The Mask

Characteristics Of True Christianity Versus False Christianity

Daniel Downey
Jun 27, 2021    32m
What are the characteristics that can help us recognize the difference between true Christianity and false Christianity? True Christianity depends totally on the work of Christ and who He is; false Christianity is a system that involves relying on our works to gain favor with God. Video recorded at Los Gatos, California.

messageRegarding Grammar:

This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

Daniel Downey: Shortly before Covid hit, my family decided to take a trip to New York City, where we did all of the predictable touristy things, we went to Times Square and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, we visited the Statue of Liberty, and we saw some Broadway shows, met some Broadway actors. And we went to Ellis Island, which was the landing point for many of my wife's relatives. And on our last day there, we decided to go to the Lower East Side to walk on the streets where Lisa's great grandmother had lived, and it was fascinating and fun and interesting. And what I particularly enjoyed was how on almost every street corner there was someone who wanted to sell us authentic, authentically fake Gucci purse, or this wonderful timekeeping treasure, a fake Rolex watch.

Daniel Downey: That made me think, why would someone want to buy a Rolex watch? Well, it's a reliable timekeeper, it's durable, it tends to hold its value, Rolex watches tend to be a good investment. And it tells people something about me and about my tastes, and depending on the crowd, it can give me status. I clipped this from an actual Rolex advertisement. Thinking about buying a Rolex? Then you're just a few steps away from joining the exclusive international community who are united by this incredible brand. There are many reasons why a person may choose to enter the elevated world of Rolex ownership. the historic brand is loaded with cultural, symbolic and financial value. It stands as one of the most reputable and most recognized brands in the world. It's a symbol of status, opulence, and class. and its heritage links the brand with some of the most significant and powerful people of the last century. OK, I get buying a Rolex, status, opulence and class, but why would someone want to buy a fake Rolex? Well, presumably it tells the time and maybe it's durable, I don't know, it could be. It's a dubious investment unless I can convince people that it's the real thing, and if I gave it to as a gift to someone who didn't bother to tell them it was a fake, they could think that it had value.

Daniel Downey: But this is where it gets interesting, as long as people think that it's real, that they don't know it's a fake, it can tell people something about me and depending on the crowd can link me with some of the most significant and powerful people in the last century, all the status without any value. It's a phony, but for the most part, it's virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. In the New Testament, in the first generation of the church's existence, there was a phony and insidious version of Christianity floating around. And in certain circles, though, it was a cheap imitation knockoff of the real thing, it had a perceived value, and mastering this version could give one status. It was so popular that several New Testament letters deal with it directly, head-on, attempting to out the counterfeit, which people were inadvertently mistaking for the real thing.

Daniel Downey: In the notes, I've listed background passages that you can read that will give you a glimpse of the amount of ink that was spent addressing this issue, it was a hot topic for the churches in several cities in its day. Fun fact, when I was in high school, I used to do magic shows for kid’s birthday parties. I looked hard to try to find a picture of Daniel as a magician, and this is all that I could come up with, it's an 80s throwback picture when obviously I was still highlighting my hair as a brunette and had a lot more of it. One of the fun birthday party games that we used to do was to give the kids an outline of Snoopy and then all were blindfolded, they had to try to draw in what they thought Snoopy looked like, and whoever had the one that looked the most like Snoopy would win a prize. So from a coloring book, I would trace the first outline, and then I would put another piece of paper over that and trace the outline of Snoopy, and I would put another piece over that, and I would do 25 versions for the sake of time. The only problem was that by the end, the final, or 25th version, didn't look a whole lot like the first version, it kind of looked like an overfed Snoopy had met an inebriated Pablo Picasso. The crazy thing about the church is, if it had existed for 25 generations and drifted from the original, we would understand. But, in this case, it had strayed from the original version in the first century, in the first generation of the church, they were already drifting from the plan God intended with a variation he resisted. They had a version that was well-intended, but ill-advised, attractive but valueless, deeply religious and yet void of spirituality.

Daniel Downey: Curiously, though, in some circles, though, it was a cheap imitation knockoff of the real thing, it had a perceived value. So what was this phony version? Well, I would describe it in the form of some questions. Questions like. what defines me, what Jesus did, or what I do? Or the second question, am I righteous because of Jesus, or because of me, or both? Said still another way, do I have a proper ongoing standing with God because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, or is it what Jesus accomplished plus my good behavior? And in the New Testament, this question often related specifically to the issue of circumcision, but generally, it related to the Old Testament laws. Am I required to welcome the spirit of the Living God into my life, and live dependently on him, and obey the Old Testament laws in order to have a proper standing with God or not? Apparently, there was a tendency for people to think that if they maintained a pious external appearance and abided by the familiar practices of their traditional religion, then God must be really pleased with them. This meant keeping certain dietary laws, and observing festivals, or following religious rituals, and the Apostle Paul in particular had incredibly harsh words to describing one's confidence in anything other than Christ.

