
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:10-11
Many religions lay their own foundation then add Christ on top, rather than the other way around.
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.
1 Corinthians 3:18
Many religious people are wise (“intellectual”) in their own eyes. They must become “foolish” – loving, seeking, and preaching no “wisdom” except Christ, and Him crucified.
Christianity does not get more complicated than that, and when it becomes more complicated, it becomes a false Christianity.
True wisdom is found in the simplicity of the gospel.
So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
1 Corinthians 3:21-23
All things belong to you, whether Luther or Wesley or Bunyan or Spurgeon.
You don’t have to pick between one of them – or the “religion” that stemmed out of one of them – because what matters is not these men, but the ONE THEY SERVED.
What matters is not knowing or praising the words or works of Man, but God alone, who unites.
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Cor. 6:9-10
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.
Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
1 John 3:7-10
One of the greatest mission fields today is the church in America.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
1 Cor. 10:1-13
Many who eat and drink of the communion table, have been baptized, and partake of God’s blessings are not in Christ, and even worship other gods.
Many who claim to be God’s people are not.
Unlike Vague Christianity, True Christianity is clear in its message, its mission, and its Messiah.
Unlike Licentious Christianity, True Christianity receives the grace of God freely, but does not deliberately treat that grace as an occasion for sin.
Unlike Prosperity Gospel Christianity, True Christianity involves a cross. You must take up your cross and follow Him. You must lose your life to find Him. You must hate everything and everyone in your life in comparison to your love for Christ.
Unlike Universalist Christianity, True Christianity accepts the Word of God, and admits its limitations in understanding the wisdom, love, and justice of God – and how they all connect and operate.
Unlike Cultural Christianity, True Christianity doesn’t care what the culture thinks. It is only concerned with what Christ thinks. It doesn’t add Christianity on to other pieces of life. Christianity is one’s entire life, and everything else is colored and influenced by that.
Unlike Fair Weather Christianity, True Christianity is prepared for winter, thunderstorms, and lightning. It doesn’t trust in the circumstances around it. It doesn’t depend upon a lack of waves or expect a nightless journey. It trusts in Christ alone, despite temporary, earthly trials.
Unlike Works-Based Christianity, True Christianity acknowledges the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross for salvation. Our works – including the acts of baptism and communion – do not earn us salvation. But good works will be the outward signs of the inward change of every true believer.
Unlike Religious Christianity, True Christianity is not focused on connecting to God merely or primarily through the external and elemental. Its substance is spiritual, not superficial. True Christianity involves relating to God in the heart, and this relationship does not require elemental mediation.
Unlike Judaized Christianity, True Christianity is lived from the inside out, not the outside in. The Christian life is governed by the Spirit, not by the Law.
Unlike Spiritless Christianity, True Christianity allows its members to be taught by the Spirit, and not primarily by the academic reasoning of men who don’t necessarily know Christ in their souls.
Note: the inclusion of any quotes or references in this series (Forms of False Christianity) does not necessarily indicate my complete agreement or affiliation with any of their authors – or those authors’ theological stances or denominations – unless explicitly stated. Quotes are included based on their own merit.