We grow tired of people saying one thing and living something that’s completely opposite. According to the dictionary, a hypocrite is “a person who pretends to have beliefs or practices which he or she does not actually possess.” As used in the Bible, the term comes from ancient Greek theater, where one actor would often play two parts. When saying something humorous, he would hold up a mask with a smiley face; when playing a tragic part, he would hold up a mask with a sad face. A good actor could imitate the speech, mannerisms, and conduct of the character he was portraying. The word literally means, “One who hides behind a mask.”
Matthew 23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
and He continues… “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
“Woe to you, blind guides! Hypocrites!”
If we think we are any different than these hypocritical church leaders think about this story of a man who told his pastor that he doesn’t go to church anymore because there are so many hypocrites there. The pastor responded by saying, “Oh, don’t let that stop you. There’s always room for one more.”
I believe that one of the reasons why there are hypocrites in the church is because not all church people are real Christians. You see, going to church will not automatically change anyone’s behavior. People go to church for all sorts of reasons — maybe out of habit or ritual, maybe to seek the truth, seek community or perhaps to just network with other people.
Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you a car. We have to live with the possibility that what some people perceive as hypocrisy in the church is in fact, the result of mistaken identity.
OK. So some people in the church who profess to be Christians are not even Christians in the first place. That leads to another question, doesn’t it? Why does it appear that so many true Christians are hypocrites? I think it results from some confusion about what a real Christian is. In fact, as we better understand what a true Christian is, we’ll have a better understanding of what a hypocrite is.
1. Real Christians Are Forgiven Sinners
“Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” There’s a difference between being a sinner and being a hypocrite. 1 John 1:8 puts it very clearly: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” A hypocrite, or one who wears a mask, claims to be free from faults.
Since we have been forgiven of such a huge debt – a Christian can forgive those who have injured them. This is the fruit of forgiveness. “By their fruit you will recognize them…” Matthew 7:16
2. Real Christians Are Not What They Used To Be
I am totally different today than I was before I became a Christian. I used to have a terrible temper full of selfish desires and criminal behavior; I drank a lot. And I had a foul mouth.
I once told an adversary of mine, “I’m glad I didn’t know you before I became a Christian because I would’ve probably beaten you or killed you”
He responded with unbelief, “You? you couldn’t harm a fly…”
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
3. Real Christians Are Becoming What They Will Be!
A real Christian will be transformed completely and will become perfect one day. And that’s not going to happen in this life, but at death, when we will be radically changed and spend eternity with Christ.
In the meantime, God through the Holy Spirit provides some divine housecleaning in our lives. When we mess up, He prompts us to confess it. He gives us the courage and humility to ask for forgiveness. He gives us the power to live the way the Bible teaches. He develops the character of Christ within us and causes the fruit of the Spirit to ripen in our lives.
As authentic Christ followers, we experience forgiveness of sin and life-change as we surrender to Jesus on a daily basis. Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” That’s why being a Christian gives me hope: God’s not finished with me yet. I’m in process. I’m not what I used to be and I’m becoming what I will be.