The mockingbird is a creature true to its name. By some reports, a male mockingbird could learn and effectively mimic more than 180 different calls or sounds over the course of just a few months. And, amazingly, these do not have to be the calls of other birds. A mockingbird might mimic a barking dog, a squeaky gate, a croaking frog or even an alarm clock. In short, the mockingbird is an astoundingly unique animal. There seems to be no limit to the number of songs it can add to its repertoire. Here it would be quite simple to launch into a meditation (no, not that kind of meditation) on the unfathomable creativity of our God. Such a time of pondering would no doubt be appropriate and would fittingly bring praise to our minds and lips. Instead, I would like to make a loose—albeit very loose—analogy, though analogies and illustrations can only be carried so far before they fall apart. Nevertheless, I want to attempt at least a vague comparison between the mockingbird and today's version of Christianity as we ask: Are churches today filled with mockingbird Christians?
The mockingbird hears a sound and he mimics it. The false convert who, in his own self-deception, is seeking to convince himself not only of the reality of his salvation, but also of its superiority to that of those around him (i.e., rationalizing that he at least is a "better" Christian than the person next to him), might engage in a similar "mocking" exercise. Now, here is where the analogy already begins to break down. When mockingbirds imitate the calls of other birds, they are not seeking to be accepted or welcomed by that type of bird. Yet, when the false convert mimics what he hears around him, he does so to blend in with the "right" crowd. The church crowd. Once he has mastered the lingo, there can be little question as to the authenticity of his faith—whether it is in his own mind or in the mind of others. After all, if one talks the talk, he must be walking the walk, right?
The tradition, clique or—dare I say it?—tribe does not really matter in these situations. False converts come in all stripes. Whether the false convert seeks to be "missional" and "intentional" as he is "doing life" with others, or whether he is "sold out" for the gospel as he "loves God and loves people," or whether he "asked Jesus into his heart" on his quest for "purpose," it is rare to find a self-deceived person who is not familiar with, and adept at using, what he perceives to be "Christian" vocabulary.
Even the more theologically sound traditions have their mockingbird members. These may even wax eloquent about true and wonderful realities like trusting God in His sovereignty. Empty words are found in every theological camp. But do we forget that Jesus says that only those who do the will of the Father will enter heaven (Matt 7:21)? Do we forget that James says that faith without works is dead (Jas 2:17) and that Christians must be doers of the Word (Jas 1:22)? "If our lips do not match our lifestyle," then we are in for a rude awakening one day. Similarly, if our lives are littered with empty works, we also will find ourselves turned away by the Savior (Matt 7:22–23).
Yet, a hearty "Christian" vocabulary is perhaps one of the cleverest tools of deception available. Such a word collection lulls the deceived one into a false sense of security. After all, if he knows these many words—all of these truths—then surely he must be saved! Yet if he merely is mimicking what he has heard fall from the lips of his friends, family, pastor or favorite famous preacher, then he stands deceived, regardless of the accuracy of the doctrine he discusses. He is no more a Christian than a mockingbird is a car alarm simply because it can mimic the sound.
If the truth of the gospel is not internalized, if it does not produce a change of the inner man, a change of the heart that is evidenced outwardly in a man's life (Gal 5:24–25; cf. 1 Cor 6:9–11; 2 Cor 5:17), that man's alleged conversion is a farce. Sadly, the churches today are filled with those who profess Christ with their mouths but deny Him with every visible aspect of their lives. They say they love Christ but their lives and love of sin testify otherwise. False conversion—self-deception—is a dangerously damning disease, yet it is not an exaggeration to say that it is an epidemic spreading rapidly in the visible church.
All these words are written not as one who points the finger, but as one who pleads. As a former false convert who knew all the right words but knew nothing of their true meaning, but who was graciously and mercifully saved by Christ out of such deception, this writer pleads with those who, if they were honest with themselves, know their profession does not match their practice. Is it pride that holds you back from admitting you might not be truly saved? Pray that God would decimate that pride, reveal the depravity of your sinful soul and the gravity of your sin before God, and bring you to a place of true repentance and a genuine turning and trust in Christ alone for salvation. What good is it to "save face" before men when the One who will judge your soul sees beyond your hypocrisy and into your dark heart? One can only exist as a mockingbird Christian for a time before the empty words and works grow cumbersome. But the yoke that Christ offers is light (Matt 11:30). Your life in Christ may bring upon you persecution, hardship or loss, but the peace in the midst of trial and the eternal reward will far outweigh those fleeting discomforts. Dear professing Christian, examine yourself, and if by God's grace you find that your love for Him exists only in what you say, but does not overflow from your heart, know that Christ alone can lift the veil of your deception. He forgives even those who have disparaged His name with their false witness. Repent. Turn to Christ so that you may never hear those terrifying words, "Depart from Me, I never knew you."
*This post originally appeared at Do Not Be Surprised on 30 April 2014.