Is the Christianity you know really the true religion found in your Bible? You need to know the truth behind centuries of counterfeit traditions.
When Warner Brothers decided to revive its popular Matrix franchise by releasing The Matrix Resurrections in 2021, many were thrilled. The original trilogy that began with The Matrix in 1999 stirred the imagination of millions with its futuristic depiction of a mostly passive humankind trapped by robotic overlords in a simulated “counterfeit” reality, unaware of their imprisonment.
In 2003, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions continued the tale of underdog human beings breaking free from their illusions and fighting for their freedom in the real world. Though movie critics weren’t as impressed by the sequels, their groundbreaking visual effects—sadly marred by truckloads of gratuitous violence—still captured moviegoers’ imaginations, as well as their wallets.
Two decades later, The Matrix: Resurrections did not fare quite so well. Though its $427 million global box office earnings were by no means a “flop” in a time of much-reduced moviegoing since COVID-19, the highly anticipated new installment earned $40 million less than the original movie—and that’s without accounting for inflation. And its mediocre 63 percent rating on the popular RottenTomatoes.com “Tomatometer” paled in comparison to the first film’s 88 percent. It simply didn’t capture public imagination as its predecessors had 20 years earlier.
In the 20 years since the original Matrix trilogy was released, many moviegoers may have come to consider its once-revolutionary premise almost unremarkable. In our modern world of A.I.-generated audiovisuals, it is no longer so shocking to consider that much or all of what you know, see, and experience is, in fact, a deceptive counterfeit—a lie designed to keep you from knowing the truth.
But it is nonetheless a powerful idea. And, according to your Bible, it is far closer to the truth than almost anyone today truly realizes.
Indeed, like the human victims of the machines in the Matrix movies, most people today—including many of you reading this magazine—live in a world of counterfeit religion, designed to keep your mind captive and to prevent you from recognizing the truth that would set you free if you would abide by Jesus Christ’s word. We read that “Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (John 8:31–32).
Yes, becoming free—escaping the counterfeit reality created as a prison for our minds and finding a way to the truth of God—requires us to abide in Christ’s word and to be willing to ask some very difficult and uncomfortable questions.
To do so, we must be willing to examine our own beliefs and ask ourselves whether what we believe, including beliefs we have long taken for granted, is, in fact, true. Frankly, most would rather not do that. Most people go through their lives without a great deal of reflection or examination. From their political views to their stands on the issues of the day, most people are generally more interested in arguing—proving that they are right and that their opposition is wrong—than in actually examining their beliefs to see if they square with what is true.
Such a lack of introspection and self-examination extends to our religious ideas, as well. How many people honestly put their beliefs about God “under the microscope”? How many people truly examine their ideas about the meaning of life, about right and wrong, and about good and evil? How often do people simply continue in the religious customs and practices they were taught as children, without making sure that the god they are worshipping is the true God? How many absorb the faith convictions and practices promulgated by the many and varied spiritual guides today, without evaluating them for soundness?
The Apostle Paul, writing to Christians living just a few decades after Christ’s resurrection, had to prod them into doing such an examination. He wrote, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6–7).
Paul saw that a different gospel was beginning to take root in the Christian Church—a gospel other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Notice his concern: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it” (2 Corinthians 11:3–4).
Paul was struggling against the spread of a major apostasy, a teaching that involved a different gospel, a different spirit, and a different Jesus. Although its doctrines and customs sounded quite similar to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, it was a counterfeit. While deceptively similar, it was not the truth.
The Bible describes a struggle to maintain the purity of the Christian faith—a struggle that began just a few years after Christ established His Church. Even in the penultimate book of the Bible, we see this struggle continuing:
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 3–4).
But who was the ultimate source of the counterfeit “Christianity” that was corrupting the young Church? Paul explained that “such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13–14).
Satan, the devil, was the source of confusion and corruption in the early Church. Paul calls him “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4) or “the god of this world” (King James Version). It was he who was infiltrating the young Church in the first century, deceiving the gullible and presenting a counterfeit gospel, a counterfeit faith, and a counterfeit Christ.
