Hypocrisy is a big problem for the Church today. It’s a big problem for people who say they are Christians. There’s a strong feeling that goes something like this: “If you can’t practice what you preach, then you shouldn’t preach anything!” Over the years, I’ve heard quite a few people say, “I’m not ready to follow Jesus. I hate hypocrisy so I’m not going to start until I can get it right.” People say things of that nature.
I also hear people semi-jokingly say, “If I stepped through the door of the church, lightening would hit!” The idea is that they have lived life so sinfully that God would physically smite them for darkening the door of His church. It’s the same root concept, you shouldn’t hang around perfection if you’re a flawed person.
Along similar lines of distancing, I hear people say, “I don’t know enough about the Bible to help people grow spiritually.” Then there’s a daily struggle that I feel myself which pulls me away from prayer and Scripture when I’m feeling guilty about the state of my relationship with Jesus. It becomes a vicious cycle. I haven’t MADE time to read the Bible and talk with Jesus. I feel guilty about that and my thoughts and attitudes toward people begin to take a downward trend. I feel guilty about that so I avoid God and Scripture, which is the only spiritual food source that will strengthen me. I hate that cycle.
All of these reactions are the result of a deep feeling in many of us that hypocrisy is the great disqualifier of our value to God and the label “Christian”. When we or others live sinfully, we seem to think God is to be left out of conversation and life until we can get things back on track; otherwise we’re being hypocritical. It’s as if the only time a person is allowed to claim faith and talk about God is if said person is above reproach.
“I’m a hypocrite, therefore I’m out.” Or, “I don’t want to be a hypocrite, so I’ll keep out of it.” I think we all may need to re-evalute the “therefore” of our hatred of hypocrisy. I think we have an accurate disdain for the inconsistency and inauthenticity of saying one thing and doing another. The Bible is pretty clear that Jesus hated the hypocrisy He saw in the religious establishment. That doesn’t, however, mean that the choice is either to be completely consistent or stay away from serving God. The Apostle Paul is a case study in this; these are his own words:
1 Timothy 1:15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”
Romans 7: 15 “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. …I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
Paul spends page after page of his letters and no doubt preached sermon after sermon on living a pure life, yet to his own admission he was a world-champion sinner; simply the best at it. Now, he hated this about himself, but he pressed on. Rather than use the hypocrisy in himself (or in others) as an excuse to avoid Jesus, he pressed on to do the best he could with what he had to work with. This is an important example for us. In spite of being what many translators call “the chief of sinners” (he sinned like a Boss!) and doing the opposite of what he knew to be right, Paul went on to start churches all over his known world, write about a third of the New Testament, develop church leaders, heal masses with miracles, and lead thousands upon thousands of people into a friendship with Jesus.
Paul was aware of his own hypocrisy. Who knows what he thought, said, and did to cause him to feel like he was the worst sinner on earth. I’d rather not know! In spite of his short comings, rather than waste his life wallowing in guilt, Paul did his best for God.
When we feel the frustration and guilt from our moral failings and are tempted to just avoid Jesus, remember Paul. Remember that, in spite of a bad day (or month) (or year), he fought to do better. In spite of occasionally being a bad example, he tried to help people grow by choosing to be a good example whenever possible. He served God, he served his church, he served people. He engaged in causes that changed the world, in spite of self-diagnosed hypocrisy.
I’m a hypocrite. I teach a lot of Jesus stuff and there are many moments when I don’t follow through with things I just taught from the stage at Polaris. There are plenty of times when I stand in front of a couple hundred people and think, “It’s ridiculous that anyone would sit and listen to anything I have to say about spirituality.”
In spite of my own inconsistencies, I’d rather get to the end of my days able to tell God that I still fought to help people and do things I thought He’d want done than to have to stand and say something like, “Well, I noticed that I just couldn’t get it right all the time so I felt it best to do nothing at all.”
Followers of Jesus need to strive to yield their life to His teaching 100% of the time. We also must be willing to serve Him and His Church even when we’re having rough spots in life. We have no excuse for sin. We also have no excuse for allowing our sin to keep us from making a difference. Rather than writing people off who get caught or confess to sin as being hypocrites, maybe we can find some room to appreciate that, instead of collapsing and throwing up their hands in the midst of failures, they chose to press on and do what they could for God. Sure, it’s best when we can both serve Him AND overcome sin. Someday I hope to get to that level of perfection. In the meantime, like Paul, I’ll make the best contribution I can while I fight daily temptations and deal with days where temptation gets the best of me. After all, I use the UScan lane too much to avoid all contempt toward other human beings. Who can resist the temptation to think inwardly, “Touch the ‘Pay Now’ button, MORON!”? As long as there is a UScan lane and I choose to use it, assume I lose a battle with sin every now and then.
Rather than wait for perfection, try to be a fallen human being who does their best to serve Jesus and people in the midst of your shortcomings. The more you serve Him, the closer you’ll get to Him, and that in and of itself will make it easier to live consistently anyway. If you wait to connect with Jesus and serve Him until you can do so with total purity and great consistency, I promise you’ll never get around to doing anything great with your life. Sure, you’ll make it through this life having never been a hypocrite. You’ll also stand before God having accomplished nothing.