My favorite hymn is “Come Thou Fount,” and every time I hear the line that says “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,” it resonates deeply within me. I really do feel it. I know I am so apt to do the opposite of what I know I should do, so quick to gossip or lie or not love my neighbor well, so prone to wandering off the path the Lord has set before me.
I’m a Christian, and I’m a hypocrite.
And honestly? So are you.
We’ve all heard people say that Christians are hypocrites, and if you’re like me, it’s probably stung a bit to hear that. It’s not pretty, but it’s reality. We know that Romans 3:23 says we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, so it’s no surprise that we mess up, get it wrong, and totally fail at this whole faith thing.
If Christians are all prone to hypocrisy on some level at some point, how is the church supposed to handle things?
Jayson D. Bradley addresses Christian hypocrisy in his recent post “All Christians are Hypocrites” for Relevant.
“I think we need to look at the ways that the church reinforces or even rewards hypocrisy—and why non-believers often get so giddy when it’s exposed. When we stand at the intersection of these points, we’ll benefit from a less fraudulent faith.”
Here are his points:
- Behavior monitoring enables hypocrisy. “While the threat of disapproval may get us to change or hide our behavior, it doesn’t change our beliefs—it simply drives them underground,” Bradley says. He tells of parents driving their children towns away to see a “forbidden” movie so they aren’t seen by fellow churchgoers, and I’ve heard many similar stories myself. When we feel like our actions are being scrutinized by what Bradley calls “behavioral watchdogs,” our tendency is to hide what we are doing. It’s a slippery slope, and one that can often lead to worse behavior and even more hypocrisy in the end.
- Behavior modification creates hypocrisy. Telling Christians to shape up because the world is watching them rarely gets to the root of why they are doing what they’re doing in the first place. “The problem is that this kind of image-oriented posturing actually hurts Christians more than it helps them,” Bradley says. Especially for new believers, we shouldn’t be presenting Christianity as a list of behavioral rules and off-limits activities (Don’t drink! Don’t dance! Don’t play cards! Don’t, don’t, don’t!), but instead as an invitation to relationship with Jesus alongside all other believers. “I think we need to present Christianity in a way that encourages people to wrestles with its claims and sacrifices,” Bradley says. When we come to know the Lord intimately, His desires become ours, and our actions will change accordingly. True heart change and action change comes as a result of a genuine understanding of what God wants for His children and rarely from a long list of rules and regulations.
- Neither monitoring nor modification work. “I have found that the church is full of people who are concealing feelings or perspectives they think will get them ostracized,” Bradley says. “Sometimes living transparently gives permission for people around you to do the same.” We will never all agree on what we think is right, acceptable, or correct behavior as Christians, but we can be open to dialoging about our differences respectfully and can be open to correction when it’s necessary. It can be tempting to want to change other Christians’ actions when we feel they are in the wrong, but a person’s faith is not always clear or quantifiable. “The only real way we can get at the root of someone’s spiritual sickness is to expect, encourage and equip them to pursue Christ—not good behavior, not approval and not theology,” says Bradley.
So, what do we do about it?
Live honestly. “The pursuit of Jesus Christ is your true testimony,” Bradley says. If you find yourself wanting to hide your actions or live different lives depending in your company, acknowledge that before the Lord and begin entering into a way of living that is aligned with Scripture and consistent in all areas of your life. However, if you find that you want to make changes in your life simply because you’re concerned what others are thinking, Bradley says don’t bother.
“The only way we’ll truly beat hypocrisy is by being willing to recognize that every single one of us is a spiritual novice. Christianity doesn’t make us better, smarter, righter or happier than anyone else. It re-aligns us with God and allows Him to begin the messy, mysterious and often brutalizing work of untangling our twisted lives. The effort we waste on appearing more godly to others and ourselves is wasted, and only the effort poured into pursuing Christ matters.”
Just because we have all sinned, fallen short, and been hypocrites does not mean we should throw in the towel and live recklessly. We can actively choose day by day to seek Christ fully, obey His commandments and desires for our lives, and follow Him honestly and wholeheartedly.
It’s a journey, but it’s one worth taking. We’re all in this together.
Publication date: May 26, 2016
Rachel Dawson is the editor of BibleStudyTools.com