Hypocrisy - The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.
One thing that can make the gospel less attractive to non-Christians is the apparent hypocrisy of so many Christians. People who say one thing, but end up doing another.
The Ashley Madison hack is just the latest public example. Apparently over 30 million people had signed up for the “have an affair” site, and all their info is now leaked online. With those numbers, you’d think there would be many well-known names exposed by the hack. But the only ones people seem to talk about are a couple of semi-famous Christians; they’re more newsworthy because of the hypocrisy angle to the story.
Yes, it’s true that some Christians can be hypocrites. And there are some reasons for that:
1. Because we are sinners.
Some people think of Christianity as a thing that you do; you follow a set of rules, you never sin, and that is what makes you a Christian.
But that’s not really the case. The core of Christianity is realizing that you are a sinner, and that you can’t follow the rules on your own. That’s why Jesus had to die—to take on the punishment for our sin. I mean, if you could be good enough to get to heaven, then God wasted the death of His Son in an effort to save you. You aren’t good enough. He was perfect.
That doesn’t mean it’s OK to go on sinning, but it is part of our nature. In Romans 7:18-20 (and really all of chapter 7), Paul talks about how even he still found himself sinning at times. And this was an Apostle, and someone who willingly died for his faith! So, yes, Christians can still sin, which can seem hypocritical.
2. Because we are farsighted when it comes to sin.
Sin can be like body odor or bad breath: you smell everyone eles’s. Or, in this case, your “farsightedness” causes you to see everyone else’s. Jesus talked about this in Matthew 7:3-5, with the illustration of pointing out a speck in someone else’s eye when you have a 2x4 in your own eye. He specifically calls such a person a “hypocrite.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t instruct or warn someone that something is a sin; the last part of those verses says to “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Since sin brings consequences, it is loving to help someone else deal with their sin; just be sure to do so from a place of humility. This looks like acknowledging your own sin, and actively dealing with it first.
3. Because we want to be teachers of the law, not followers of the law.
Recently, someone who had been married several times told me, “I don’t need anyone telling me how to be married; I think I know.” He considered himself somewhat of an expert on marriage, while his track record said otherwise.
Some people would much rather give instruction to someone else than receive it themselves. Their desire to insert themselves as “teacher” rather than earning the position faithfully sets them up for hypocrisy. James 3:1-2 says that not many believers should become teachers, because “we who teach will be judged more strictly.” That certainly applies in how the public reacts to hypocritical teachers.
4. Because we hide sin.
We’re all sinners. The hypocritical part comes when someone pretends that they’re not a sinner, even though we all are (1 John 1:8). Non-believers don’t need to see that you’re perfect and have it all together, especially since that’s not true. Christians aren’t “better,” we’re just forgiven for how much we’ve messed up.
It appears that Ashley Madison’s business model revolved around hiding sin. By hiding sin, you allow it to grow. But by confessing sin and exposing it to the light, you kill it (Ephesians 5:11-13; John 3:19-21).
5. Because some “Christians” aren’t Christians.
I’ve already acknowledged that Christians can act like hypocrites, but let’s be fair: not all “Christian hypocrites” are believers who get caught in sin. Some are just sinners who get caught pretending to be Christian. And it’s those instances that best fit the definition of “hypocrisy” above.
This is why I warn single Christians not to believe that someone is marriage material solely because you met him at Church, or he can quote a Bible verse or two. At least some such people are just predators who know they’ll have more success if they learn to blend in. The proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The point is, if you find one wolf in the flock, that doesn’t mean all sheep are wolves. And if you find one hypocrite who is pretending to be a Christian, that doesn’t mean real followers of Christ are that way (Matthew 7:21-23).
What You Should Do About It
If you are a Christian, the application is simple: don’t be a hypocrite.
Know you’re a sinner.
Deal with your sin.
Be humble and lead from what you do, not from what you say others should do.
Make regular confession a normal part of your life.
Make sure you have believed the gospel, which says that you’re not perfect, but you have a Savior Who is.
If you’re not a Christian: don’t dismiss Jesus offhand because of a few hypocrites. In fact, if you dislike hypocrites, Jesus is totally your guy. He’s the most anti-hypocritical person in history. Go read what He says in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.
(With help from Kevin McConaghy)