The Truth About Hypocrisy
Delivered By
C. C. Risenhoover
Delivered On
June 12, 2016
Central Passage
Matthew 23:13


          "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" (Matthew 23:13).

          It’s difficult to believe Christianity is true when so many who claim to be Christian live lives contrary to the Gospel. And, it’s easy to see why so many people say the church is full of hypocrites. But, of course, there’s always room for one more.

          The dictionary defines hypocrite as "…a person who pretends to have beliefs or practices which he or she does not actually possess." The word 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…and when playing a tragic part, he would hold up a mask with a sad face. The word literally means, "One who hides behind a mask."

          So hypocrisy is not confined to a church building…or a church congregation. Since it’s also another word for lying…our entire culture has its fair share of hypocrisy. It’s very prevalent in academia, government and media…all of which hide behind a mask.

          But, the reason why there are hypocrites in the church is because not all church people are Christians. Going to church doesn’t automatically change anyone’s behavior. The facts are that people go for all sorts of reasons…maybe out of habit or ritual…possibly to seek the truth…or maybe to just network with other people.

          So going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you a car or mechanic. 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. Some people simply look like they’re Christians because they get up on Sundays and go to a place that’s called a church.

          And, you’re not expected to act like a Christian if you’re not one yet. When you surrender your life to Christ…He’ll begin to change you from the inside out. You won’t have to manufacture Christian behavior on your own.

          As to why it appears that so many true Christians are hypocrites…that comes as a result of confusion as to what a real Christian is. So the more we understand what a true Christian is…the more we will understand what a true hypocrite is.

          You see, real Christians are nothing more than forgiven sinners. Some people…especially those outside the church…make the erroneous assumption that Christians don’t sin. But, the Bible never claims that Christ’s followers are perfect. What it says is that those who surrender their lives to Him will be perfectly forgiven…but they won’t be perfect.

          There are some major differences between being a sinner and being a hypocrite. It’s clearly stated in 1 John 1:8 that "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

          The next verse describes the difference between a hypocrite and an honest sinner, saying "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." The forgiven sinner is continually seeking cleansing from sin.

          So to look at the church and see sinners is one thing…but to label it as full of hypocrites is quite another. That’s because the church isn’t a house for super saints. It is, instead, a hospital for sick sinners.

          The Apostle Paul was one of the greatest Christians who ever lived…a man who seemingly thought about Jesus 24/7…but he didn’t think of himself as spiritually invincible. He wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst."

          Notice that Paul didn’t put his sinfulness in the past tense. Please take note of the fact that he put it in the present tense.

          Since Christians are not perfect…it stands to reason that churches are filled with imperfect people. In fact, the church is the only organization around where a public admission of sinfulness is required for membership. It’s a place for forgiven failures.

          One characteristic of a real Christian is that he or she is not what they used to be. So instead of focusing on how far people fall short of the glory of God…think about how far they’ve come. For example, I’m totally different today than I was before I became a Christian.

          You see me as a pastor. However, those who know my past see me as something entirely different. And, there are many like me in churches everywhere…people whose relationship with God is continually evolving…but who still have a long way to go.

          We’re just not what we used to be. We’re the people Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5:17, when he said, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"

          So a real Christian is simply a forgiven sinner who has been changed from how he or she used to be. But, there’s more to the story. A real Christian will be transformed completely and will one day become perfect. That won’t happen in this life…but it will happen at death. That’s when we will be radically changed…and that’s when we will spend eternity with Christ.

          What God does for Christians now…through the Holy Spirit…is to provide some divine housecleaning in their lives. He’s cleans them up. When a Christian messes up…He prompts them to confess it. He gives them the courage and humility to ask for forgiveness…along with the power to live the way the Bible teaches. He develops the character of Christ within them and causes the fruit of the Spirit to ripen their lives.

          As an authentic follower of Christ…we experience forgiveness of sin in our lives. And, we experience 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."

          God isn’t finished with us yet. We’re in process of change…of becoming what we should be.

          Obviously, there’s a dissonance in our lives between what we know is right and how we’re currently living. Most of us seek to present an image of ourselves that’s better than we really are. And, in that sense, we’re all hypocrites.

          But, I have some inside information that keeps me from being discouraged with the reality of this discrepancy in my life. I know that God is at work narrowing the gap between what I should be and what I am…between how I should be living and how I am living. When I accept that…I’m freed from hypocrisy and can take my mask off.

