If you’ve seen the movie “Catch Me if You Can”, you’re familiar with the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. While he was a teenager, Abagnale was one of the most successful con artists in U.S. history. He successfully impersonated a doctor, a lawyer, and an airline pilot, forging millions of dollars in bad checks along the way. It took years for authorities to finally catch up with him.
One of the things that’s striking about the film is that, if the people around him had just asked Abagnale a few questions, his charades would have ended much sooner. But he looked like he knew what he was doing. He fit the role. He exuded confidence. And since nothing appeared to be out of place, people believed all was as it should be.
I wonder how many spiritual Frank Abagnales are sitting around us at church. People who are doing all the right things and from the outside appear to be believers but don’t really have a genuine relationship with the Lord. Some have grown up in the church. Some may have walked the aisle and even been baptized.
Most of these imposters aren’t intentionally misleading anyone – they consider themselves to be believers. But they truly have never taken the steps toward authentic faith.
Who might it be in our church? Be careful if you start making a list based on outward appearances.
In a former church where I served as pastor there was a wonderful man by the name of Charles, who the church called on to be deacon. I had the opportunity to visit in his home for a two-fold purpose – to talk to him about accepting the church’s call to be deacon and also to talk to his teenager about giving his heart to the Lord. While speaking to both of them, Charles, the dad, said to me, “I’ve never taken that step of faith. I thought that I had, but no, I’m not saved. I sure want to make that commitment today.” Several weeks later I baptized dad and son together. [He did not accept deacon then but was asked several years later to serve]. For years Charles thought he was saved, but it took some questions about his faith to help him realize that he really had not taken the steps necessary to become a child of God.
How can we be sure those around us really have an authentic faith? First, we must never stop sharing the keys to salvation – it’s only by grace through faith in Christ that we are saved. We must each turn from our sins, accept Christ’s forgiveness and make Him Lord of our lives.
Next, we must get beyond surface issues with our fellow Christians. Talking about our own faith and asking others about theirs will bring opportunities to learn what’s really going on inside. Remember what God said to Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the Heart” [1 Samuel 16:7]
It is true that questioning a person’s faith could easily be taken the wrong way. But most believers will appreciate the “ID check” and their testimony will certainly be an encouragement to our own relationship with the Lord. But also – who knows – we might just introduce an unknowing imposter to an authentic faith relationship with Christ…In fact if you really love me, you will be interested in my relationship with the Lord. That relationship is something too precious to assume.
The small group study opportunities that our church offers can be a wonderful place for us to get to know each other and build one another’s faith. I encourage you to get involved in Sunday School and in a small group, for it is there we can be “real”, intimate, and upfront with each other. It is there we can get past the surface to important matters
Have you asked me if I’m a spiritual Abagnale? It’s OK if you do.