Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Obviously, Jesus has a great disdain for hypocrites. Reading between the lines isn't necessary, because he makes his angst for them quite apparent. He says things like: "You hypocrites!" "You whitewashed tombs!" And my personal favorite, "You brood of Vipers!" And just in case you are wondering, that's not a term of endearment. I'm certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I'd be sleeping on the couch (at the very least) if I referred to my wife in that manner.

Just as obvious, is the world's belief that all Christians are hypocrites. Like Jesus, they don't pull any punches. They confront us. And they call us out. I can't begin to count the number of times I've heard the term thrown around in a discussion about Christian morality. I know for a fact a number of individuals have accused me of being a hypocrite. And I'm certain I've even made the same accusation about some of my fellow believers.

But this raises some important questions.

How do we define hypocrisy? Is this the same manner Jesus defines it? Or, when Jesus uses the term, to address the religious elite, is there a nuance we don't quite see? And of course, the question that begs to be answered, are all Christians really hypocrites?

Let's begin by clarifying what we mean by the term hypocrite. But, before we do that, allow me to tell you a story. A story about an individual whose hypocrisy was blatantly obvious.

After hours of studying for my upcoming finals, I decided a study break was in order. I made my way across the parking lot, got into my car, started her up and began the short trip to Quik Trip. I took a right turn to pull off campus--I tell you that so you know I had the right-of-way. At the same time, across the street, making a left-hand turn was a blue Ford Taurus. Of course, the driver was in a hurry. I know this because he rolled through the stop sign, made a left-hand turn and cut me off. Being a ministry major, I reacted appropriately by tailgating him. By the end of the first block, I was so close that I could read all the bumper stickers adorning the rear end of the beat up Taurus. My eyes were quickly drawn to the bottom right corner of the trunk. It was there I couldn't help but notice the plain black sticker with white, block letters stating "I would rather push a Chevy than drive a Ford." The irony was too great. I burst into laughter, let off the gas and let him pull away.

Somewhere along the line, this guy made a decision that contradicted his belief--which just so happened to be there for all to see, on the back of his rusty, blue Ford Taurus. Apparently, it was more important to get from point A to point B in a timely manner, than to push his Chevy Cavalier numerous miles. Undoubtedly, this is the way we define hypocrisy in this culture, in this time--to act in contradiction to your stated beliefs or feelings.

When someone makes the statement that "All Christians are hypocrites!" they are claiming that they have witnessed Christians acting contrary to the teachings of Jesus. And if this is the hypocrisy they speak of, they are absolutely correct--all Christians really are hypocrites! I won't deny that fact. We stumble. We fall. None of us has upheld all the commandments. None of us has perfectly embodied the teachings of the rabbi Jesus. All of us do things contrary to not only what he taught, but even what we believe. All of us fail to love our neighbor. All of us struggle to forgive those who have wronged us. All of us fall short of the standard Jesus lived out. You get the picture--we all act contrary to the standards Jesus calls us to uphold. We make mistakes. That’s, in part, what it means to be human.

This is something we should embrace rather than avoid. By embrace, I mean own up to it. Admit that we are powerless over our flesh in and of ourselves. Recognize that the only way we will truly live as Jesus lived is by continually falling forward through effort and grace. Perhaps then the world would stop viewing us as hypocrites. Maybe we should take a note from Paul's book--literally. If anyone had a past to shy away from it was this guy. Even with his colorful past and his continual shortcomings, he displayed honesty and vulnerability. Not once did he shy away from the truth of who he had been and who he was. He accounted for all the hypocrisy in his own life, not because he was proud of it, but because there was power in the humility of owning it. Admitting his hypocrisy, Paul, in Romans chapter seven, said: “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things.”

I would make the case that doing what we don't want to do doesn't make us, or Paul, 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. They are not entirely synonymous. And it is of utmost importance we make a clear distinction between a sinner and a hypocrite. Afterall, Jesus didn't necessarily equate sinning with hypocrisy; because he knew all of us would sin. But he clarified that we don't all have to be hypocrites!

You see, a sinner is a person who falls short from time-to-time, all the while striving to be more Christ-like. 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. Let me reiterate that none of us will perfectly imitate Jesus 100% of the time. I'm not condoning that fact, nor am I condemning it. Accepting the forgiveness he has offered, does not make us perfect; it just makes us sinners who have accepted his grace. And just because we fail to consistently follow the example Christ has given us does not make us hypocrites. Nor does it invalidate the truths his life put on display. I know many individuals seeking to genuinely follow in the footsteps of Jesus, all the while failing miserably. Yet each and every time they pick themselves up, admit their shortcomings and continue right where they left off. They trust in the Holy Spirit to convict, change, and empower them to grow. They believe, by grace, that tomorrow they will be closer to living like Jesus than they have been today.

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 when confronted lie about them and remain unrepentant. They appear holy, all the while disregarding the reality of their own sinfulness. They put on their Sunday mask, only to remove it the moment they get in their car and leave the church premises. They point out the faults of others, and yet fail to see their own. In order to elevate themselves, they deprecate those around them. They deny the grace that has been extended them to those they encounter. They, according to Jesus, take meticulous care of their outer appearance while ignoring the rotting mess that is their soul. This, it seems to me, is the way Jesus defines hypocrisy. Which is clearly different than the way we define it.

The moment we, as sinners, downplay our own sinfulness, in order to emphasize our own righteousness is the moment we become hypocrites.

It is these types of individuals, Jesus tells us, aren't really his followers. In Matthew 7, he makes an important clarification: “Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven.” Their failure to recognize their own inadequacy to save themselves through outward obedience, sets themselves against true followers of his and exempts them from the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Understand that I didn't write this to excuse all our failings as Christians. Know that I don't condone all of our behavior; nor do I expect you to. By all means, hold us accountable. Call us out. But offer us the chance to own our faults and seek out forgiveness. On behalf of those of us that have failed to exemplify the life of Jesus, I apologize. For the times our actions and attitudes have turned you away from God, I am sorry. We will stumble. And we will fall. Sometimes flat on our faces. But to label all of us hypocrites isn't entirely accurate. Even Jesus didn't hold his disciples to that standard of perfection. It is my hope that you will no longer take the actions of a few to judge the whole. Furthermore, I hope you have gained some insight into the difficulty it is to follow the only man to have walked this Earth without sinning. 

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