When I was a child, we always had real Christmas trees. Since I lived in Chicago, we did not have forests or woods to run to so that we could chop down our tree; rather, we purchased them from tree lots in neighborhoods. Tying the tree to the top of the car, we drove home with just the right tree, then having to cut the tree down because it was almost always too tall for the room.
My Great Aunt and Great Uncle, however, purchased an artificial tree … it was quite costly because it was the new trend. It was silver and came with a multicolored light wheel that turned so that the tree was any of a number of colors, including, of course, silver. The silver tree is still sold today, as I found this picture of one for sale this week.
Now, there was no way that anyone could have been fooled into thinking that the silver tree was a real tree. Of course, there are no totally silver metal trees in the wild! My mother thought that the silver tree was absurd; while I thought it was unique and rather cool. But even as a young child I knew it was not a real tree!
Now, in our own home, we have an artificial Christmas tree (actually two artificial trees). It is much easier to decorate and its cost is amortized over numerous years, making it a much more fixed-income friendly tree than a real tree would be. And, the artificial trees of today look much more like the real thing than did those of yesteryear, at least as long as you don’t get too close to inspect the “needles” or the “tree’s” branches.
From a distance it looks like the real thing, but it is not.
The same thing can be said about our spiritual lives, our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and our Savior. People can look good, do nice things and can even say the right words, but their relationship with the Lord may not be the real thing … they may be an imposter, a silver tree among the green.
This is not a new phenomenon – in the Old Testament God warns about people who seem like they are believers but who, in fact, worship false gods. Consider these words:
But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway,
For the household gods utter nonsense, and the diviners see lies; they tell false dreams and give empty consolation. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd.
Jesus spoke of false prophets, warning the people to beware of them.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
The Apostle Paul issued the same warning that Christ gave:
And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
2 Corinthians 11:12-15
The Apostle Peter also gave a warning about false prophets and those who preach heresies rather than the true gospel.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
2 Peter 2:1-3
Finally, the Apostle John also warned against false prophets who teach heresies, admonishing the people to test what people are saying to be sure that they are teaching God’s word and not a distorted message.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1 John 4:1
This Christmas time be vigilant, Christian. Test what you are hearing. Read the Scripture and pray for wisdom and understanding. Don’t fall prey to false teachers whose heresies sound rather like the gospel but are actually false teachings that distort and dilute the power of the Gospel of Christ.
Don’t be fooled by artificial trees that look real, but are not!
Father, I pray that I would have wisdom to separate the truth from the falsehood; that the Holy Spirit would help me avoid the pit of heresy; that I would be granted pastors and teachers who love Your Word and who preach the truth without apology, and that I would take that truth and live it out before others, to honor and glorify You, my Lord. my Redeemer and my King.