Daniel Downey: When I was growing up, we had a neighbor, who, when he got really frustrated, would say things like dash blast it, or darn, or Golly, or he would say this and I quote, H-E double hockey sticks. And his wife, if she was nearby, she would say, please forgive him for using such strong language. And privately, I would laugh because in my family, in the Downey family, that wasn't strong language, that was cute language, strong language meant something a little coarser.

Daniel Downey: In this passage, to describe the religious deception, the Apostle Paul uses Downey strength, strong language. In Colossians chapter 2 verses 8 through 14, he describes the phony version as empty deceit, philosophy, and human tradition. A few verses later, in 20-23, he describes this insistence on external behavior as valueless, having the appearance of wisdom and self-made religion. In Philippians 3:8, Paul reviews this impressive external pedigree that he has that would have given him status to religious people, but he calls it rubbish, and the actual word he uses in Greek is ultra-strength Downey strong language.

Daniel Downey: My guess is that their religiosity was not without value in some sense, it probably provided them with a sense of morality which inclined them to not do bad things. It was like a phony Rolex, it will tell time, it's not entirely without value, but the rub is that the outward appearance of religion unwittingly distracted them from the heart of the gospel, and it made it, therefore, entirely without value. It unsuspectingly caused them to focus on perfecting that which was on the outside, versus letting God transform that which is on the inside, resulting in change behavior on the outside.

Daniel Downey: And understandably, why wouldn't they confuse the phony version for the real one? For centuries, they were provided a religious system where they were to do and not do certain things, and if they obeyed, then they would have a proper standing with God. It was a conditional covenant, if you do the right things and avoid the wrong things, then you will be blessed. But Christ changed that system and moved from what was called the old covenant to a new one, which was based not on our performance, but on Christ's righteousness. Now, let me ask you, what gives you standing with God? Is it religious practice, or is it by trusting in what Christ did? Here are four painless questions you can administer in the comfort of your own home to help you identify if you're living by the old version or the new version.

Daniel Downey: First question, when you sin, do you tend to run from God or toward God? If your tendency is to run from God and hide ashamedly, you're probably living by the old covenant. If you run to God and agree with him that your sin is wrong, and you're grateful that he paid the price for it, and you declare your repentance and depend on him and accept his forgiveness, you're probably living by the New Covenant.

Daniel Downey: The second diagnostic question, think of your sin as a pile, your failure and sin all in one pile, do you see that pile standing between you and Jesus, or do you see Jesus standing by your side with his arm around your shoulder saying, wow, we've got a lot to work on?

Daniel Downey: Third question, do you tend to rank sin and see some sins as big sins and some sense as little sins? And if you commit a big one, then you feel guilty for a long time, but if you commit a little one, meh, we're good?

Daniel Downey: Last question, do you have a sin or behavior in your life and if you avoid it, you think, man, God is so pleased with me, we're good, life's good? But if you commit it or indulge, then do you assume that God is displeased with you?

Daniel Downey: In the first century, some people were advocating that God's approval was contingent on Jesus Christ plus external behavior to a religious system called the law. Most of the letter to the Galatian church is dealing with this issue. Think about Paul's rhetorical questions to the Galatians in Galatians 3. He says, "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Now, what comes to mind when you hear the word bewitched? I either think of a song by Rodgers and Hart that includes the words bothered and bewildered, or I think about a cute little witch who could her nose twitch and this jazzy tune. Now, if you're offended by the idea of me putting a witch in a sermon, think how offended the Galatian believers, the Galatian church, must have been when Paul used the word bewitched. In the Greek language, the word used for bewitched has the idea of slandering or bringing evil on someone, or casting the evil eye on someone, or charming them with magic. Paul's telling them that they've been seduced by evil to believe that religious duty will afford them a proper standing with God, this is strong language, by golly.

