It is a common Christian stereotype, and it is what often keeps people out of the church.
There was a fairly large study conducted not long ago, which was published in a book called unChristian. In it, there is a 25 page chapter dedicated to this description of Christians: hypocritical.
hypocrisy: “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.” (New Oxford American Dictionary)
Have you ever thought of Christians as hypocritical? If you are a Christian, have you ever thought of yourself as hypocritical?
I hope so. Here’s why:
The call to holiness is too large for a human to live up to. It would seem that in order to avoid being called a hypocrite, a Christian must do one of two things: 1) Live a perfectly holy life according to God’s standards, or; 2) lower the standard of holiness to match reality.
Clearly, option one is impossible and I don’t think I need to explain why option two is a bad idea.
I expect to be called a hypocrite many times in life. When I preach, I am preaching about a God who’s holiness cannot be matched by anyone. I am preaching about a call to holiness that I definitely will never live up to.
It is important to note that Jesus called out the hypocrites. We read about it in Matthew 23:13-36.
The people Jesus was referring to were the teachers of the law, and he referred to them as whitewashed tombs: beautiful on the outside, but lifeless on the inside.
Here was the problem: the teachers of the law were caught up in making a big deal out of things that were not considered holiness in God’s eyes. They were actually lowering the standard of holiness by focusing on outward practices, neglecting justice and mercy and faithfulness, and then claimed to be living holy lives!
Hypocrisy is the practice of claiming to be holy when you’re not. However, what is often wrongly referred to as hypocrisy, is the practice of preaching a higher standard of holiness than what is actually being practiced.
The key difference is in what we claim to BE.
My challenge when I preach is to call people to such a high standard of true holiness (love, mercy, grace, faithfulness, etc.), that they recognize just how far we all fall short. This leads to a stronger dependence on Christ and further away from the kind of hypocrisy Christ condemned.
The world may still accuse us of hypocrisy when we call people to live holy lives and then fail to do so ourselves. But, we can rest assured that our holiness is not found in what we do but to whom we belong. The trouble is when we claim to belong to Christ, but then exchange the true marks of holiness for false righteousness.
So, when the world does call you a hypocrite, agree with them. Don’t defend yourself. It will only make you look even more foolish. Live a life that strives for true holiness in everything you do, and when you mess up, admit it, learn from it, and move on.