They Say Christians Are Hypocrites
This video has been raising eyebrows in Christian circles for about five years now. There’s good here and there’s bad. The ‘spoken word’ artist, Jefferson Bethke says a lot, but I think he centralizes on one distinct issue. He loves Jesus, but he doesn’t like the religion that permeates the culture of the church.
His concern is that people read the Bible and learn about grace for all. They see a loving merciful Jesus. They see Jesus loving everyone even prostitutes and extortionists.
Then they look to different groups of Christians today and see them hating and rejecting different people: democrats, women, homosexuals, minorities, foreigners, Muslims.
The Bible seems to teach there is forgiveness with God. But, people look at the church and they see judgment.
Jefferson says that many churches are just preaching behavior modification without teaching people how to experience real heart change.
We call that Hypocrisy.
It’s like the famous Mahatma Gandhi quote; he said,
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
Now, I’m not saying that Christians aren’t ever Christlike; what I am telling you is what the world around us sees.
In their book Unchristian, authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons report that 85% of non-Christians see Christians as judgmental and hypocritical. We may look okay to one another, but to those outside church walls, we look very little like the Jesus they’ve heard about. Somewhere between accepting the gospel for ourselves and delivering the good news to others, we’ve gotten off course. Somehow we’ve turned grace into condemnation, relationship into rules, and truth into judgment.
People look at us and they call us hypocrites.
Is that true? Are Christians hypocrites? What does the Bible say?
Well, I think the Bible teaches that…
Yes, in a sense.
In a sense we are all hypocrites, because we claim a righteousness in Christ that we can’t actually achieve in life.
You may remember one of the old songs of the faith, Rock of Ages. It’s author, Augustus Toplady, wrote this song after returning home from a near death experience.
Gus was travelling on foot in the late afternoon between two towns when an unexpected storm blew in off the coast. He could barely stand, the winds were so strong.
So he climbed up to some rocks on a nearby hillside and wedged himself in a crevice. He stayed there wedged between the rocks and prayed until the storm relented.
And then Gus went home.
Upon returning home, he considered that the rock was God’s means of salvation from the storm. He was grateful for the rock.
And then he realized that, in similar fashion, Jesus is the rock that a Christian is hidden in, that saves him from the judgment of God. And he was grateful for Jesus.
So he wrote this song about Jesus, ‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.’
You see, it wasn’t that Gus had become stronger than the storm. It was that the rock covered his weakness.
And it is not that the brokenness and unfaithfulness that makes people tremble before God goes away. It is that Jesus covers our weakness.
This is one of the classic doctrines–foundations really–of the Christian faith, Simul Justus et Peccator. It means, we are simultaneously sinner and righteous.
It is why the Apostle Paul wrote,
All of you who were baptized [initiated] into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. ~Galatians 3:27, CEB
Jesus Christ is the clothing that covers the shame of our nakedness and the armor that received the blows we were do for our guilt.
The reality is, although we believed in Jesus because we wanted his righteousness and goodness, because we wanted to be like him, we really are not yet righteous. We may be on our way, but we are not righteous yet.
So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me. I gladly agree with the Law on the inside, but I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body.
I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse? Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I’m a slave to God’s Law in my mind, but I’m a slave to sin’s law in my body. ~Romans 7:21–25, CEB
If that’s not hypocrisy, I don’t know what is. We claim the righteousness of God based on God’s promise, but we don’t have it yet!
If you are a Christian, you have probably been told that you are a new creation, that you have already been made righteous.
There is truth to that, because every promise of redemption and perfection is already sealed for you through the promises of God. But, you know that like the Apostle Paul, you still wage war against the desires of the flesh. You continue to contribute to the brokenness and unfaithfulness in the world. The Bible word for that is ‘sin.’
SIN = Contributing to the brokenness & unfaithfulness in the world.
So what do you do about that? I’ve basically said, the world is right, all Christians are hypocrites. We claim the righteousness of Christ, but fail to reflect Christ in the world. How can we deal with that?
Well look what the Apostle Paul did. We just read Romans 7:21-25 a moment ago. Paul confesses publically that he is still a sinner.
