Summary: To protect its integrity the church must take the responsibility of discerning between true and false believers.
Have you ever held a counterfeit bill? It can have all the appearances of the real thing. Most people are not able to immediately recognize one. However, a trained eye can quickly detect fake currency, because certain telltale flaws betray a bill's lack of genuineness.
United States law enforcement takes effective measures to prevent counterfeit currency activity. Strict and severe penalties are imposed on those who disregard laws against generating counterfeit money. The reason is obvious.
Left unchecked, widespread counterfeit currency would be devastating to our economy.
In a similar way, counterfeit Christians are devastating to the church. To protect its integrity the church must take the responsibility of discerning between true and false believers.
Before we can recognize an imposter, we must first be able to contrast him to his authentic counterpart. That is, we need to know how a counterfeit Christian differs from a genuine believer. Such an understanding will better enable us to discern between the two.
The Genuine Believer
The genuine believer is different than his counterfeit counterpart for at least two reasons ... who he is and what he has.
WHO HE IS
Three facts from Scripture help us understand who the genuine believer is. According to the book of Jude we know that he is uniquely embraced by the Godhead ... the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. First authentic believers are called by the Holy Spirit (v. 1). The word called means "an official summons."
Genuine believers have been summoned by God. Salvation begins with God. (If it began with us, we could lose it!) The apostle Peter reminds us that we are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of His who has called us out of darkness" (1 Peter 2:9).
I remember when God called me. I had heard the outward call of the gospel many times before, but that day I heard the inward call. An eight year old boy came out of spiritual death into spiritual life. Like Lydia in the book of Acts "whose heart the Lord opened," God called me out of darkness into His marvelous light. We know from Scripture that every true believer has been called from death unto life.
Second, true believers are beloved by God the Father. Those who are beloved are set apart for God Himself. He called us and brought us out of the world, washed us in His blood, and now sets us apart for Himself. Love has a way of setting one's beloved apart.
When a man loves a woman and marries her, he sets her apart from all others for his very own. Although God loves all people, only genuine believers are His beloved.
Jesus alluded to this point in His high priestly intercessory prayer on the evening before His crucifixion. He prayed for us as He petitioned the Father:
"I do not ask in behalf of these alone,
but for those also who believe in Me
through their word; that they may all be one;
even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee,
that they also may be in Us; that the world
may believe that Thou didst send Me.
And the glory which Thou hast given Me
I have given to them; that they may be one,
just as We are one;
I in them, and Thou in Me,
that they may be perfected in unity,
that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me" (John 17:20-23).
An earthly parent's love is sometimes conditional. Not so with God. As His children we can do nothing to make God love us more or less than He loves us already. He does not love us because we are valuable or worthy. We are valuable and worthy because He loves us. The Bible tells us that nothing can separate us from this love.
Our Father's love is beyond comparison. His children are precious to Him.
The apostle John comments on this truth when he says, "See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God" (1 John 3:1). We parents often think about how much we love our children, and the truth is that our heavenly Father loves us even more.
Third, the genuine believer is "preserved in Jesus Christ" (v. 1) and kept by the Father. The word "kept" or "preserved" is a Greek word which means "to watch, to guard over." In its original language text, the word appears in the perfect tense, which indicates past completed action with continuing results.
It might best be translated "continually kept." So when a believer stumbles He has the assurance that God keeps him from falling.