          Hypocrisy, obviously, is a cancer in the church. It’s a killing agent…and it’s also addictive. But, even though Jesus reserved His most severe words of condemnation for hypocrites…many of us still seem to prefer the hypocrite lifestyle to God’s truth.

          So if you’re bothered by spiritual counterfeits…you have some good company in Jesus. On 20 different occasions in the Gospels Jesus lashed out at those who wore a phony mask of righteousness.

          In Matthew 6:2 Jesus said: "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets to be honored by men…"

          He also said in Matthew 6:5: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men…"

          And, in Matthew 6:16 he said: "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting..."

          In Matthew 7:5 Jesus said: "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

          Then in Matthew 15:7-8 he said: "You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’"

          In Matthew 23, some of the harshest words Jesus ever spoke were directed toward professional religious pretenders. He called them hypocrites five times…fools twice…blind guides five times…and also serpents and a brood of vipers.

          After describing this disease of deceit…Jesus does give a couple of cures for counterfeit Christianity and hypocrisy in verses 23-28. He tells us to focus on the important. He said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

          The word "woe" can be translated "cursed be…" so Jesus actually cursed counterfeits…the religious actors who are obsessed with the trivial. He pointed out that they neglected that which was most important…justice, mercy and faithfulness.

          Micah 6:8 tells us: "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

          The legalists among us are sticklers for details…but blind to the great principles of Scripture.

          Jesus used wonderful imagery to make His point. A dead bug in a drink made it impure for a Jew to drink…so before a bug as small as a gnat died they would strain it out in order to avoid having the drink declared unclean. But, Jesus contended that they did not object to putting what was a ritually unclean camel in a cup and gulping it down.

          In other words, their attention to detail was fine…but they had missed the main point. If you want to avoid being a hypocrite…guard yourself against majoring on the minors. Implement the important. Don’t get so caught up in the minutia that you miss the majestic.

          In Matthew 23:25-26, Jesus said: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean."

          Focusing on religious routines becomes so easy for us that we sometimes forget the necessity of cultivating a love relationship with Jesus. Instead of intensifying the internal, some of us only express the external. When you don’t clean the inside of a cup for a lengthy period of time…the cup becomes a reservoir for fungus and bacteria.

          So if you want to be cured from living a counterfeit life…then intensify the internal. Keep your insides clean. Focus more on the internal than the external.

          In verses 27-28, Jesus said: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

          To the Pharisees there was nothing that spread ritual impurity as severely as a corpse. Numbers 19:11 tells us that anyone who touched a dead body was unclean for a week. The Jews believed that you could be rendered religiously dirty…and thus ostracized from the Passover celebration…if even your shadow touched a tombstone. That’s why tombstones were painted white…so they could avoid them.

          So when Jesus told these hypocrites they were full of dead men’s bones…it greatly offended them. Through outward ritual they thought they had avoided being contaminated…but Jesus told them that inside they were morally dirty and spiritually dead.

          The hypocrite can often look good when viewed outwardly…when he or she plays their part right. The problem is that it’s on the inside where wickedness and evil reigns.

          While Jesus is hard on hypocrites…He never condemns sinners. In fact, John 3:17 tells us, "The Son did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him."

          Jesus embraces those who own up to their mistakes and moral failures. So you don’t need to put on a mask and act religious in order to gain God’s favor.

          But, if you’re looking for the perfect Christian…you’re not going to find him or her. Christians are unfinished products of God’s infinite grace. As long as they are on this earth they’re not complete…they’re simply works in progress. They will continue to be mistake prone…and sin prone…even after they’re saved.

          If a person is using that "too many hypocrites in the church" excuse for not following Christ…then those hypocrites referred to are closer to God than he or she is.

          And, if a churchgoer is wearing a mask…pretending to be something they’re not…the cure isn’t in trying to change what he or she is on the outside…or in attempting to get more religious. If a person wants to change…to become someone they’ve never been before…the change has to take place on the inside.

          And, only one person can affect that kind of real change…and His name is Jesus. We need to stop playing Christian charades…to stand before Jesus…admit we’re sinners…and also admit that we’re nothing and can do nothing without Him.

          So implement the important and intensify the internal. When you do that He’ll forgive you and set you on your way to becoming all that He created you to be. The temptation to be a hypocritical is greater if you don’t have a way to deal with the sin in your life. If you don’t know you’re forgiven…you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to cover that sin up.

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