Sin wages a war against him and takes his body prisoner. He confesses “I’m a miserable human being.” Paul is vulnerable. He’s willing to tell people he is not perfect. He knows the stories about Jesus. Paul knows that Jesus turned his back on the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, because they were hypocrites. They claimed to be righteous and were still unloving, unfaithful, intolerant. [BLANK]
Jesus went instead and hung out with sinners, prostitutes, extortionists, thieves. Why? Because they were honest about who they were.
Paul wanted to be with Jesus so he chose to be honest about who he was. He was a miserable human being and a wretched sinner. And so are you and I…if we are honest.
And then Paul uses this moment of vulnerability as an opportunity to tell people about Jesus.
Who will deliver me from this dead corpse? Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul tells people he’s messed up. He hurt people, rejected people who God loved. If he were here today, he might tell us how he hates abortion doctors and rejects people with different sexual or gender preferences.
And then he would say that Jesus covered over his failures. He would tell us how Jesus has promised him freedom from the hatefulness that resides in his mind.
And then, I imagine, he would look at us, the church, and charge us to live like Jesus. To go to those we want so desperately to reject and confess that we are just like them. We are as broken as them. We are as unfaithful as them. And we have found freedom in Jesus Christ.
We need to stop creating walls between the Christians and the world. Instead we need to point others to Jesus with our words and with our lives.
So when someone says to you that Christians are hypocrites, you can tell them confidently…
That’s kind of the point!
Because the Christian life is not about being good at following rules. It’s about being honest about your unrighteousness–your failures, your brokenness, your unfaithfulness–and then boasting in the righteousness of Jesus.
Look what Jesus said,
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you dressed like sheep, but inside they are vicious wolves. You will know them by their fruit. Do people get bunches of grapes from thorny weeds, or do they get figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, and every rotten tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit. And a rotten tree can’t produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, you will know them by their fruit.
“Not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. On the Judgment Day, many people will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and expel demons in your name and do lots of miracles in your name?’ Then I’ll tell them, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you people who do wrong.’
~Matthew 7:15–23, CEB
The issue here is fruit. The fruit that a tree produces, tells you about the quality of the tree.
Jami and I have a pear tree in our backyard. It has some sort of bug that has infested the tree and it rots the fruit. Jami asked me to cut it down.
I didn’t understand that. I didn’t want to cut down a perfectly good fruit tree! You know, at a short distance the fruit looked great. It’s not until you get it in your hand that you realize it’s gone bad.
So I said, well, let’s wait until the leaves fall and then we can get rid of all the bad fruit on the ground and then next year the tree will bear good fruit. My thinking was, let’s get the outside real clean and nice. Prune it real good and wash all the rot away and then it will produce good fruit.
No, she said. The problem isn’t the fruit. It’s the tree.
You see, bad fruit doesn’t grow on good trees.
And that’s what Jesus is talking about. Finding peace with our creator is not accomplished by cleaning up your act and trying to make yourself look real nice. Jesus says that many people will approach judgment before God looking really great, because they have been careful to get rid of as much of the rot in their lives. They have worked very hard to be faithful and do good things in with their bodies and so forth.
And in judgment, Jesus will look upon them and say, ‘I never knew you.’
Why? It almost seems ridiculous! Why wouldn’t Jesus want people to look righteous?!?
Because a bad tree can’t just be cleaned up and polished and be expected to produce good fruit. That tree is chopped up and thrown into the fire. It’s not about having good fruit. It’s about being a good tree.
So, Jesus provides the solution. He says, ‘Only those who do the will of my Father will enter the Kingdom.’ Only those who do God’s will get to enter into God’s presence.
And this is where I think many Christians and many Preachers have made a grave error in their interpretation of the Bible.
Have you been taught that the will of God is obedience to moral regulations? Have you been taught that to be a Christian is to be good and kind? That it means to not watch R rated movies, not to gamble, not to drink alcohol, and so on and so forth?
In other words, have you been taught that you can polish your fruit and prune your dead tree and avoid being chopped down and thrown into the fire?
I gotta finish the story about my pear tree. The end is short. Jami said the fruit is bad, so the tree is bad, cut it down, we need the firewood.