Daniel Downey: And it's a complete world view switch, keeping the law isn't necessarily bad, there are positive aspects of a strong morality, but it does not require the Holy Spirit living in you to live a moral life, non-Christians can live a moral life. Moral people do it every day, my grandmother used to say, you're not acting very Christian, well, you don't have to be a follower of Jesus Christ to act Christian. The deception is this, if I think that God is pleased with me on the basis of my adherence to a prescribed set of external behavior, if I think God is pleased with me based on my ability to do good, then I've been bewitched. How about you? Are you easily bewitched by the notion that God is pleased with a healthy morality, versus God being thrilled that you're trusting in and resting in the it is finished work of Christ on the cross, and allowing him to live his life through you? Do you believe that more good behavior and less bad behavior equals godliness?

Daniel Downey: The authors of the book The Cure, write, "There's only one thing with the equation that more good behavior plus less bad behavior equals godliness. It completely disregards the righteousness God has already placed in us. Yes, we mature and godliness, but if we disregard the righteousness that results from trusting what God has done in us, or hiding who we truly are, we can never resolve our sin by working on it. We may externally sublimate behavior, but we're essentially repositioning the chairs a bit on the deck of a sinking ship. When we strive to sin less, we don't, worse, the whole hamster wheel effect of it all causes us to lose hope that anything will ever breakthrough. In fact, this path actually seals us in immaturity, even though this distorted theology breaks our hearts over and over and over, we desperately keep trying it, what a wicked hoax." Pleasing God is actually a byproduct of trusting God. Pleasing is not a means to godliness, it's the fruit of our godliness, it's the fruit of trust.

Daniel Downey: The Apostle Paul described this phony narrative as empty, valueless, rubbish, bewitched, and in the passage that will spend the rest of our time looking at today, he described it as dead. If you have a Bible, please turn to Second Corinthians chapter 3. The context is Paul describing a Christian life that is triumphant, where we're always being led and triumphant in every place. And then he says, who is adequate to live this life? Who is adequate for these things? Who can live this amazing life? Who can live the Christian life? And his answer is in chapter 3 where he writes, "Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."

Daniel Downey: In Chapter 2, Paul rhetorically asks, "Who can live this triumphant life?" And his answer is, as every Sunday school student knows, Jesus. Who can bring about transformation in our lives? Jesus. God designed the Christian life so one person could live it and his name is Jesus, not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, our standing is from God, our righteousness is from God, our salvation is from God, our forgiveness from God, our transformation is from God, and to think that any of this is dependent on me is straight from the pit of HE double hockey sticks. Pardon my strong language.

Daniel Downey: In this passage, the Apostle Paul uses a series of contrasts to compare the old and new covenant. Remember, the old covenant was a conditional covenant that said if you obey, then you will be blessed. The new covenant says, you are blessed, you are free to obey. Take a look at the contrast between the old and new, he describes the new covenant as being adequate, or in some translations, competent, inferring the opposite of inadequate. He says with the new covenant, the spirit gives life, the other one brought about commandments which kill. One gives life, the other one is described as the Ministry of Death. One is written on our hearts; one is written on stone. One is unfading, one faded. One is unveiled, one is veiled. One is the path of righteousness that leads to liberty and transformation, the other leads to condemnation. And one is unconditional versus conditional. And one our adequacy is from God versus from ourselves. This is a Christ-focused life, a self-focused life. One is unmasked, trusting my identity and Christ, my righteousness that he has given me, one is pretending, masked. One is based on trust; one is based on pleasing. One is dynamic, and one is static.

Daniel Downey: God gave his people a conditional covenant, one that they could never keep, and he did it to point them to their need for a savior. And he promised them, though, even in the Old Testament, that a new system was on the way, a better system. In Jeremiah 31, we read, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." God replaced the old with the new, a new covenant, an unconditional covenant. And in so doing, he declares that the old covenant is dead, it's morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably dead. And not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

Daniel Downey: But something within our old nature makes us want to try hard and please God by our behavior, rather than trusting in the nature that he's given us, we are new creatures in Christ, new creations. So we try hard, but trying hard doesn't work, working on my sin to achieve an intimate relationship with God does not work. Now, when we see that old covenant and New Covenant list side by side, we know which path to choose, we know the answer, so what do we do? The passage has an interesting illustration, in Exodus Chapter 34, when Moses came down from the mountain after meeting with God, his face shown, and it was so disturbing that he wore a veil to cover it so that he wouldn't scare people. According to Second Corinthians chapter 3, he continued to wear the veil even when the glory was fading so that people would not see that it had faded. In other words, he went from masking the radiance, to masking the fact that there was no longer any radiance, he was hiding. Now, why would Paul introduce that in this passage? Well, firstly, he's trying to make a point to illustrate the fading nature of the old covenant. But secondly, I suspect it was because he was making the point that when we try to live by the old covenant, but can't, the temptation is to put on a mask to pretend on the outside that which is not a reality on the inside. In other words, to pretend that everything is OK even when it's not.

