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Religious Pretenders: Lessons From an Ancient King

by Steve Myers Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Could you fall for a fake? Scammers are everywhere, trying to steal your money, seeking your personal information, making all kinds of false promises. And religion is not immune. Could you be taken in? The ultimate deceiver is Satan the devil, the greatest con artist of all who “deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). This most accomplished pretender and counterfeiter zeroes in on attacking religion, but maybe not in the way you’d think.

He uses corrupt religion to mock God and destroy lives. Over the ages, he’s convinced billions of people to worship the sun, or astrology, or animals or even deceased ancestors. Sometimes it’s to embrace atheism, which is in itself another form of false worship. And not only that, but Satan is even behind the many varieties of traditional Christianity. Adherents are divided, arguing over who and what God is, God’s purpose, and how He wants us to worship and to live our lives.

Jesus warned, “There shall arise false Christs and false prophets and shall show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). The mention of false Christs and prophets points to the fact that the devil has assembled a multitude of human assistants—false teachers serving the devil’s purposes, usually unwittingly but sometimes as outright pretenders.

The apostle Paul wrote: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). So we must watch out and be on guard. There are many false teachers proclaiming popular and traditional ideas that are false.

The fact is, misguided teachers are among Satan’s most influential tools of deception. So have your religious leaders fallen for the devil’s scam? Has true belief been corrupted by Satan? After all, how can you spot a religious pretender?

Religious innovation to maintain control

Turning to biblical history, let’s consider what happened shortly after the reign of King David’s son Solomon when the Promised Land was divided in two—with the kingdom of Judah in the south under Solomon’s son Rehoboam and the northern tribes forming the kingdom of Israel in the north under a man named Jeroboam. The devil used this opportunity to set up a big counterfeit.

God Himself appointed Jeroboam as king in the north, telling him: “If you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house [or dynasty], as I built for David, and will give Israel to you” (1 Kings 11:38). Those instructions are how not to be a pretender.

But Jeroboam became concerned the people’s loyalty would shift in continuing to attend God’s festivals in the south, thinking, “If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back . . . and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah” (1 Kings 12:27).

Instead of trusting God, Jeroboam worried he was going to lose control. And under the sway of the devil, giving in to fear and doubt, this shrewd politician came up with a counterfeit he thought would help him consolidate his power and position.

As we’re told, he “made two calves of gold, and said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan” (verses 28-29). And so, we see false places of worship instead of Jerusalem, and idols, golden calves, instead of worshiping the one true God.

Most people realize God forbids the making of statues for idol worship. But the reality is we see many religions today that worship idols. It’s pretty clear in Buddhism and Hinduism, yet how many Christian denominations ignore God’s command?

One could try to justify it by saying these are just symbols. But don’t be a religious pretender. In the second of the Ten Commandments, God says not to make graven images representative of what we worship (Exodus 20:4). Of course, idols aren’t limited to graven objects. They can be anything that takes our focus and reliance off God and His Word.

False shrines, priests and festivals

Jeroboam’s scheme became a persistent sin for the nation (1 Kings 12:30). It included him making “shrines on the high places” and “priests from every class of people who were not of the sons of Levi” (verse 31)—so not just false worship places but false priests. It sounds similar to what we read of deceitful workers presenting themselves as God’s ministers.

Yet God is very specific in the Bible about how He wants to be honored—not the way we think is best but what He instructs. He tells religious pretenders, “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way . . . Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:31-32, emphasis added throughout).

A major component of Jeroboam’s scheme involved changing the days designated for worship. He counterfeited the great fall Feast of God, moving it to the eighth month instead of the seventh as God had commanded (1 Kings 12:32). Now, even most people who would consider themselves religious are not familiar with the true “feasts of the Lord” listed in Leviticus 23. God refers to these as “My feasts” and “holy convocations” (verse 2), yet most in the Christian world today ignore that and worship their own way.

The first festival listed in Leviticus 23 is the weekly seventh-day Sabbath (verse 3). The Bible and history clearly reveal it to be Friday sunset through Saturday sunset. You can search through God’s Word and you will not find any place where the Sabbath was changed from the seventh day to any other day.

But the world’s Christian churches have substituted in their own holidays that are not biblical. We find that Satan has influenced the Christian religion to ignore God’s Holy Days—those days Jesus and the early first-century Church celebrated—and to instead, like Jeroboam, create its own.

Christmas, Easter and weekly Sunday observance are the biggest pretender holidays, all being borrowed from pagan rituals used to worship false gods.

Seeing through Satan’s lies

Satan, the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4), continues to upend the truth and influence Christianity to pretend that’s good. The devil loves to make religion into doing what you want or what’s easier, such as saying you don’t have to keep God’s commands. That’s done away. That’s too much for you. Well, isn’t that what Jeroboam said in 1 Kings 12:28? “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.” Do you know how much farther south Jerusalem was than Bethel? Only about 10 miles.

Today, Christianity isn’t all that different from the time of Jeroboam. Do you know what modern idol has a potent influence on Christianity? In a Lifeway Research survey, the majority of pastors said it was comfort. Was Christ into comfort or sacrifice? He told us to strive on the difficult way (Matthew 7:13; Luke 13:24). King Jeroboam claimed to be making things easier for those in the northern kingdom, with worship more suited to personal wishes, and the people took the bait.

Paul warned that in the last days, people would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” and “having a form of godliness, but denying its power,” warning us to turn away from such people, who “resist the truth” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 8). You don’t want to be among these. Hopefully, you can begin to see how Christianity has been under the sway of Satan. Don’t fall for just a form of godliness. You need the real thing!

The sad truth is that so much false worship masquerades as Christianity. Don’t fall for the scam—or the ease of going along. Go to your Bible. Look for authentic biblical teaching. Ask God to open your eyes to His truth. Live as He commands, and don’t be a religious pretender!

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