Christian Hypocrisy – What is it?
Hypocrisy is “claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.”1 In fact, the ancient Greek word comes from the word for a stage actor or one who wears a mask. It is not necessarily the fact that they sin that makes them a hypocrite, it’s the fact that they don’t acknowledge it. They don’t admit that their lives contradict what they say. They are inauthentic and imposters.
Perhaps you have personal experience with a Christian hypocrite. I do. Perhaps you know someone who says one thing and then does another. They teach one thing and live the opposite. In a sense, we are all hypocrites. The term isn’t reserved for Christians. For example, Sue may call herself a vegetarian, but slip up now and then. A dentist may tell his patients not to eat candy, but then go home and enjoy sweets. We are all hypocritical occasionally. No one is perfect.
Christian Hypocrisy – Jesus’ Reaction
Combatting hypocrisy was a passion for Jesus. In fact, much of Matthew 23 is dedicated to this topic. Here are some excerpts:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see...
“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’”
Christian Hypocrisy – Some Pointers
When discussing Christian hypocrisy with an unbeliever, here are some pointers to consider:
- Many people who claim to be Christians don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps they are Christian in name only.
- A Christian is called to grow in faith and progress to being more like Christ. This doesn’t always happen instantly. Many Christians continue to struggle with temptation to sin. We are called to put on a new nature and allow the Holy Spirit to transform our lives (Ephesians 4:23-24). It is not hypocritical to fall. It is hypocritical to deny that you fell and pretend that you were successful.
- A Christian is called to live a life of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Colossians 3:12). Be intentional about letting God change your heart.
- Christians should admit hypocrisy. All of us are hypocrites in some area. Be vulnerable, honest, and authentic with unbelievers. Acknowledge your sin and share how freeing God’s forgiveness is.
1 New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
2 Mittleberg, Mark. The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
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