If you’ve invited people to church who don’t already go to church, you may have encountered this sentiment: “I don’t go to church. It’s full of hypocrites.”
Hypocrisy is one of the main reasons people walk away from church—or refuse to come in the first place.
So, what’s behind this perception that many Christians are hypocrites?
Here’s the hard truth: Often, we are perceived as hypocrites because, in some ways, we are hypocrites.
Maybe it’s because of what we say. We say lying is wrong, but we still lie sometimes. We say gossip is bad, but we still talk behind other people’s backs. We say God loves everybody, but we don’t always show love. We ask for forgiveness, but often fail to offer it. We preach grace, but often practice judgment. After all, churches are made up of people. And people are flawed.
But, the reality is, we’re not hypocrites because of what we say or because of what we do—we’re hypocrites when we hide our faults and try to act like we’ve got it all figured out.
It’s easy to fall into this trap. Sometimes we start to think that God’s love is based on our performance. How often do we get in the car on Sunday morning and everyone’s fighting and yelling. From our house to the church it’s chaos, but when we walk through the doors, we are suddenly transformed from Mad Max in the Thunderdome to the Brady Bunch.
We say we are good, when the truth is, we feel like we are drowning.
That is what makes us hypocrites. A hypocrite was a Greek stage actor who performed behind a mask. Hypocrisy occurs when the outside doesn’t match the inside. Sometimes, rather than letting Jesus transform us, we try to force ourselves into the mold of those around us. We act the way we think we are supposed to act. We talk the way we are supposed to talk. We become actors. We pretend to have it all together. Our life becomes a performance. Our church becomes our stage.
Hypocrisy is a mask we wear to hide our true self.
Here three ingredients that can remove the mask:
Be Honest With Yourself
None of us are perfect, not even close. That’s OK. Church isn’t for perfect people to compare themselves to other perfect people. Church is a place for hurting people. Church is a place for broken people. Church is a place for struggling people. If we are honest about what we are—a work in progress—then how can anyone call us a hypocrite?
We are not better than anyone else, holier than anyone else or more righteous than anyone else. Life is not a competition. The only person we should compare ourselves to is Jesus. When we compare ourselves to Him, we will see clearly what we are: Broken. Sinful. Not good enough. But because Jesus loved us and died for us, we are children of God. Adopted in His family. Accepted. Approved. Loved. Not because of anything we did, but because of everything He did.
We don’t have to be “good enough,” because Christ accepts us as we are.
Love is incapable of hypocrisy. The more we love others, the more receptive others will be to what we have to say. When we love, we can fail without being called a hypocrite. When we love, we can challenge without sounding judgmental. We can preach Good News without just shoving principles down people’s throats.
Love is a grace factory. People should feel the love we have for them. Love changes everything. The central desire of every person is to love and to be loved. Jesus was never called a hypocrite, because Jesus loved people. He valued people. He sacrificed for them.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean achieving perfection. It means we are all about Jesus. We are all for Jesus. It means we are invested in a relationship with Jesus. The only way to do that is to spend time with Him. We pursue Him first. We make Him our highest priority. It’s not a bumper sticker or a Facebook status. Being a Christian is about having a radical, life-altering relationship with our God and King.
Being a Christian isn’t about what we say. It isn’t just about what we do. Being a Christian is who we are. It’s not the outward wrappings, it’s the inward reality. It can’t be hypocrisy, because it’s not based on a set of rules. It’s grounded in a relationship.
Here’s the cure for hypocrisy: Stop striving so hard to be a “good Christian.” Instead, just be with Jesus. The more we spend time with Jesus, the more we are molded into His image, filled with His love for others and covered by His grace.
Real, authentic life—a life of purpose and meaning—comes from being with Jesus. Our primary job should be spending time with Jesus. When we do that, everything else flows naturally out of who we are.
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is the author of Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. You can find more of his work on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @tedwardsccc.