Just so you know, I wonder the same thing about myself. There are many areas in my life where the grace I teach isn’t very clear in the thoughts I think. I’m not going to give you a confession…but I did want you to know that Jesus just told me that I couldn’t say what I’m going to say unless I included myself. So there, I’ve said it. Now can I go on?
I’ve decided that, while there may be outright hypocrisy in my friends and in myself, there is something else going on…actually, three things could be going on.
Hypocrisy is a compliment to God’s standard.
Those who preach it and teach it to others yet don’t live it themselves are perhaps giving the highest compliment one can give to the truth of moral perfection. Hypocrisy is sometimes a kind of compliment to God’s standard. I may, for instance, preach against anger, make people feel guilty because of their anger and pretend in public that I’m not angry. I am a hypocrite, of course, but there is a sense in which at least I know that anger can be quite sinful because God says so.
There is a sort of redeeming value in that kind of hypocrisy. It’s sinful but it isn’t the most sinful sin. A far worse sin is not caring whether or not what we do is sin, never trying to conceal that sin and often going as far as to even cease knowing that what we are doing is sin. This is what Paul is saying in Romans: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against it”…God “gave them up” to their sin (Romans 1:18-28).
Hypocrisy is a misguided concern for others.
Another reason for a lot of hypocrisy: we don’t want to hurt our witness and bring dishonor to God. That kind of hypocrisy is neurotic but I can understand it. Even here, it is a hypocrisy that—though misguided—has an upside to it.
I am often the person to whom a number “professional Christians” confess their sin. I used to think it was a compliment, that they were coming to me because I was so good, would listen to their confession, and then I would tell them how they could be as good as I was. Then I had an “attack of sanity” and realized they were coming to me for the opposite reason. They were saying in essence, “I may be bad, but Steve is worse than I am. At least he will understand and won’t condemn me.” It bothered me at first until Jesus told me that their perception was true and he still loved me.
What is my response to confessions from Christians? They should just be honest about their failure, lack of knowledge, getting it wrong and, in particular, sin. I always get a reaction, something like, “What? Are you crazy? That would kill my ministry—my witness, my reputation in the community. So many people depend on me and it would destroy them.”
At least the heart is right…even if the head isn’t.
Hypocrisy is the spurious belief that we’ve lowered the standard.
There is a third upside to hypocrisy. It is the spurious belief that we have, by being honest about our inability to live up to a standard—by that very admission—somehow lowered the standard.
As you know, there are a lot of people who think I’ve gone too far with this grace thing.
It happens all the time.
People will say, “Steve, I love you but this time you went over the line, brought dishonor to Christ, betrayed Scripture, hurt the cause of Christ or (the really big one), gave people permission to sin.” Then they always add, “I want you to know that I’m saying this out of love.”
Given that I’m the most guilt-ridden person you know, in response, I spend a considerable portion of my time apologizing, defending what I said, and trying to clean up the messes I made.
I’m not going to do that anymore. Well, I’m going to try to not do that anymore. If I don’t go over the line, it’s not the Gospel. The message ceases to be good news and it becomes very bad news. In fact, it is such bad news that it says to the world, “you’re lost…so deal with it!”
Paul said in Romans 7:19, 24, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
So to all you hypocrites out there (including me) I have one thing to say. Just stop it! For God’s sake, stop it. The standard doesn’t need the compliment; if you tell the truth, nothing will be hurt except your pride (and you’ll get over it); and you do not lower the standard (God’s law is perfect, Psalm 19:7) by admitting that you haven’t lived up to it.
Nobody is won to Christ because of your goodness or your perceived goodness. Just the opposite. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). If you pretend, they will think (if they’re honest and haven’t learned to be a hypocrite yet) that this thing is only for good people and so they don’t qualify. Then they’ll run in the opposite direction.
Not only that, nobody ever got better by pretending they were good with the hope that in their pretending, there is the “doing.” People get better only when they are honest with themselves and others that they aren’t better and when they know that God still loves them when they aren’t better. That’s why Jesus spent so much time with the “winebibbers and sinners” and was so irritated by the pure, religious folks. He still does and he still is.
He even spends time with hypocrites like us…as long as we know we’re hypocrites.
Time to Draw Away
Read Luke 15:11-32
Are you a hypocrite? We all are. The question is how we get from hypocrisy to honesty. By God’s grace (of course!). When we come to the end of ourselves, God is waiting with open arms. We are changed as we rest in him…and others around us are changed as well.