A friend of mine recently passed away and I was asked if I could supply a suitable photograph of him for his memorial service.
I really didn’t have anything which fit the bill, so (with his wife’s permission) I extracted an image of him from a happy photograph of him with his wife in a restaurant, deleted the wife and the restaurant setting, and reset him on a golf course where he had spent a great deal of his life.
It seemed to capture perfectly him with his happy face in his happy place, and no-one except a few of us knew it was a total fake!
We could discuss the moral implications of doing so, but I might argue that it was no more questionable than if I was a talented artist (I’m most certainly not!) and had painted the same composition on canvas with oil paints! The only difference is that I used different technology.
Our culture and society is now awash in so much technology, machine learning, so-called Artificial Intelligence, computing power and deep fakes that are so convincing, it is becoming harder and harder to tell what’s the real deal and what is not.
However modern the aspects I have described, spiritually this is not a new problem but one which is deeply rooted in antiquity. The scriptures are full of stories of deception to gain advantage, whether it is Jacob stealing a birthright or Delilah designing a new hairstyle for Samson!
One of my friends (now a retired pastor), witnesses that for much of his teenage years he had perfected the act of “testiphony” — saying the right words, and going through the motions of being a Christian, but without the true experience of relying on Jesus. Happily, that was replaced by the real thing!
The early Christian church had the problem too. The Apostle John writes to the Church:
“Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.
This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.
But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.” 1 John 4:1-6 NLT
John’s advice was specific to a problem plaguing the early Church. The gnostics were claiming that Jesus was only an apparition and was not a real flesh and blood person and so didn’t really suffer as a human being. John provides a simple test to determine who could be believed and that same test can be extended to our beliefs today. The next time you encounter a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness ask them if they believe Jesus was “a” son of God, or “the” Son of God and watch them squirm, deflect, and change the subject!
How then can we tell an “authentic” or “real” Christian from a CGI look-a-like or a deepfake?
As always I like to turn to the words of the Truth, i.e. Jesus, himself for guidance:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 NLT
I find it fascinating that Jesus gives this command immediately before he will be arrested and crucified. That must have been weighing heavily on his mind. But in that intimate setting, Jesus demonstrates this hallmark Christian love with a simple, yet profound act.
He kneels, not before royalty or religious elite, but before His own disciples, men He has called friends. He takes a basin and towel, the tools of a lowly servant, and washes their dusty feet. In this act of humility, Jesus whispers a revolution: a love that serves, a love that stoops low to meet the needs of another, regardless of their standing. This is the real deal. This is the hallmark of his Spirit in our lives. This is love, so visible, so tangible, it becomes a beacon in the darkness, a testament to the transformative power of Christ's sacrifice. It draws others in, not by demanding adherence, but by the irresistible light it radiates.
Today, as we mark the transition from one year to another, let us step into the role Jesus offers, not to be merely disciples, but bearers of a love that transcends boundaries and defies limitations.
We can let our lives be the living testament of John 13:35, a tapestry woven with threads of service, compassion, and undying love. For in doing so, we don't just proclaim Christ's message; we embody it, becoming living channels of grace in a world desperately thirsting for love.
So then, brothers and sisters, let us love one another. Let our love be a radiant fire, a silent symphony, and a tangible testament to the One who calls us not just His disciples, but His friends.
Let’s be the real thing, rather than a pale imitation going through the motions!
Happy New Year!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://www.salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/?category=Bible%20Study