How did this struggle in the first century turn out? Here we are, twenty centuries later—surely all has turned out well, right? Or has it? We know that Jesus Christ promised that He would build His Church and that the gates of Hades, the grave, would never prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Though it would be greatly persecuted, maligned, and misunderstood, the Church that Jesus Christ founded to teach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) would never perish from the earth, and it is prophesied to be present at His climactic Second Coming.
Yet what do we see today? A mind-numbing variety of beliefs and practices that claim the name “Christian,” but cannot all be true. The book of Revelation describes what our world will be like in the days leading up to the return of Jesus Christ. The Apostle John wrote, “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).
Yes, Satan deceives the whole world. His counterfeiting has never stopped. He has not given up in his effort to spread a false Christianity, a false gospel, and a false Christ. He still masquerades as an angel of light, he is still the god of this world, and he is still the father of lies.
Consider this New Testament prophecy of the end-time—our time: “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon” (Revelation 13:11). Here in this description of a great false prophet, the coming antichrist who will soon be revealed to the entire world, we see that he looks like a lamb. Indeed, many will assume that he represents Christ. But those who are discerning will recognize that he does not sound like the Lamb—rather, he speaks like a dragon, like that serpent of old who is the devil and Satan, who spreads his counterfeit religion to deceive the whole world.
We have seen from Scripture that Satan has been at work powerfully for millennia, deceiving the world. We have seen that the world will be under his influence in the end-times. So, let us consider a difficult question that few will have the courage to answer honestly: Does today’s modern “mainstream Christianity” represent the real Christianity of Jesus Christ, or the counterfeit offered by Satan?
Many historians and scholars have already weighed in on this question. Notice this comment from Protestant scholar Jesse Lyman Hurlbut: “For fifty years after St. Paul’s life a curtain hangs over the church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises, about 120 A.D. with the writings of the earliest church-fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul” (The Story of the Christian Church, 1933, p. 41).
Hurlbut is far from alone in his assessment. But could it really be true that the counterfeit Christianity that was invading the early Church like a virus in the first century could still be present in the twenty-first century? Christ calls His true followers a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). Is it possible that the counterfeit could, in fact, be the dominant form of what most people call “Christianity” today?
And if so, how would we know? How can we determine whether the faith we follow is the truth or the counterfeit?
In our effort to identify a counterfeit faith, we can take a cue from the United States Treasury Department, which fights against counterfeit money. One of the most effective ways to recognize a counterfeit is to be completely and intimately familiar with the real thing. When you are deeply aware of how a real $20 bill feels in your fingers—the intricate details in its artwork, the weight of its paper in your hands, the way it responds when you fold it, the way ink bleeds into its paper, the small fibers that are embedded in its material—you can more capably recognize when you have been handed a counterfeit. When you know the “real thing,” the subtle differences in the counterfeit stand out to you like night stands out from day, even though others less familiar would not even notice.
Yet people still try to print and pass counterfeit currency. In May 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Pennsylvania intercepted four shipments containing more than $14 million in counterfeit currency. For as long as people demand the counterfeit, we can expect that there will be a supply.
This principle also applies to a counterfeit faith, a counterfeit Christ, and a counterfeit Christianity. Once you become familiar with the true standard, the counterfeit cannot help but stand out for its differences, no matter how subtle they are. Yet many are still satisfied with the counterfeit.
We can look to U.S. Treasury standards to recognize counterfeit currency, but where can we find the true standard for Christian faith and practice?
We must look to God’s own word—the Holy Bible. Consider the example of the Bereans: “Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:10–11).
What do most professing Christians not understand about Scripture? Consider something as fundamental as the reward of the saved. Many churches teach that when you die, you go to heaven. To some, that means floating around in the clouds with a harp in your hands. Others have described heaven as a “beatific vision” where you simply gaze at the face of God in joy for all eternity.
But what does the Bible teach us about the reward of the saved? In the passage of Scripture known as the Beatitudes, Jesus reveals something important: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
God’s word consistently describes the inheritance of the saints as being right here on this planet during Christ’s millennial reign. But what does the Bible tell us the saints will be doing on the earth? Notice that “he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—as I also have received from My Father” (Revelation 2:26–27). We also read that Christ will make us “kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10). Later, we find that the saints will reign with Christ for “a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6).
Is that just some sort of symbolic language or metaphor, which we can rationalize away or ignore? The Apostle Paul did not think so, according to what he wrote to Christians in Corinth: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” (1 Corinthians 6:1–3).
