Blog #280: Making an Idol out of a Counterfeit Jesus

John Cline

We have been preaching our way through the second to the seventh books of the Bible and in them are plenty of warnings against idolatry (including the first two of the Ten Commandments). God does not want us to make idols of anything or anyone for that would take the pureness of our worship of Him, negatively impacting our relationship with Him. A recent article online by a Daniel Darling entitled, “10 Counterfeit Christ Figures We Should Stop Worshiping” makes a contemporary case of people too often making an idol out of a counterfeit cultural teaching about Jesus. I won’t quote the entire article here but, in it, he gives examples of ten counterfeit Jesus’s that are popular in Christian culture today.

1.Guru Jesus: the wise, winsome, slightly supernatural figure who fits nicely alongside other religious titans like Buddha, Muhammad, Vishnu and others. This is a safe Jesus, who will only ever tell us good, affirming, uplifting things, but doesn’t bother us with dangerous talk of the Kingdom of God. Do not worship such a Jesus as it defies the historical record and the claims of Jesus Himself. Guru Jesus doesn’t meet the deepest longings of the human experience, doesn’t answer the problem of evil, and offers no hope for future cosmic renewal.

2. Red-Letter Jesus – a counterfeit Jesus much in vogue among many well-meaning, progressive evangelicals. This counterfeit Jesus only takes seriously those quotes of Jesus in the gospels that are marked out by Bible publishers in red ink. What is convenient about this Jesus is that he replaces the so-called angry God of the Old Testament with a mostly peaceful, healing, non-controversial Jesus of justice. What’s more, he’s way more likable than that irascible Apostle Paul who just doesn’t understand 21st-century social norms. But Red-Letter Jesus does not take seriously the controversial things Jesus said in the Bible about such topics as marriage, hell and his coming kingdom. Red-Letter Jesus might fit onto a coffee mug but he is not of the Bible.

3. Braveheart Jesus: he has come to help men recover their masculinity—the Jesus of Braveheart, John Wayne westerns and big-game hunting. This Jesus is a response to a very real crisis in the culture: a crisis of manhood. But a Christ-shaped masculinity isn’t defined by hyper-masculine tough talk, cuss words and MMA. The Jesus of Scripture was both tough and tender, a man who rebuked and nurtured. And he didn’t come to conform men into a modern, hyper-masculine construct, but into men who fulfill their unique kingdom purposes as servant-leaders in the home, the church and the community.

4. American Jesus, the Jesus of American patriotic national renewal, a counterfeit Jesus who ushers in a revival whose results turn the political map from blue (Democrats) to red (Republican). This is a Jesus who, if followed, will return the USA (and, some would say, Canada) back to the perceived glory days of yesterday. But, this Jesus looks strangely different from the real Jesus of Scripture. The Christ of the gospels didn’t point his people to the 1950s, but forward to Zion. Jesus isn’t simply interested in returning our society to a false era of bygone values, but He lived, died and rose again to renew the entire cosmos from the curse of sin. American Jesus always disappoints because he seeks ultimate satisfaction in short-term victories instead of a long-term view of the Kingdom of God. The Jesus of Scripture offers a final consummation of Heaven on Earth and enlists his people as future kings and queens of the universe.

5. Left-Wing Jesus: this mascot for progressive social causes is a Jesus who is definitively anti-capitalist and has little interest in personal salvation by faith. Like the Right who appropriate Christ for political aims, the Jesus of the Left hints at truth but the advent of God’s end-times salvation and the inauguration of a new covenant between God and His people was mediated through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, not through utopian dreams of socialism, which have only ever ended in misery for its subjects.

6. Dr. Phil Jesus: this Jesus is a tough-talking dispenser of advice. Evangelicals love this Jesus because he’s the solution for all of their problems. This Jesus comes close to the real Christ of Scripture, who is the answer to our deepest needs, and yet He exchanges a pursuit of Christ for a pursuit of principles. Jesus becomes less of an object of worship than a means to an end—a 12-step recovery program. The real Jesus leads us not to a set of principles, but to himself.

7. Prosperity Jesus: this counterfeit Jesus is Dr. Phil Jesus’ extravagant cousin. He doesn’t just promise a better life, he promises a wealthy and prosperous life. But this popular Jesus is strangely discomforting to the nitty-gritty, threadbare existence of most Christians around the world, an insidious heresy, preying both on the poor to collect their money and causing disappointment and ruin when the promised prosperity doesn’t materialize. The real Christ doesn’t promise private jets and vacation condos but offers the presence of God in the midst of difficult and self-denying faithfulness in a fallen world. What’s more, the Christ of Scripture offers a much better future return on investment than the short-term bling of earthly kingdoms.

8. Post-Church Jesus: this Jesus allows you to worship him without all the trappings of the institutional church. In some ways, this Jesus is attractive for those who’ve grown tired of a gospel that sounds more like traditionalism than the gospel of Christ. But the real Jesus doesn’t offer his followers the option of following him without being part of the church. The very act of regeneration by faith baptizes the believer into the body of Christ. Christ loves his bride and offers no fruitful path of faith outside of the community of faith.

9. BFF Jesus: Best-Friend-Forever Jesus hints at the truth of the Christ of Scripture, who is a friend of sinners, who offers personal salvation by faith. However, the BFF Jesus of some of our modern worship songs sounds less like the righteous ruler of Revelation and more like Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend. He’s needy and clingy. What’s more, this Jesus seems to have no connection to 2,000 years of church history and the weight of Christian orthodoxy. Instead, he’s a light and fun Jesus, a Jesus who fits well with our culture of narcissism. He approves, without reservation, our lifestyles and behaviors and is safe for the whole family. He’s the Jesus of pop evangelicalism, which offers little preparation for difficulty and hard times and offers little anchor for the coming cultural storms.

10. Legalist Jesus: this Jesus baptizes my traditions and preferences as orthodoxy. Like the Pharisees, Legalist Jesus mixes prohibitions on grey matters with orthodoxy. This Jesus, scorned by some, is attractive to others because he offers a simple list of rules to live by, allowing his followers to ignore the daily practice of repentance and forgiveness and the Spirit’s sanctifying work and instead offers a checklist Christianity. The problem with Legalist Jesus is that his gospel doesn’t save. It offers a lifeless religion that seeks outward transformation at the expense of inward renewal and grace. Only the real Christ, whose life, death and resurrection offer personal and cosmic salvation, has the power to change lives and bring His people to Himself.

As you can see, each of these Jesus figures offers a glimpse of the real Jesus, but by accentuating only some of His character, keeps Christians from bowing in worship at the feet of the real Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Let’s not make an idol of any counterfeit Jesus but, instead, let us surrender our lives in obedience to the original Jesus of Scripture. Doing so will prevent idolatry and bring about purity in our relationship with God.

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