You see stories about them occasionally. People with great war records, their medals available for all to see. They tell you of their accomplishments in serving our country. Then, they run into a member of the military who has truly served with distinction. He recognizes the posers for what they are: fakes. He calls out the impostors who can’t follow up their stories because someone with real stories, real experiences, is cross examining them. People wanting the acclaim given to those who have rightly served continues to be a problem today. Many don’t recognize the impostors who have stolen the valor they are boasting of. But those who truly have valor can always see through them.
In the same way, many people claim to have a strong relationship with God who really don’t. Ultimately, those people are exposed by people who do have a strong relationship with God, often without trying. People who think that they have a relationship with God that is so strong sometimes believe that they are guardians of the faith; in most cases, those who claim to be guardians of the faith have deluded themselves and don’t even know God. Jesus ran into that problem a lot as Pharisees, the so-called guardians of the faith in ancient Israel, attacked Jesus while claiming a special kinship with God. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.’” (John 8:42)
Jesus dealt with all kinds of accusations from the Pharisees. They didn’t like the way He healed people. They didn’t like His teachings. They didn’t like that He claimed to be the Son of God. Were we to put it in today’s terms, they accused Him of trading on Stolen Valor. They claimed to be children of God, since they were children of Abraham. They claimed to be free and yet Jesus made it clear that not only were they not free, even in a spiritual sense, their actions and their attitudes showed that they were children of the devil, not of God. This set the Pharisees off. Unlike those who today participate in stolen valor, the Pharisees truly thought they were serving God. They were the ones who had been protecting the faith through all the years since the return from exile. The words of Jesus must have been like a slap in the face. What they missed in all their “good works” was that God was merciful and loving. In their rush to defend the faith, they trampled over the mercy and grace of the faith giver.
Let’s face it, even today we don’t like heretics. If I had the power and you asked me to get rid of today’s heretics, I could give you a pretty long list of those people I would “take care of” because they are wrong. I know they are wrong because they disagree with me. In that rush to “purify” the faith though, I would have to ignore God’s mercy and grace that brings forgiveness to even the worst who turn to Him. I would have to act in a heretical way by taking on the mantle of God as His protector, rather than trusting God to take care of things. We are called to focus on God and draw people into fellowship with Him, not to defend the faith against all heretics. Too many people are hurting, too many people are seeking a relationship with the one true God for us to worry about smiting those who may not be completely in line with our beliefs. In fact, our beliefs may not be completely in line with the teachings of Jesus and the mercy we are to show. If we focus on living our faith and ministering to others, we will do far better work for the kingdom of God than anything else we could do.
O Lord, I do want to make sure that all those other people who claim to follow You really do follow You – like I think they should. Remind me that I am not You. Remind me that my job is to show others Your grace and mercy and to live that out each and every day.