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Can You Spot a Religious Fake?

The most dangerous part about a fake religious experience is that we could even deceive ourselves!

Can you imagine discovering that your favorite high school teacher, the one whose classes you always looked forward to, couldn’t read? Impossible, surely! But no, author John Corcoran’s first book was autobiographical. He titled it, “The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read.” How could that be?

Corcoran started school in the 1940s when dyslexia was not understood. His teachers beat him in second and third grade for laziness when he wouldn’t (because he couldn’t) read. But through sheer determination, he learned how to hide his problem. He actually made it through high school, junior college, and finally the University of Texas, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education and business administration.

How did he do it? By cheating, making excuses, and cleverly faking that he could read. He continued to fake it as a teacher and later as a millionaire property developer. Here’s a sample of how he squeaked by: “‘That book you’ve been carrying around all week, Mr. Corcoran, what’s it about?’ ‘Here, read it, and tell me what you think.’ ‘While I’ve got you here in the office, Mr. Corcoran, will you fill in this employee insurance form?’ ‘Sorry, have to take it home with me, got a conference with a parent in two minutes.’ Always in a hurry; always a little distracted; always forgetting his glasses.... He was a spy with phony papers, an actor on a rickety stage.”1

Corcoran finally learned to read when he was 48. For over 40 years he managed to fool people. Only his wife knew his secret. All that time, he was continually stressed and in constant fear of being found out. Imagine the relief of finally admitting his need of help and finding it!

Corcoran’s story is not only incredible, but sad. Yet sadder still is what can happen with a fake religious experience. Corcoran knew he was a fake, but the Bible talks about people with a fake religion who even deceive themselves. They think they’re fine. Shortly, we’ll understand why that’s worse.

In Need of Nothing?

  1. What message did Jesus, the True Witness, send to the first-century church in Laodicea?

Revelation 3:15-17 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot…. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”

Laodicea was a wealthy city, famous for its fine black wool garments and popular eye salve made from local minerals. The Christians there were evidently very comfortable and self-satisfied, not only in their business success, but also in their religion. They would have been surprised, even shocked, at Jesus’ words. Wretched meant “needy,” and miserable meant “pitiable”—the very opposite of how they saw themselves.

2. What did Jesus say these poor, blind, naked, self-sufficient Christians needed?

Revelation 3:18 “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”

Jesus used the physical assets of the Laodiceans as metaphors for what they needed spiritually. The Bible can help us understand what He had in mind, but notice, they had to get these things from Him. They couldn’t produce spiritual wealth themselves.

What Only Jesus Can Supply

  1. What is the “gold tried in the fire”?

1 Peter 1:7, 8 That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. 

Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. 

A working faith, motivated by love for and from Jesus, was missing in the Laodiceans. So was the energy of “inexpressible joy.” Their church was lukewarm and lifeless.

2. What are the white garments they should have had?

Revelation 7:14 So he [an angel] said to me [John the apostle], “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Revelation 19:8 And to her [Christ’s church] it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 

Jesus’ people, His church, are those who have accepted His sacrifice for the cleansing of their sinful hearts and lives. Their actions now reflect Jesus’ righteous acts. His own unselfish love—His righteousness—is accounted to them and also modifies His people’s characters after they give themselves to Him. The Laodiceans did not feel in need of forgiveness and Jesus’ beautiful character. They were foolishly depending on their own attributes for entrance into heaven.

3. And what is the eye salve that would take away their blindness?

1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 

John 3:3, 6 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

It’s the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us, that enables us to discern, appreciate, and live God’s truth. He convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment. See John 16:8. Without Him, we don’t understand our true condition. Spiritual blindness is humanity’s natural state, keeping us in a pleasant but dangerous state of self-satisfaction. We need to be born of the Spirit daily if we want to see clearly.

Real vs. Fake

  1. What did Jesus invite the Laodiceans to do?

Revelation 3:19, 20 “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” 

Jesus loved the Laodiceans despite their neglect of Him. He had been left out of their “Christian” experience, making it formal, dry, and powerless. He asked them to let Him into their lives and begin a transformative personal experience of loving and serving Him. Without that, they were not living in His kingdom although they thought they were honorable members of it.

2. Who are some others in the Bible who had a fake religion?

Luke 18:10-14 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Here, Jesus paints a vivid portrait of a Laodicean experience. The Pharisees were religious leaders and teachers who prided themselves on their accomplishments. They felt no need of Jesus. By contrast, the despised tax collector knew himself to be in need. He was genuinely repentant and able to receive the gifts of unselfish love and eternal life God longs to give us. Even religious leaders can be spiritually blind.

3. What does a real religious experience look like?

Philippians 3:8-12 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 

The apostle Paul was also a religious leader. He had been persecuting Jesus’ followers until Jesus literally blinded then restored him, giving him spiritual eyesight too. You can read the story in Acts chapter 9. His life after that was fully devoted to Jesus and the work He gave him. Nothing from his past was now valuable to him compared with the surpassing experience of knowing and serving his Lord. It can be that way for us, too, if we come to Jesus and ask for a real religion.

4. Why is the Laodicean message especially important at the end of time—where we are today?

1 Peter 4:17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 

The messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were not only for first-century churches. Closer study reveals that these churches symbolize Jesus’ people down through the ages to the end of time. The name of the last church, Laodicea, means “a people judged.” That’s us. If we’re truly walking with Jesus like the apostle Paul, in the judgment our lives will show that we’re depending on Him for our salvation and receiving a new life of devoted obedience from Him.


John Corcoran knew he was faking it, but the Pharisees and Laodiceans didn’t even know. They didn’t realize that only Jesus could give them true faith, true righteousness, and true understanding. They were missing out on a loving connection with their Savior, the bedrock of a joyful, energized, productive Christian life. This message is for us too. Without asking for what only Jesus offers, we can’t be part of His kingdom.


I choose to depend on Jesus for a genuine Christian experience by inviting Him into my heart every day and making Him my only sure hope of eternal life.


  1. Gary Smith, “The Man Who Couldn’t Read,” Southwestern University, People, pdf.

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