No doubt you have heard the accusation that all Christians are hypocrites. Many passionately believe this to be a fact but, in all honesty, it is a grave error to label “all” of anything as “something.” This position presumes that one knows everything about everybody living everywhere. You would have to be God to accurately do that.
I will concede that all Christians are imperfect. I have said for decades that I cannot live up to my own preaching simply because the standard is perfection and none of us are perfect — especially me. However, the Bible distinguishes between being imperfect and religious “hypocrisy.”
To be clear, let me define the term hypocrite. Someone stated that Scripture defines hypocrisy as, “a form of inner incongruity,” to wit:
• Paying honor to God with the lips while the heart is far from him (Matt. 15:7-8).
• Making pronouncements about what is right while not practicing them (Matt. 23:3).
• Appearing outwardly to be righteous while being inwardly full of lawlessness (Matt. 23:28).
In the New Testament, the Greek word translated into English as “hypocrite” was originally used to describe an actor in the Greek theater. In a single play, actors often played several roles. In order that the audience could tell which character was speaking, actors would hold a mask on a stick in front of their faces. The word hypocrite came from this practice and referred to someone who pretended to be something that he or she was not. Therefore, religious “hypocrites” are people wearing masks labeled, “Christian, sincere, godly, spiritual,” etc. when, in reality, they are merely actors playing a role on the stage of life.
During His personal ministry, our Lord repeatedly demonstrated that he had no patience with hypocrites (Matt. 6:2,5,16; 7:5; 15:7; 16:3; 22:18; 23:13-15, 23, 25, 27, 29; 24:51; Mark 7:6; Luke 6:42; 11:44; 12:56; 13:15). In fact, the Lord’s most blistering attacks were upon religious pretenders whom He described as “hypocrites.” It is interesting to note that of the 18 times the Greek word for hypocrite appears in the New Testament, 17 of those times the word was spoken from the lips of our Savior (Matt. 6:2,5,16; 7:5; 15:7; 22:18; 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29, 51; Mark 7:6; Luke 6:42; 12:56; 13:15). Jesus had much to say about religious “hypocrites” and none of it was good!
There are two kinds of hypocrites in the Scriptures:
• Unbelievers masquerading as Christians. (They will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment — Matt. 24:51; Rev. 20:11-15.)
• True believers who are carnal but pretend to be spiritual. (They will be judged at the Bema of Christ — Rom. 14:7-12; I Cor. 3:10-15; II Cor. 5:10.)
The fact that the Lord will judge all religious hypocrites reveals how He feels about hypocrisy. From the teaching of the Scriptures, we learn that hypocrites do indeed, exist among professing Christians. In fact, they were present:
• At the very beginning of time (Cain—Genesis 4:1-16).
• Will exist in the present age (as taught in the parable of the wheat and the tares — Matt. 13:18-30).
• Will certainly exist until the end of the age (I Tim. 4:1-2).
It is important to note that Jesus never called His imperfect disciples “hypocrites.” Rather, Jesus called those who were truly believers, and who took their own spiritual lives seriously, “followers,” “sheep,” “little flock” and “disciples.” It was the hypocritical religious leaders of Israel that Jesus charged with not “doing what they preached” and “doing everything to be seen of men” and thus, He labeled them “hypocrites.”
I realize that some who claim to be Christians have injured their fellow man with words and actions. I have spent nearly 50 years serving God’s people, and I have personally heard words and observed behavior that was anything but Christian. But instead of leaving the church, I have focused my eyes on Jesus and upon the many people who are sincerely living the Christian life.
To paraphrase Jesus, “The hypocrite you will have always.” Therefore, I have chosen repeatedly to keep my eyes on the original (Jesus) and the duplicate (believers who are serious about their Christian lives) instead of the counterfeit (hypocrite).
All Christians fail to perfectly live up to the standard the Bible teaches. No Christian has ever been perfectly Christ-like. However, there are many Christians who are genuinely relying on the Holy Spirit to convict, transform and empower them in order that they may live the authentic Christian life. And because they love those who are broken, hopeless and desperately need Jesus, these genuine Christians want everyone to know how Jesus transforms lives through His grace and death on the cross.
And just for the record, there have been millions of Christians who have lived their lives free from even a hint of scandal. No Christian is perfect, but failing to reach perfection in this life is not the same thing as being a hypocrite.