Daniel Downey: Now, let me ask you something, do you think that Christians today have a temptation to wear a mask and pretend that everything is OK on the outside, even when it isn't on the inside, and think we're doing God a favor by wearing it? And by the way, during a pandemic, what could be less controversial in a church than talking about wearing a mask? Why do we wear a mask? Well, we wear a mask to hide things, or to pretend to be who we aren't. Again from the book The Cure, "They say we wear a mask when our failure tends to tell us that the experiment of grace didn't work, or when we want to prove to God that we were worth his choice to love us, or when we believe that God wants us to fake it so that he looks good, or when we think that God cares more about right behavior than he does about our trust in obedience, or when we feel ashamed."

Daniel Downey: Now, if you've ever traveled on an airplane for a long distance and they have a screen with the flight pattern, you see the map, and you know that the the path from one location to the other is usually some sort of line. But along the way, as the flight happens, the plane doesn't always follow that line depending on weather patterns or air traffic patterns, sometimes there has to be a significant adjustment in the journey. The plane will still reach the destination, it just followed a different path to get there. Now, think about that path, that arc as your life. You're on a journey. And along the way, there have been some significant turning points that forever changed the direction of your path. It could have been something difficult, something wonderful, it could have been an aha moment. For me, one of the greatest aha moments and life-changing pivots was when I began to understand that God is not glorified when I wear a well-intended religious mask, even one that says everything is fine. And according to this passage, the key to transformation is not me working hard to take that mask off, verse 16 says, "Whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. It's God who does the veil taking away, not us,

Daniel Downey: The path to maturity is not the path of trying harder, it's the path of surrendering wholeheartedly. It's not saying I'll work hard to overcome this habit; the power of transformation occurs when I recognize that I'm not adequate in myself to consider anything is coming for myself, my adequacy is from Him. I tell him, God, I want to change, but I don't have the power to change, but I'm willing to change, please change me. I don't have the ability to say no to a sin, I will eventually fall, but when I learn to say yes to him, he can give me the power to say no to sin.

Daniel Downey: Here's an outline that one could construe from this passage. Admit that you're powerless over your addiction and compulsive behavior or admit that your life has become unmanageable. Secondly, come to believe in a power greater than yourself that can restore you to sanity. And thirdly, make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God. Does this sound familiar? These are the first three steps of most 12 step recovery programs. History has a few people who looked good in a mask, for the rest of us, masks don't look so good, and the weird thing about wearing a mask is that if we're trying to project someone other than ourselves and people like the phony us, it's the mask that receives the love and approval, we don't.

Daniel Downey: If you want to live free, according to Second Corinthians, chapter 3:17-18, "We have to turn to the Lord so that he can remove our phoniness. And then with unveiled faces, we reflect the Lord's glory and are being transformed into his likeness with an ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." God wants to transform our real selves, not our phony, idealized, or projected, self. The old covenant is trying to do our best on behalf of God, the new covenant is God doing his best through broken but available people who live dependently on him while trusting the goodness of his character.

Daniel Downey: The late pastor Ray Stedman wrote, "The New Covenant is at its core 'Christ in you, the hope of glory' Jesus expressing his character through his people. The incarnation, God clothed in human flesh, remains the heritage of his people. It is you in Christ and Christ in you. With our identity firmly in Christ, we live out an authentic Christianity! Everyone is born into this world, operating on the old covenant as contrasted with the new which we can learn when we become a Christian. Now, being a Christian does not mean that you automatically operate in the new covenant, that's why you find Christians who are just as mixed up, just as torn up inside, just as unable to handle life as non-Christians are. Though there are Christians, they have not learned the value of being a Christian. They've not learned how to operate on the new covenant which they have available to them in the Lord Jesus. They're still operating, for the most part, on the old covenant, that is what is fouling up their lives."

Daniel Downey: Now, I said a lot, and, by golly, forgive me for the strong language, what are some of the many things that we can take away from this? I'd like to give you four things to think about. If this was such a widespread problem in the New Testament, captured in the New Testament letters, I suspect that this exact problem exists today among very religious people. Said another way, one of the easiest ways to get Christ-followers off track is to get them to focus on their behavior, not on their identity. We have been made righteous in Christ, it is finished, and when we grasp our identity in Christ, it frees us to live for him. God designed the Christian life so that only one person could live it, and his name is Jesus, as we die to ourselves with a broken and contrite heart, it creates the capacity, the space, for Jesus to live His life through us.

