In the last article (part one) I proposed that many of today’s contemporary American Evangelical Christians have lost their Christian way. I also proposed that a significant reason for this is due to legalism; and that our society is right to complain about us, at least on that basis. I also contrasted our brand of Christianity with that of the early church in that one of the biggest complaints Roman society had against them was their “irrational”, non-utilitarian care and concern they had for one another and for their neighbors.
It seems that many in the early church, though far from ideal or perfect, was gripped by the good news of Jesus, such that they lived out the love of Christ. For the most part, theirs was an active affection and an authentic love. Their love, as St. Paul wrote in Romans chapter twelve, was indeed sincere or more literally, unhypocritical.
Romans 12:9 admonishes Christians to let love be sincere, or as it is woodenly stated in the original language: the love unhypocritical! The Greek word for hypocrite (the New Testament was written in the common language of trade, which at the time was Greek), was the term used for the masks that actors wore. So, the Bible is insisting that Christians are to have an authentic, open, genuine love.
However, if we Christians are gripped by legalism then we will not be loving, and certainly not authentically loving. Merrill Unger writes that “the hypocrite is a double person, natural and artificial; the first he keeps to himself, the other he puts on as he does his clothes, to make an appearance before men.” What Paul and other new Testament writers urge is that believers in Christ would not feign love or live insincerely. When we do so the charge that we talk a big talk but don’t walk the walk is all too true.
Legalists are hypocritical. Hypocrisy is a contemptible characteristic that all people share and nearly all people hate. It is also a horrible characteristic that God abhors. Before moving on to the proactive, positive side of the Christ life (authentically loving), allow me to make some points about Christian hypocrisy (inauthentic living and loving):
First, we hypocrites worship, but we do not do so from the heart. Jesus, quoting God’s statement from Isaiah 29, rebuked the highly religious crowd, “These people draw near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” You ever like that? I am. More times than I care to admit. But true love for God worships sincerely from the heart. True worship is an authentic connection in a loving relationship.
Second, we hypocrites parade ourselves as holy, righteous and pious people. We play the part of righteous people, when true humility would reveal what we are truly like at heart: unrighteous. Now, that does not mean we don’t have some semblance of a righteous character in Christ; for we have received his righteousness as believers. Neither does that mean that no one does some sort of good. What it does mean is that we are tainted with moral impurities, so that even the best we do is tainted with sin. Much like someone who has a contagious disease, a virus or bacteria. The disease or infection might not become a full-blown manifestation; nevertheless, it is still there.
Jesus was disgusted with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who were radical zealots when it came to being right and doing the right thing. He said that they let everyone know how much they give to help the poor (Matthew 6:2); they pray on street corners to show how wonderfully religious they are (Matthew 6:5); and they behave with a religious pouting when they fast (Matthew 6:16).
They prided themselves at how much they studied and knew their Bible. They bragged about how pure they were and how immoral everyone else was. In fact, unlike Jesus, whom they considered among the dregs of society, they were so righteous that they would not have anything to do with the “untouchables” (people with leprosy or any other obvious disease), the unclean (those who were not religiously and ceremonially pure like they were, or those who were not of the same religioethnicity as they), or the sinners (homeless, drunks, druggies, prostitutes, homosexuals). They could own that pride because they had worked hard, like good legalists, to arrive at their level of holiness or perfection, while others clearly had not.
In contrast, true Christ-like love is humble. Someone gripped by the love and grace of Jesus practices amazing grace. S/he believes the simple, yet profound fact of who they really are when stripped away bare before the presence of a holy God. They truly admit, “Where would I be if God had not been gracious to me? I am really no better than those who are labeled untouchable, unclean or sinner. The only credit I have in my account is not mine, but Christ’s. Therefore, with authentic humility I can have sincere love for those who are in every way on my same level.
Third, we hypocrites are judgmental. Now, the Bible teaches the difference between a discerning kind of judgment, which we are called to have, and a condemning kind of judgment, which we have no right to have.
In Matthew 7, Jesus says that the hypocritical judge looks for the tiniest little fleck of dirt in someone else’s eyes and condemns him or her for having dirty eyes, while all the while walking around with an obvious dirty log protruding from his eye. He uses such hyperbole to underscore how absurdly stupid such an arrogant judge is! Every legalist and legalistic group does this. They size others up according to their own measure and then berate others for not making the grade. At the core of a legalist is a fearful and insecure person who needs to condemn others in order to gain a measure of self-worth.
Writing in Romans, chapter two, Paul says that when we Christians criticize and judge others, we criticize and judge others for the very same things for which we are guilty. We often see and hate in others what we refuse to admit guilt in ourselves. We act appalled when another believer sins or is discovered to have some indiscretion, fault or sin, while secretly sinning in a similar manner. This is highlighted when, every so often (more than it should), some famous preacher who rants and rails against a particular sin is discovered to have the same fault, flaw or sin. It ought to put us on notice lest we be like that.
