I’ve been part of conversations that have included a statement that is something to the effect of, “I don’t go to church because it is full of hypocrites.”
Why you do or don’t go to church is something we can talk about if you like. I am not going to sit here and type out why you’re right or wrong, even if it’s not hard to believe that you experienced hypocrisy. By the very nature of what the Church is, there are bound to be confused and messed up people inside her walls.
What I do want to explore here is my own tension with hypocrisy. I don’t know the depths of any other person as I know the depths of myself, and even then, assuming I’m fully aware of my depths is a stretch. Let’s not allow that to keep us from going diving, though.
What’s the problem?
The Bible is full of laws, and Christians have been called people of the book. In the Old Testament, God very specifically had laws which allowed his people to relate to him in light of his holiness. Failure to relate to God on his terms resulted in judgment, which God is not in the wrong for as Creator over his creation.
Fast forward to the New Testament. God fully becomes a man, while remaining fully God, which boggles the mind in full mystery. Jesus is not a new loving and kind version of God, but actually elevates the expectations of the Old Testament law.
The great evils we commit – that I commit – are forsaking the source of all satisfaction and life, and seeking satisfaction and life in things that can never provide them (Jeremiah 2:12-13). All of the judgment that we deserve for not loving God or loving our neighbors was poured out on Jesus. He took that, so that I don’t have to.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21
Jesus fulfilled the debt of sinners. This is the gospel.
Jesus was resurrected to life after being dead for three days, and then ascended to heaven some time after that. This is the Christians hope.
Because of Jesus, men and women can be reconciled to God. God, the offended party, becomes the solution to the offense and bridges the gap. He becomes the rescuer.
What does all of this have to do with hypocrisy?
Wrapping your head around the gospel will go a long ways in helping you understand the inconsistency of hypocrisy. A reading of Luke, Acts, and Romans in the Bible will give you a far more robust knowledge of the gospel then the brief snippet I just condensed.
A lack of understanding the gospel is what leads to hypocrisy for the Christian. It is not even a matter of we don’t practice what we don’t preach, unless we are still preaching salvation by the law apart from Jesus.
Meditating on a mind-bending verse from the New Testament is where these kinds of things began to unravel for me: For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. – Galatians 2:19-21
The question I have to ask is who or what is my faith in? In what do I place my trust to save and satisfy and justify me? This is not something that, upon becoming a Christian with saving faith in Christ, becomes fully realized. The late theologian R.C. Sproul said, “The doctrine of justification by faith alone is easy to get from an intellectual standpoint, but to get it in the bloodstream takes a lifetime.”
It is not natural to rest in the good news that I am fully reconciled to God by faith in Jesus alone. It is natural for me to forget who I am in Christ. When Christians forget, when I forget, there you will likely find the hypocrite. We forget who we are. This is true of many Christians, not just myself.
The Two-Faced Christian
And now here we are. How can I look in the mirror when I am, as Martin Luther phrased, simul justus et peccator? Simultaneously righteous and sinner? This is more mystery that I must be comfortable with as a Christian.
I am righteous in Christ. By faith alone am I righteous in Christ. “Yes, yes, but don’t you have to do something?!” Yes, I do. I have to trust that Jesus is all of the righteousness I have.
I am also a sinner. I still experience anger that is out of love for myself, not love for God or my neighbor. I still look to be satisfied in things that can never satisfy. I forget which Kingdom is satisfying, and fall back to my old ways of thinking that the self-focused kingdom of Josh will make me whole.
Ted Dekker explores this idea in his stylized fiction novel The 49th Mystic. A group of people called the Elyonites have been made justified, rescued from their disease, yet remain in fear. Eternally, they are secure. In the here and now, they submit themselves to their fears, try to justify themselves by their own laws and do not live in the good of their eternal hope. I wonder if this is a scathing commentary on the contemporary Church, but that rabbit trail is for another time.
I agree that the law is good, yet I fail to fully submit to it. I agree all the approval I will ever need is found in God, who I am reconciled to, yet I crave that approval from others. I am justified and righteous before God, but still struggle to live in every way that reflects that.
How can I live in the tension but not be a hypocrite?
This past week, a memory showed up on my Facebook. It is a quote by Matt Chandler. “We want to be known as these kind of fake mirages instead of who we really are, and when we enter into who we really are then all of a sudden the group has a shot at genuine empathy and compassion because there’s no reason to have empathy and compassion when everyone’s awesome. In no way does being awesome lead you to prayer and the word of God.”
I can come to grips with that I am not obeying every jot and tittle in the Bible, even if they are good and worth obeying. In no way is that a dismissal. It’s an admission of where I’m really at. I struggle with identity, an impulsive lack of self control, fear of what people think, and running to things that can never satisfy. The law is good and I am not. This is why I need Jesus to begin with. If the law was good and I could fulfill it, then Jesus died for no purpose. Remember Galatians?
I think I fall into hypocrisy when I put up some fake front of actually fulfilling the law apart from Jesus, when I claim awesomeness in a state of not-awesomeness. When I fake peace but am wrestling with doubt.
Hypocrisy is God gives the law, and I can fulfill that law. I live like I don’t need the mercy of God because I am good. Except I can’t, and everyone will see that gap except me. Fear. If you think about it, this kind of thinking extends even beyond Christians.
The Christian life is that God gives the law, I admit of falling short of it, and cast myself on the mercy of God. I don’t have everything in a polished state of awesomeness, free from doubts and struggles, but I am reconciled to God in perfect love. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
Free of fear, I am free to live.
Free of fear, I am free to love.
I submit to you that there is only one source that can love you so perfectly as to free you from fear. If you are in Christ, remember who you are. This, I believe, is a primary function of gathering in a local church, because we forget who we are so easily and submit ourselves to old chains and fears.
In Christ alone can we live and love free, even if we are a mess ourselves. My hope is in Jesus, not in me. This is how I believe a Christian can live in tension without being a hypocrite.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1