Some of you probably remember “The Pretender” TV series that aired from 1996-2000 on NBC. Michael T. Weiss played “Jarod,” a very intelligent person with the ability to slide into somebody else’s vocational role. The series was inspired by a serial imposter by the name of Ferdinand Waldo Demera II (1921-1982). He was known as “The Great Imposter” and had a very impressive list of impersonations masquerading as a medical doctor, civil engineer, sheriff’s deputy, hospital orderly, hospital chaplain, lawyer, monk, editor, cancer researcher, and school teacher. In the 1960’s he served as a counselor at the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles. He even received a graduate certificate from Multnomah Bible College (Portland, OR) in 1967!
When we first joined Rocky Mountain Bible Mission in 1974, we worked in July at their summer Bible camp called “Camp Utmost.” During one high school week, one of our Missionaries brought to camp a handsome, personable young man in his early 20’s whom he had picked up on the street in Missoula. He joined us on Monday when the camp week started. On Wednesday night he got up at campfire and shared a testimony of how he had just received Christ as his Savior and how it changed his life. He sounded very sincere and genuine, using all the right “Christianize.” But by Friday, our missionary had to take him back to Missoula. He had threatened to get all the girls at camp pregnant. He turned out to be a “con-artist,” a “pretender.” Seems he had been working up and down the west coast conning people. He was very sharp and very smooth. He had heard some of the teens give their testimonies and knew exactly what to say.
Jesus had to deal with a group of “pretenders” too while He was here on earth. In a warning, He said, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Mt. 7:15). Jesus went on to say, “You will know them by their fruits…a bad tree bears bad fruit” (vv. 17-20). Then He added, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day (of judgment), ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (vv. 21-23). There are still many false teachers today, who, as wolves in sheep’s clothing, enter into the church, often in roles of leadership, even as pastors, who are mere pretenders and are used by the enemy, Satan, to lead people away from the truth. Many of them are very crafty, very charismatic, very subtle, very smooth, knowing all the right words to say, yet introducing heresy little by little, gradually leading the “flock” astray.
Jesus also came down very hard on the scribes and Pharisees, calling them “hypocrites,” a term for play actors who wore different masks to play different roles as “pretenders.” Jesus said the them: “For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside are full of robbery and self-indulgence…You are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mt. 23:25-28).
Even one of the Apostles who spent much time with Jesus during His earthly ministry, witnessing His miracles, listening to His amazing sermons, and watching His sinless life, remained uncommitted to Him. He did such a good job of pretending that even when Jesus said to “The Twelve” in the upper room, “One of you will betray Me” (Jn. 13:21), only Judas (the “pretender”) knew of whom He spoke. John records: “The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking” (Jn. 13:22).
When we lived in Portland, we attended Montavilla Baptist Church, where one of our pastors shared his testimony of how he had grown up in a good Christian home, attended all the church services, Sunday school, youth group, etc. He even taught Sunday school and became Sunday school superintendent. Then he got saved!! He had gone through all the motions and said all the right things. In His pretense, he had everyone fooled. But He hadn’t fooled God, who through God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, convicted him of his pretense and he gave his heart to the Lord.
Many today are like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, putting on masks, outwardly going through the motions of being “Christian,” but have never committed their life to Christ, never have received Him as Savior and Lord. Some are like Judas who seemingly have been “Jesus followers” and have everyone around them fooled into thinking they are truly one of His. Some, like our pastor, have grown up in Christian homes, attended church for years, and may even have assumed leadership roles, but are mere “pretenders,” having never been “born again,” changed from within. They have convinced those around them that they belong to Christ, but really don’t personally know Him. If they remain in that condition, tragically God will one day have to say to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me” (Mt. 7:23).
Have you genuinely trusted Christ for eternal life, acknowledging your sinful, lost condition, and that Jesus died to pay for your sins and that you can never make it to heaven based on your own performance? If you have been a mere “pretender,” or if you aren’t sure about heaven, why not today, talk to God about that and receive Christ as your personal Savior, for no mere “pretenders” will make it to heaven.