Coke Cola advertised for years with... “it's the real thing” - and for good reason; the competition produced imitations. Since then, both Coke and its imitators advertise themselves on television commercials with blindfolded tasters seeking to identify the real thing, or at least try to prove that the imitation is better than the original.
Just as good products are copied, God’s spiritual truth has its imitations too. There are thousands of religions and philosophies - all claiming to have the answers. Recognizing real Christianity does involve more than a taste test...
First, watch out for personal bias, traditions, and aversions. Everyone has had both negative and positive experiences with various religions and philosophies - experiences that can bias minds and make objective evaluation impossible. The roots of family traditions go deep and may also affect our understanding and evaluations. Aversion to the implications of truth (such as discovery of personal error) can also color our evaluation of it.
Objectivity towards truth also means being realistic. Beware of people who tell you that they have solved all the problems of the world, they have all the answers, and if you jump on their band wagon, your life will be perfect. That sounds good but it is not real. In other words, the old saying, “The truth hurts” has some merit. A desire to avoid spiritual discomfort could endanger the search for it. Expect truth to be related to reality - not all of it is going to feel good, at least up front.
Third, test everything by God’s standard. A carpenter holds a plumb line against a wall to see if the wall is straight. He doesn’t rely on his ability to “eye-ball” it. Some first century hearers of the message about Jesus Christ responded by comparing what they heard with the Scriptures “to see if it was true.” It sounded right to them, but they checked it out against what had already proven itself to be true.
Another test is to look at the foundation. Find out who began the system of thought that has caught your attention. What kind of life did that person live? Was he or she godly, honest, sincere? Did that leader practice what he preached? An objective examination of the leader or leaders of any religious group may be more helpful than a study of their teaching. Then compare that person to Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves... you shall know them by their fruits...” (Matthew 7). God says that we can know the real thing by examination of the “fruit” in the lives of those who profess to have it.
Fruit is used in the Bible to depict results. The fruit of people without God is sin. The Spirit of God produces: LOVE - that sacrifices for others; JOY - that bubbles up from within; PEACE - that passes understanding; PATIENT ENDURANCE - in trials; GENTLENESS - even when abused; GOODNESS - to friend and foe alike; FAITH - even when God’s workings seem contrary to our reasoning; MEEKNESS - no matter how we are challenged; and SELF-CONTROL - in spite of strong temptations. God says, “Do not be drunk with wine... but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
Being drunk with wine, one imitation, gives a temporary gaiety that turns into a hangover and can destroy homes and ruin lives. The real thing never does that. Other imitation philosophies promise affection, temporary pleasure, serene retreats, tolerance, and other human conditions that are appealing, but none of these imitations can produce the genuine fruit of the spirit, the real thing.
The makers all kinds of products use this line “Do not be satisfied by anything less - we have the one, the only, the original...” We fill our refrigerators, gas tanks, homes, closets, and so on, with the affordable best. Should we satisfy our spirits with anything less?