As a Christian, I am keenly aware that the most prevalent criticism of the church is directed toward hypocrisy. While it hurts to think that many people have labeled everyone who calls themselves a Christian, sincere or not, as hypocrites; it hurts even more that the label is often appropriate.
Many times I have failed to practice what I preach, to really have my heart in my worship and service to God. Sometimes I do not feel like going to church or giving up my desires to serve the needs of others; and sometimes I find myself playing a role instead of admitting my faults.
At the same time, when I hear the critics, I want to defend us, to say, “You don’t know how difficult it is.” I want the critics to realize that being all that Christ has called us to be is an even higher goal than they have set for us, and our efforts to live His standard involves a continual battle, a battle that we sometimes lose.
But I have to catch myself in that defense. It is not valid. Being honest before God and before others is a basic foundation of our entrance into the family of God and of our walk with the Lord, once we are His. Jesus Christ was not soft on hypocrisy, neither can I be, whether it seeps into my life, or blights the church.
Jesus is sometimes pictured as a meek, loving person yet He scathed the religious people of His day with “Woe unto you, you whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones....” He saw through their “whitewashed” lives into their hearts - and there He saw the lies.
These religious people busily preached to others yet had no intentions of following their own commandments. They gave God lip-service but rebelled against Him in their hearts. They put heavy burdens on others but would not help them carry that load. They did their religious deeds to make a good impression and to have respect and position, but would not serve the needs of the people. They prayed long and pious prayers, yet robbed widows of all their substance. They declared that God’s kingdom was exclusive and hard to enter, giving little hope; yet they themselves did not even enter it. Instead, they looked long and hard for those they could indoctrinate into their system and then made them even worse hypocrites than themselves. (see Matthew 23) And Jesus made it clear, these hypocrites were not part of His family.
Does that mean that everyone who does not practice what they preach is not a Christian? It is possible, but Jesus also warned His disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
He went on to tell them that everything that was not visible now would someday be known, and words spoken in secret would some day be “proclaimed upon the housetops.” He told them not to fear men who could kill them for being honest, but fear God who has the power to cast (liars) into hell.
Jesus warned His followers because He knew that we also would have trouble with being honest, and with fears of “what will people think?”
In my efforts to please people, I have to admit that some of the time I do it because I fear their opinion of me. I want to make a good impression. That is the seeds of hypocrisy - and if I do not remember the words of my Lord and reject His power and His holiness, that seed will grow into a full-blown life of pretense, pretense that most people will see through anyway, never mind God, who searches the heart.
Jesus is the only one who can point his finger at those who pretend to be one thing and are really another without three fingers pointing back at Himself. He had no concern whatsoever what people thought. His sole goal was to do the will of the Father who sent Him. That attitude brought Him to a cross.
Maybe that is why so many who profess to be godly, refuse to live it out. We too easily fear the vulnerability that goes with honesty, and we fear those who say they want our honesty but may sing a different tune should that honesty interfere with their own lies.