“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9.
If you have ever talked at any length with an alcoholic who participated in the Alcoholics Anonymous program, you will never hear the words, “I am a former alcoholic.” Rather, you will hear the sober declaration, “I am a recovering alcoholic.” Veterans of alcoholism know it doesn’t matter if their last drink was five hours ago or five decades ago; the possibility of falling off the wagon looms as close as the nearest bar or difficult relative. One mistake, one wrong decision, one moment of indulgence could rip away everything they have achieved. That is because recovery is a journey, not a destination.
We, as Christians, can learn from that mindset. We are all “recovering hypocrites.” And we can fall back into being a hypocrite at any time. That is because we have developed a habit and a reputation for saying one thing and doing another. Some form of hypocrisy seems inevitable and we don’t want to open ourselves up for the steps to put hypocrisy behind us. You probably have an intense urge to go to another website right about now, and I understand that. Hypocrisy is a difficult subject. People use it as their principle reason for not going to church, rightfully pointing out “How could someone possibly say they believe one thing and live like they believe another?”
Jesus has a lot to say about hypocrites. Reading between the lines isn’t necessary, because He makes his disdain for them pretty obvious. He says things like: “You hypocrites!” (Matthew 15:7) “whitewashed tombs!” (Matthew 23:27) And, “Sons of vipers!” (Matthew 23:33
But how do we define hypocrisy? And are all Christians really hypocrites? I would make the case that doing what we don’t want to do doesn’t make us a hypocrite. It makes us sinners. Sinners in need of a savior. And therein lies the confusion. We have blurred the lines between the two. We need to make a clear dissection between the two. All of us sin but we all don’t need to be hypocrites. Confused? Let me try to clarify a little: a sinner is a person who falls short from time to time, all the while striving to be more Christlike. On occasion, we all act in contradiction to what we truly believe. None of us will ever perfectly live out each and every one of our beliefs, on a consistent basis, in any arena of life; especially when it comes to issues of faith.
A hypocrite, on the other hand, is a person who purposely deceives others, a person who attempts to live two lives simultaneously — one in public and one in private. They practice sins on a routine basis and remain unrepentant. They appear holy, but choose not to deal with their sin. They deny the grace that God exteds to them. To me, this is how Jesus defines hypocrisy.
So yes, there are hypocrites in the church. We are all owning up to our faults and seeking forgiveness. We will stumble, we will fall. But to label all of us hypocrites isn’t entirely accurate. Yes, we may be recovering hypocrites, but with God as our guide, we will continue our journey to be more Christlike, one moment at a time.
- How can Christians act like religious hypocrites? How do you feel about someone when you realize that they are a hypocrite?
- What can we do this week to minimize hypocrisy in our lives?