Chances are that you have heard or made the statement, “I used to go to church, but the church is full of hypocrites.” You may have experienced that the church preaches on love, but is not very loving. The pastor preaches on forgiveness, but is not very forgiving. The Bible talks about kindness, but its professed followers are not very kind. The Scriptures speak of humility, but the church seems to be full of boasters. A Christian may have made a snide comment to you regarding what they considered to be your sinful actions — aren’t they supposed to be longsuffering? A Christian may have been guilty of drunken adultery — isn’t this a sin? You may have read of a famous preacher who has been convicted of child pornography. You may have heard stories about the Bible-thumper down the street who beat his wife.
Based upon your experience with church-goers, you may think God sanctions hypocrisy. If so, you will be surprised to find that God despises hypocrisy. He doesn’t like it, when people claiming to speak on his behalf, lead people away from Him. Take, for example, Isaiah 9:17: “Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this, his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” For the accuser that is dejected with hypocrisy amongst God’s people, God is on your side.
God’s disapproval is not just an Old Testament issue. Luke 6:41-42 says, “And why do you see the [speck] that is in your brother’s eye, but can’t see the [log] that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, Brother, let me pull out the [speck] that is in your eye, when you yourself cannot see the [log] that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, cast out first the [log] out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to pull out the [speck] that is in your brother’s eye.” Jesus was preaching against the hypocritical leadership that believed they did not need a Savior– they were self-righteous. Their teaching consisted of pointing to anyone but themselves, as an example of a sinner. Jesus was telling them that they were sinners, too. He tells them in John 8:7, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” If these people wanted eternal forgiveness, it came through Christ and not the law. Their hypocrisy would keep them out of the kingdom.
Paul also speaks of hypocrisy in Romans 12:9, which says, “Let love be without dissimulation.” The word “dissimulation” in the King James Version means “insincere.” Another way to say it would be: “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Dissimulation even occurs among “friends.” It happens when we are with someone, singing their praises, but, the moment they walk away, we bring up every thing we dislike about them to others. Our love is to be true, not hypocritical.
A brief message to believers:
Now that we have established that God does not condone hypocrisy, we can confidently state that He does not like it, when those, claiming to love Him, act in ways that are contrary to His character. Some, who use this accusation, do so because they have witnessed Christians, who claim to be a new creation, doing the same sinful things as unbelievers do, using the same profane words that they do. They look at our sporadic church attendance and wonder what the big deal is. They see the temper tantrums and hear the unkind words. They notice the venomous words we spew personally about our boss or teacher, our judgmental attitudes, our grumbling and complaining over every little thing, our over-concern about our appearance, our sex outside of marriage, our cheating to get ahead, our stealing time from work. They conclude: these Christians are no different than I am; why do I need God? Why should I want to read Bible? What is the point in going to church?
Ephesians 5:1-4 says, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.”
I have worked in several restaurants through the years. The workers at each restaurant, especially the waiters and waitresses, always dreaded noon hour on Sundays, because the church crowd would begin to arrive. As a general rule, the Sunday afternoon church crowd would be the messiest, most demanding, cheapest customers. This is not the way we should desire to be characterized. Our churches should be known for the love of Christ rather than petty squabbles. Individuals should be known for their forgiveness and meekness as opposed to their political rants. Pride has no place in the gospel presentation. Worldliness has no place in Christian living. My charge to you, Christian, is not to make any of these accusations true about you. Do not give unbelievers a reason to doubt. Represent God fully and accurately.
And now, a message to accusers:
Some of this accusation derives from a misunderstanding of grace. Although Christians do not represent Christ perfectly, your accusation is still wrong.
Let us pick apart the accusation, “the church is full of hypocrites.” First, the use of the word “full.” If you were to say, “The church has hypocrites,” then, sure, I agree. But there are hypocrites in your workplace, your school, your family, and among your friends. Do you not go to work or school because there are some hypocrites there? Why treat them differently than the church people, if hypocrisy is so offensive to you? The fact is that hypocrisy is not limited to the church. It just may stand out more in the church because of the high calling from God; flaws tend to be highlighted, when the goal is to represent a holy God.