Judging flows from pride, while grace, mercy and love flow from humility. The downside about emphasizing law and purity is our propensity to de-emphasize mercy and grace. Judgmentalism is a nasty, vicious, hideous, moral cancer. As I implied earlier, it falsely elevates us at the expense of others. It is a masked narcissism. It broadcasts the stench of arrogance. It manipulates and keeps others in their “place.” It is abusive, and restrictive (restricting true freedom). The bottom line is that hypocritical, judgmental Christianity is an evil.
By contrast, genuine Christ-like love is not judgmental. Instead, it deals graciously and mercifully with others’ deficits, faults and sins. This does not imply that “deficits,” faults and sins are to be ignored or not addressed. They are indeed addressed by loving Christians; but not in order to point the giant forefinger and pronounce a guilty verdict with attendant sentences. By all means Christians are to recognize genuine sin as sin and condemn those sins. But no Christian individual has the right to pronounce any condemnatory sentence. Only proper biblical authorities have the rightful duty to pronounce a sentence upon wayward rebels who call themselves Christians (Matthew 16, 18). That sentence is to declare that they are not of the true faith.
Sinners are to be addressed gently (Galatians 6:1) because they are addressed from a place of humility, with a concern for restoration. The sins of a believer is to be addressed gently in order to help the person quit his error or sin and to make a positive, transformative change. The sin is labeled (based upon Scripture’s clear definition and description, not on our personal standards) and a rebuke, reproof or correction is issued. Again, the purpose is to call the person to turn around. For example, Paul tells those who are in Christ to stop stealing, and instead go to work so as to provide for himself and others, and in order to have extra to help out others in need (Ephesians 4:29).
The fourth thing about Christian hypocrites is that we are double-tongued. We say one thing but do another. Double-tongued also means we do not keep our word (James 3:10). Authentic love is loyally committed to and relatively consistent with what one says.
Fifth, Christian hypocrites are generally unwilling to help fellow believers in need (James 2:15-16). Those possessed with authentic love helps fellow believers and others who are in need.
Obviously there are many other characteristics we could list about Christian hypocrisy. These are merely five, but they are the common ones that the Bible lists. A perfect Jesus condemned false humility, arrogant legalism, and hypocritical love. One time he rebuked his disciples for their failure to follow his teachings, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, but you do not do the things I tell you to do?” (Luke 6:46). At another time he said that religious legalists observe the law but ignore and reject true justice, mercy and faith. The rest of the Bible teaches us that genuine love is just, merciful and comes from a life of true faith.
Saint John, the “apostle of love,” wrote in his first letter to the Church, “He who says ‘I know him (Jesus)’ and does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth (of Jesus) is not in him.” Put bluntly, for those who believe in and own the name of Jesus, inauthentic and hypocritical love is intolerable. Christians are called upon to listen intently to Jesus with a willingness and a passion to follow through. The overflow of that willingness and passion, which comes from a spiritual empowerment God gives, is clearly manifested in authentic love and with an active compassion.
So what are we to think and do? If you are a Christian hypocrite like me, the first thing to do is come to grips with God’s law and his love. Forget measuring yourself against your own or others’ standards as a way to identify the ideal perfection. Measure yourself against God’s Law and know that he not only requires perfection in what you do, but also perfection of your attitude, thinking and heart. Then humbly recognize that it is impossible for you or anyone else to measure up to such pure, holy, and perfect standards. That failure to measure up is called sin and the act of stepping over the line, breaking his Law, is called transgression.
Secondly, give up pride and humbly confess to God your inability and failure(s).
Next, trust in Jesus who perfectly fulfilled God’s Law in heart, word and action. Trust in Jesus who paid for your guilt and shame when he died upon the cross. By his love he took upon himself your deficits, flaws and sins. By his mercy he assumed your indebtedness and stepped into your failures. Through this simple but saving trust in Christ he graciously transfers and credits his righteousness to you. You have all that is needed to be acceptable to God as one who can rightly stand before God no longer condemned with a sentence.
Hypocrisy is among the worst of sins (Matthew 24:51). It is a sin to be avoided as much as any other sin we consider heinous (1 Peter 2:1). Let us not forget that. One of the remarkable characteristics about almost all the saints in the Old and New Testaments, those heroes of the Faith, was that they were incredible sinners! Yet it was by faith in God’s forgiving mercy, trusting his pardoning grace that they were forgiven, and through faith declared righteous (Genesis 15; 17; Habakkuk 2:2; Galatians 3:10-11).
God calls us to live by faith at Jesus’ Cross, so to speak (Galatians 2:20). By faith we receive Christ’s righteousness and by faith we live righteously. From the vantage point of the Cross we have the remedy for legalism, arrogance and hypocrisy. From that position we have hope; a hope and life that comes from trusting in Jesus Christ. From that hope flows the righteousness of Christ to others; a righteousness that is identified and expressed through authentic love (Romans 13:10).
This authentic love is merciful because we have been shown mercy. It is forgiving because we have been forgiven by God. It is giving because Christ first gave himself for us and to us. This authentic love comes through a vital faith in Jesus; a faith that is honest, transparent, humble, truthful, caring and free.
Christian, let your love be sincere, authentic and without hypocrisy.
© D. Thomas Owsley