Hypocrite!

Ouch! Did that get your attention? There probably isn’t a Christian alive who hasn’t had that phrase thrown at them at one time or another – often from someone who uses it as a premise to justify their refusal to accept Christianity themselves. As believers, there are two very important points in this regard that we must keep in mind.

First – there is no doubt that there are Christians who have acted hypocritically. In spite of our beliefs, we’ve all stumbled at times. Additionally, if we are honest, let’s just admit that there are times when self-avowed Christians have acted so horribly that they have done more to damage Christ’s name than glorify it, that is just a fact. Okay – so what? More on this a little later.

Second – this is both a damning and AFFIRMING statement. ‘Yes,” you might say, “I can see how this statement is used to denigrate Christianity and my beliefs, but just what does it affirm?” By making the statement, the accuser affirms that the behavior to which he is referring is wrong! Consider the statement, “You Christians are hypocrites, look at that preacher on TV, he cheats on his wife and lives in a huge mansion on the beach, he should be using that money for the poor.” Our accuser just stated that greed and adultery are wrong. He states he doesn’t want to be a “Christian” because someone else who claims to be a Christian does not uphold Christian ideals. That’s interesting logic.

So we can use this statement to our advantage to help win over our critic. Anyone who uses the hypocrite argument is acknowledging that there is a difference between right and wrong and further, that Christ is the standard of good!!! And do not let your accuser dismiss this. By using the hypocrite epithet, he has already acknowledged that evil exists. We only know evil by the absence of good – we only know the standard of good as it comes from an unchanging, absolute Truth that exists outside of ourselves – God.

Now, back to the first point – yes, we all fail to meet the standards that are espoused in the bible and upheld by Jesus. And there is absolutely no doubt that our behaviors are so much more important than our words. If you tell your spouse you really, really love him/her, that you’re madly, hopelessly in love – and then spend your days scheming and nights in the arms of another, then your words are meaningless and your actions betray what is in your heart. Your words are powerless to heal the hurt that your actions cause.

This is why it is so important to live and lead by example. One of my favorite quotes (often attributed to St Francis of Assisi) is “Preach the gospel always and everywhere and if absolutely necessary, use words.” So let’s agree that our actions are more important than our words and that our words should, at a minimum therefore back up our actions. All well and good. But we all stumble, we all fall short of what we know is the right thing to do, many times in spite of ourselves. Even the Apostle Paul, who wrote over half of the New Testament, struggled to match his behavior to his words (Romans 7:15-20). Does that make Paul or any of us who espouse such views a hypocrite? By no means! It merely means that we stumble and fall. There is a vast difference between the one who espouses one thing and then chases another with zeal vs. the one who occasionally errs and then tries to right themselves. In baseball, even a Gold Glove winner has an occasional error during an otherwise stellar season – that doesn’t make him a terrible fielder and you would still want him to teach your son or daughter how to play the game. If we were allowed to only endorse what we do perfectly, our world would be silent.

Our standard of perfection is Christ, we preach and endorse His standard, His perfection, not ours. We cannot, on our own stop sinning, but that does not make us sinners or hypocrites who are somehow invalidated from preaching the Good News of Christ. Jesus Himself said that our human hearts are wicked (Mark 7:21-23) and will cause us to stumble – no one is immune from sin.

Now, what about the so-called Christian who really is a true hypocrite? – the one who says one thing but actively lives another way? Yes, their actions are damaging and their words are empty – but ultimately they are doing the most damage to themselves. God is still God, and Jesus is still His perfect Son who taught us how to live. Here’s the thing – our accuser from above is quick to indict all of Christianity by selecting out the true hypocrite as representative of all Christians and even Christ Himself. In what world do we allow someone to define anything by its abuse or its anomaly? If you enter a lush garden and find in one corner a poisonous plant, you do not refuse to ever eat from the garden again because of one weed or label the gardener a murderer. The logical outworking of a belief in Christ is to live a moral life. We do not focus on the weed, we rejoice over the fruit.

So, let’s wrap it up. Are  Christians hypocrites? No, the very statement is a contradiction and simply endorses the concept of goodness and morality. Some who claim to be Christians may indeed be hypocrites, but that only betrays Christianity to be the highest standard by which we all should live. It is Christ whom we preach, not ourselves. We live out His example the best we can and the evidence for this is all around us in lives changed – those in whom we see a change from depravity to morality, from hopelessness to joy and from hate to love. We stumble against our own humanity and are rescued by Christ’s love and forgiveness that we find at the Cross.

We have logic on our side because it is filled with truth. If you’re confronted with the hypocrite argument, lead your critic to Jesus with reason and love.

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