Second, I disagree with your use of the label “hypocrite”. You may have encountered mean, rude people in a church, but this does not automatically make them a hypocrite. Hypocrisy comes from a Greek word meaning “jealous, play-acting, acting out.” It was used for a performance of a dramatic text by an actor, so to be a hypocrite is to be a pretender. To claim you are something and not to be it is hypocrisy. If I were to claim that I am sinless in my actions and yet persist in sin, I would be a hypocrite. If I am not a Christian but go through the motions to fit in with the crowd, I am a hypocrite. However, saying we are supposed to do something (i.e. be kind) and falling short of what we should do (i.e. being unkind) isn’t hypocrisy. It is a poor example; it is falling short of our goals; it is a practice that is inconsistent with our standing in Christ, but it is not automatically hypocritical.
Next, I am going to call you out on your disgust of Christianity by pointing out that you are focused on the wrong person. The church is to proclaim God’s Word, not Joe Schmoe’s word. Ephesians 5:1 told us to be imitators of God. Not me. Not Chris Christian. Imitate God. When the preacher stands in the pulpit proclaiming God’s Word, or when someone shares with you a passage from God’s Word, it is GOD’S instructions. They do not originate with humanity. Church-goers need to follow these instructions as much as you do. We are not perfect, which is actually the beginning of the gospel message. Please, do not ignore God’s instructions because of what someone else does or has done. Your focus is not to be on the person greeting you in the doorway of the church; your focus should be on the person of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who will never fail you. Only He was ever perfectly sinless in character and action.
Now let me remind you of the Word we preach: we are saved by the grace of God. What makes the good news good is that it is the answer to the bad news. The bad news is that we are all spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. We are all flawed, imperfect people. I was not better than you and somehow caught God’s attention. All of us are incapable of doing enough good to meet God’s requirements to enter Heaven. Enter God’s grace, where salvation and a righteous position are offered to us by virtue of the Savior Christ Jesus. If some church-attender acts like he is better than you, it isn’t God’s fault. A knowledgeable Christian will understand that he is only saved AND KEPT by the grace of God. True Christians should not flaunt their goodness or works of righteousness; we do not deserve what God has given to us. The truth is that the church is full of flawed beings saved only by the grace of God.
The Bible teaches that believers in Christ’s faithfulness have a new position and a new nature, but we are still flawed functionally–we are not perfect people. An important function of the local assembly is to guard and proclaim truth to edify and equip believers with the end goal of Christlikeness. Pastors and teachers have been given: “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ…But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-15). Edification means that there is still work to be done on us. Growth tells us that there is still maturing to do. Equipping means that there are some things that Christians do not yet have. If believers always acted perfectly, there would be no need for edifying, growing, and equipping. God is still working on us to make us more like His Son.
Even though we have a new nature, we still struggle with the flesh. We are human beings just like you. We are going to have faults in our character, struggles to best display our personalities. We will all have bad days, grumpy days, character flaws. We are tempted. We have faults and failures. We sin. I am not giving us an excuse; we have been set free from sin, but the truth is that there are times when Christians succumb to the flesh, whether it be willingly or we are caught off-guard. I realize there are some Christians that act, as if they are better than you. They may walk around as if they are the epitome of godliness and look down their noses at you. They have no reason to do so. We don’t come to church because we are good, but because God is good.
The Apostle Paul speaks of this struggle between the flesh and the spirit in Romans 7:18-25. Verse eighteen acknowledges, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing…” As long as we are in our bodies, this verse is going to be true. Our message still warns us of the sins our flesh will want to commit, including pride and hypocrisy.
Accuser, here are some questions to consider: By saying I am not sinlessly perfect, by admitting that my actions are not perfect, and then displaying that imperfection, how does that make me hypocritical? A poor example? Yes. An inaccurate representative of Christ? Yes. A reminder of the grace of God? Absolutely. While Christians proclaim godly living, we should not be suggesting that we have arrived at perfection. We are still working toward that end, but our imperfections do not take away from what is right and wrong. This is not hypocrisy. It is a reminder that God has chosen weak vessels like us to proclaim His truth and be examples of His grace. We cannot wait until we are perfect to start sharing God’s Word, because then this wonderful message of salvation would never be shared.
Christians need to take our part of the blame when churches split over the location of the pulpit, we need to apologize when we say an unkind word, but Christianity isn’t about Christians. As Romans 3:4 says, “Let God be true, but every man a liar.” I beg you, do not let this keep you from considering Christ. This is not about what someone did you to you yesterday, or 20 years ago. This is about you and God right now. Don’t let what some church-goer did keep you from partaking in the grace of God by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Trust in the good news that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).