Daniel Downey: The apostle Paul will go on and Second Corinthians chapter 4, to describe clay pots or vessels built to contain a treasure, the treasure is Jesus. And as life presses in from every side, and as the clay pot or vessel cracks, it creates the capacity for Jesus to shine, to live out, to be revealed in us through our weakness. When Lisa and I were living in Russia, one of our teammates was going to throw herself a birthday party as an evangelistic outreach and by inviting her friends, and she asked us to pray that people would see in her something captivating, a different just by the way she lived her life. And it frankly set me on a bender, I thought for a long time, whom do I know about whom I would say, that person is so captivating, different by how they live their life, I want what they have. I thought for a long time, and I ended up coming up with a short list, my name was not on it. When I thought about those whose names were on it, they all had some things in common, they all tended to be a little bit more mature, and they all had suffered some difficult things in their life through which they had created the capacity to not draw attention to themselves but to focus on other people. To put the focus of their life, not on their life, but on Jesus, and allow him to live this life through them. Now, I ask myself, do I want what they have? And the answer is yes. And then I ask myself, do I want to walk the path that they walk to get there? And the answer, quite frankly, is, is there another way? And there is another way, it's called wearing a mask and pretending.

Daniel Downey: The second takeaway, defining one's standard based on behavior, which is undoubtedly subjective, is a trap. Remember, the old covenant was transactional in nature, if, then, if I obey, then I am acceptable. Isn't that part of our human nature, like in the quote from Ray Stedman? Now, if someone asked me, is God pleased with you right now? I would probably stop and do a quick moral inventory of my most recent behavior and answer accordingly. In other words, if I have been a good boy, then God is pleased with me and in the words of Admiral Ackbar, it's a trap. I'm free to obey the law, obeying the law will not free me. Paul writes in First Timothy 1:8, "Now we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully or legitimately." The order is acceptance, then obedience, not obedience, equals acceptance.

Daniel Downey: The third takeaway, living a sin-focused life tends to tempt me to define spiritual maturity as not doing bad things versus doing the right things. Have you ever been in a prayer group where someone, perhaps even with tears, confessed something awful that they had done? I have. Have you ever been in a prayer group where someone, perhaps even with tears, confessed that they had not done the right thing like disciple someone? I haven't. Many of the heroes of the faith, as we call them from Hebrews Chapter 11, certainly aren't there because of their stellar morality, they're there because of the great things they did for God by faith. In other words, in the Hebrews 11 economy, their behavior did not define them, their faith and what God did through their faith, and their obedience, and their availability, did.

Daniel Downey: The last takeaway to think about is this, sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don't. In Psalm 23, David wrote, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." In that moment, when he penned those words, that was undoubtedly true. he wanted for nothing. The question, did David live that way all the time? Or might you be able to think of a few occasions, as recorded in the Bible, when he wanted for something? David reached a point where he was content in his life connectedness with the living God, and he did not want at times, at other times he really wanted with disastrous consequences. Working out our salvation with fear and trembling is just that, it's work, it takes intentionality to live a dependent life, whereby faith and believing that I'm completely forgiven, and I am set free to obey. In some glorious moments, hopefully, seasons, we live by the new covenant, but if we're not careful or intentional, we can default to living by the old covenant.

Daniel Downey: Now, I've said a lot in these past few minutes, but in a way, I've just kept saying the same thing over and over again. Don't be bewitched and fall for the phony masked version of Christianity. Pardon my strong language.

Daniel Downey: Let's pray. Father in heaven, you created a system, you designed a system where we are vessels created to contain you. And as you enter our life, you transform us and declare us righteous, and out of your strength and ability in our life and in our dependent weakness which we declare, you can allow us, you can use us, to do great things for your kingdom. Thank you, that you designed a system that is completely dependent upon you, it's risky living by faith, it's hard, it's easier to default to religious practice and checking the boxes. It's harder, and it requires intentionality and availability, to say you must increase and we must decrease, and not my will but may your will be done. Father, captivate our hearts and our mind, give us the confidence and trust in you to believe you for who you say we are and help us to live and minister in that strength. We pray expectantly in Jesus' name. Amen.

Recorded in Los Gatos, California.
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Venture Christian Church
16845 Hicks Road
Los Gatos, California 95032