“The church is full of hypocrites.” You may have heard that criticism from someone. Upon hearing this charge, a friend of mine would often respond, “There is always room for one more.” We all have been guilty of saying one thing and doing another. That does not excuse our hypocrisy. However, the greater threat to the church is the problem with actors.
Who Are You Calling a Hypocrite?
Calling out religious people for the sin of hypocrisy is not a new thing. Jesus famously called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites. However, the word had a slightly different connotation in Jesus’ day.
The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word for actor. When Jesus charged the religious leaders of his day with hypocrisy, he was not primarily addressing their inconsistencies. He accused them of turning religion into a theatrical performance in which they were the lead actors. Their religion was ostentatious — an elaborate show meant to impress others.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matt. 6:1-2)
Of course, we live in a different time. Christians don’t do ostentation (hey, that would make a great bumper sticker). We would never wear our religion on our sleeves (but maybe on our T-shirts, screen printed front and back, neon yellow, large font). Actually, the church still has a problem with actors. Our hypocrisy is classic though often less classy.
The problem with actors is you never know when they are merely acting. An actor must make you believe you are seeing something that is not actually taking place. He must convince you of his sincerity, but actual sincerity is optional. The problem with actors is they must maintain an image. The great nemesis of the actor is the paparazzi. The actor’s fear is not the photo showing inconsistency but the one exposing reality.
Why would we mask the amazing reality of God’s gracious acceptance of sinners on the basis of faith in Christ alone?
It is not hard to understand how we Christians (or anyone) live inconsistent with what we claim to believe. That is just the reality of being sinners in a sinful world. No, what is perplexing is how we are so easily drawn into a drama that denies the gospel which is the whole basis of our Christian faith. Why do we embrace an alternate reality that promises a divine Oscar awarded for best religious performance before a human audience? Why would we mask the amazing reality of God’s gracious acceptance of sinners on the basis of faith in Christ alone?
Alive and Limping
I have resigned myself to the fact I will limp my way to heaven. Limping is not such a bad prospect considering I started out dead in sin. But God made me alive in Christ by faith. He has given me the Holy Spirit and his powerful Word. God’s Word is my crutch. I am not ashamed to admit it. I am hamstrung with lust, anger, worry, doubt, envy, greed, and all kinds of other sins. I must rely upon the Word of God, reciting its promises, heeding its warnings, embracing its precepts, leaning my whole weight on the gospel of grace.
Those who observe me will see me limping and clinging to my crutch. I may not be impressive, but I don’t need to be. There is one who sees things far worse than others see in me. He sees the secret sins of my heart. He is the same one who sent his Son to die for those sins and has forgiven me. The one who sees in secret loves me. I want to please him, but I don’t have to impress him. He is my Father.