Here, as in many other places, the Bible explains that the reward of the saved is literally to rule with Jesus Christ in power and glory! And today’s faithful Christians also have Christ’s promise that they will inherit “all things” (Revelation 21:7)—including a vital role on the earth in the soon-coming Millennium, when Jesus Christ will establish the Kingdom of God throughout the world. You can read more about that in Mr. Richard Ames’ article on page 5 of this magazine.
Sadly, you will rarely—if ever—hear this truth proclaimed today in most churches that profess Christianity. But you don’t need to be fooled. The pure word of God gives us a rock-solid standard that allows us to identify Satan’s counterfeit Christianity.
And what do we find when we apply the “$20 bill test” to other aspects of traditional “Christianity”? Compared to the word of God, how do they measure up?
Consider some of the traditional celebrations associated with modern “Christianity.” You have probably heard the song proclaiming Christmas as “the most wonderful time of the year.” People exchange gifts, decorate trees, light Yule logs, and enjoy many traditions that have been passed down for generations and celebrated in Christ’s name. At Easter, parents tell their children that the Easter Bunny has brought them colored eggs and candies, and they enjoy hot cross buns and other long-standing traditions practiced in the name of Christ.
Yet any encyclopedia worth reading will clearly explain that these traditions and practices originated in pagan worship customs and predate Christianity by centuries—or even millennia. People who are aware of these origins sometimes say it is proper to “baptize” non-Christian customs by incorporating them into “Christian” worship. But how does God really feel about the use of pagan practices to worship Him and His Son?
In Scripture, God made His feelings very clear. He plainly commanded that pagan practices are not to be used in worshipping Him. He warned that His people must “not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:30–32).
As frequent readers of this publication know, Jesus Christ is the God who gave that command—and we should expect His true Church to obey Him. What did He say about those who reject His commands in favor of their own ideas? He told the Pharisees, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9). Christ condemned a practice that is pervasive in “mainstream Christianity” today—attempting to worship Him by using traditions designed for the worship of false gods.
The Matrix is just one of many science-fiction stories in which a hero discovers that the world around him is not as it seems but is in fact a cunning deception—a counterfeit reality—designed to keep him from knowing the truth.
In these stories, a moment often comes when the hero begins to learn the truth and must make a difficult decision: Do I go back to the comfortable world I’ve always known, even though I know it is a lie, or do I bravely take the next step and fully embrace the truth, regardless of how uncomfortable that decision may seem? Like those who knowingly spend counterfeit currency, many who encounter the reality of God’s word are willing to trust their future to what is not real.
Similarly, as you discover the true Christianity of the Bible and come to appreciate how it differs from the “Christianity” practiced all around us, you who are reading this magazine may come to such a moment in your own life.
If you do, you will not be alone. I know that feeling. I’ve been there, too. It takes courage to act on what you are learning. You may experience an anxious feeling, wondering where the road will end once you start putting into practice what you learn in your Bible.
But you need not—you should not—settle for the counterfeit. As I found, there is a real joy and exhilaration when you discover truth you have never learned before. Bible passages you may have read many times, but never fully understood, come to life and fit into a larger picture.
As you discover parts of the Bible you once ignored, you begin to see what a marvelous book the whole Bible is. You begin to appreciate that God truly is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). You experience for yourself the abundant life He has promised to those who obey Him (John 10:10).
Yet you may sometimes wonder whether you are alone in pursuing true Christianity instead of the counterfeit. Here, again, the Bible provides the answer—in Jesus Christ’s promise that He would build His Church and that the grave would never prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). As you read your Bible, you will come to see that His true Church does exist and will be present at His Second Coming, waiting for the day when it will be presented to Him as a bride who “has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).
The Apostle Paul calls the true Church—not the counterfeit—“the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). And, as we read earlier, Jesus says that “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). It takes courage to abandon a comfortable lie and begin reaching for the truth. But somewhere, like a small but precious gemstone amid a pile of counterfeits, is the Church that faithfully teaches the truth of Jesus Christ, the very same message and way of life that He brought to this earth.
How strong is your desire to find that Church? Then, once you find it, are you willing to let go of the counterfeit?