One of the common charges leveled against Christians is that we are hypocrites. People hear us espouse the high standards of God and see how we deviate from those standards and the charge of “hypocrisy” is made as if it were a death blow. And I suppose there is a reason that many people consider this a closing argument. Jesus was quick to condemn hypocrisy in the Pharisees (Mt. 23:27-28) and we are quick to recognize its presence in the lives of others. Of course I know no one, Christian or not, who lives completely in sync with the standards they articulate. This does not make hypocrisy right; it is a condition of our fallen world. One of the things that believers can look forward to in Heaven is hypocrisy’s complete obliteration.
However, I think the reason that the charge of hypocrisy has taken on such force is that sometimes we are reticent to recognize when the charge is rightly levy. Christians, just like most people, want to believe that they live their lives consistent with the values that they espouse. The fact that we don’t sometimes doesn’t mean we aren’t Christians; it means that we are sinners, saved by grace, who are committed to increasingly living lives in keeping with what God has commanded. One indication of Christian commitment comes in repenting and turning from the sin of hypocrisy when we recognize it in ourselves. Perhaps the watching world could learn more from a truly repentant heart, then from a deft, but misplaced, defense.
However, we must also recognize that oftentimes the reason the charge carries such a powerful strike is because we have taken for ourselves the glory that rightly belongs to Christ. When things are going well, we pridefully think that is through our own power and goodness that we are able to live according to His standards. So instead, of pointing others to Him, we garner the accolades for ourselves. Because we haven’t made it a practice to point towards Him during the good times, it seems disingenuous to do so in the bad. Yet, this is exactly what we should be doing – pointing others to Him. We know that we aren’t perfectly faithful; we know that He is. We won’t always respond in the most just and loving manner; He will. The reason that we are so quick to fight the charge of hypocrisy may not be because it is untrue, but because we want to defend our own honor and pride. However, that isn’t where our loyalties should lie. Our concern should be representing well the name of Jesus. Whether we are living obedient lives, or whether we have sinned, our response should be to point people to Him. In the former instance, we do so as evidence of the reason we are able to live according to His standards. In the latter, in recognition of His grace and power that forgives and sanctifies His children.
When we look to others as the determinant of our understanding of God, they will always fail in comparison to Him. Similarly, if we set ourselves up as the standard, our representation will eventually falter, compromising others’ view of God. That is why Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). The standard was Christ. They were to look at Paul’s life and imitate what aligned with the standard. No one can imitate Christ completely, but may the saints increasingly live lives that conform to His!
So the next time the accusation of hypocrisy is made, we would do well to look at our own lives and see if the charge is true. If it is, we should point people towards the faithfulness and forgiveness of God, repenting of our own failure to live according to His standards. If it is not, we should still point people towards the faithfulness of God, acknowledging that it is only be His grace that we are able to live in any way that pleases Him.