I’ve been pretty hard on hypocrites lately.
That thought came to me as I was praying this morning.
In my preaching and teaching recently, I’ve talked a lot about the importance of Christian believers living the faith that they confess.
Last Sunday, for example, I preached on the passage of Luke in which John the Baptist, Jesus’ relative and himself a preacher, verbally scorched the throngs who came to be baptized by him.
John was suspicious of the crowds’ motives, thinking that they were more interested in looking faithful than they were in being faithful. He warned them that spiritual hypocrites would ultimately be destroyed by God.
I then excoriated religious hypocrisy. I think I was right to do so. People who genuinely live their faith in Christ make positive contributions to the world and encourage others to follow Christ.
Hypocritical Christians, on the other hand, have an opposite effect. Waiters and waitresses have often told me that the customers they most dread seeing are the churchgoers after Sunday worship. According to the restaurant personnel, most of the post-worship Christians they encounter are pushy, unkind, obnoxious, demanding, and unappreciative.
Yes, that may be an exaggeration. Yes, they may be universalizing from limited experiences. And yes, some of them may begin with a chip on their shoulders regarding Christians in the first place. But even allowing for those possibilities, one can see how spiritual hypocrisy has hurt people and hurt Christ’s cause in the world.
Yet, I have to make a confession. I’m a hypocrite. I say one thing and live another, think another, do another.
In my better moments, I do love God and love my neighbor, as Jesus commands. [Matthew 22:36-40]
But I’m a lot like Saint Paul, who wrote in the New Testament portion of the Bible: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” [Romans 7:19]
From that experience, Paul concluded that a war constantly raged inside himself. It was a conflict between the part of him that wanted to follow Christ and the part that wanted to live only for himself.
In another place, Paul said that from moment to moment, he had to decide which side won this war and that without the help of God’s Spirit, he could never choose rightly. [First Corinthians 12:3]
That’s been my experience too. Those times when I fail to walk my Christian talk have come about when I’ve allowed myself to cave into my selfishness, when I’ve overlooked the clear teachings of the Bible, or ignored the promptings of God’s Spirit within me.
A few years ago, I wrote a column in which I called the Church, “God’s hospital for hypocrites.” The fact is, we’re all hypocrites. We all wear masks of one kind or another. The Church is a place where all hypocrites can gather and tell God, “We’re tired of pretending to be stronger, or smarter, or holier, or more capable than we are. We thank You for loving the people behind our masks. We need You, God, to help us become our true selves, the people You made us to be.”
Just like the recovering alcoholic or drug addict, believers in Jesus who want to follow Him authentically, may “fall off the wagon.” But as long as we recovering hypocrites continue to daily give our lives to Christ and draw strength from the fellowship of other believers, our lives will keep moving in God’s direction.
Those are thoughts with which I console myself. I hope they also help my fellow hypocrites, those in the Church and those outside of it.
And I'll try to stop being so hard on us in the future.