C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, wrote,
A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further…would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world – and might even be more difficult to save. ~C.S. Lewis
You see, the point of Christianity–the point of the Bible, the point of everything Jesus represented in his teaching, the point of the Apostles teaching in the New Testament, the point of the prophets in the Old Testament–the point is that you can claim righteousness and work really hard to be good, or you can live a completely immoral life of drugs, sex, and licentiousness of all sorts, and you are no different than everyone else.
At least those who live in their sin, brokenness, and unfaithfulness, know what they are about. They own it. They claim it. And if C.S. Lewis is right–and I think he is–those immoral people are far closer to Christ than the ‘good and nice people’ in the world. I guess that’s why Jesus spent so much time hanging out with “those people.”
The point of it all is that all people–all genders, all sexual preferences, all skin colors, all ethnicities, all tax brackets, people of all walks of life–all people will fail to find peace with God, except that God has chosen to find peace with men.
My peace with God is not about me or my righteousness; it’s about Jesus and His righteousness. It’s that Jesus has offered me new clothes, to cover my unfaithfulness until the day he makes me new. It’s that he has offered me a cleft in the rock to hold together my brokenness until the day he makes all things new.
Your peace with God is not about you or your righteousness. It’s not about how good you are. It’s about Jesus and His righteousness. It’s about how good He is. It’s that Jesus has offered you new clothes, to cover your unfaithfulness until the day he makes you new. It’s that he has offered you a cleft in the rock to hold together your brokenness until the day He makes all things new.
So how do we…
Respond to Hypocrisy
What do we actually do to combat our own hypocrisy?
Well, I found some really good advice in an unlikely place. Watch this.
This is what the world thinks of Christians. They think we are unloving. They think we are violent, hateful, bigots. But, worst of all, they think Jesus was a pretty good dude, and we’re hypocrites for not living like Jesus lived.
And that’s where I think this video is right. If I can point back to Jesus’ fruit illustration, Jesus says, we need to do the will of the Father.
And Jesus said that the will of the Father is this–we call it the Greatest Commandment,
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands. ~Matthew 22:37–40, CEB
Again, don’t confuse love for God with obedience to God’s moral standards. Morality is good, but it’s not what Jesus had in mind. And I’ll show you.
Jesus says there is a second commandment that is like the first. That word like, is not like our word like. In the Greek the word is omoios, and it means ‘akin to, together, or of the same kind.’
The second commandment is not just similar to the first, it’s not secondary in importance. It’s akin to the first. It is always to be considered together with the first. It’s the exact same kind of commandment.
To love God is akin to loving other people as yourself. To love God is to love others.
And don’t miss this, it is to love others, ‘as yourself.’
I’ve never been for want of food in my entire life, but if Jami and I went to the cupboards tonight and their was a small bag of beans and nothing else. And we cooked those beans and it became obvious that everyone would NOT be eating tonight, I would give up my portion so that my kids and my wife could eat.
And I would do that day in and day out if need be. I would endure the pains of hunger so that my kids could be relieved of hunger and so that my wife could be relieved of hunger. And I bet most of you would do the exact same thing.
Why would we do that?
I would do that because I love my wife and I love my kids like I love myself. You see, this kind of love is selfless love, sacrificial love.
At the end of the day, when we stand in judgment before Christ, he will be far more concerned with your sacrificial love than with your personal righteousness.
Righteousness is His business anyway, not yours.
Jesus said in Revelation 21 that He will make you new. He will make you righteous. Righteousness is His business. Your business is the sacrificial love of others. My business is the sacrificial love of others.
And so, you combat hypocrisy by dying to yourself–to the old diseased tree; to your wants, your desires, your rights–and allowing Christ to grow in you through the seed that is the Word of God, a new tree that produces beautiful and perfect fruit. And that fruit is the sacrificial love you have for others.
“Now when the Human One [Jesus Christ] comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”
~Matthew 25:31–46, CEB
To sacrificially love people is to love Christ. To love Christ and not love people is hypocrisy.
So, we don’t combat hypocrisy by claiming we are righteous. We combat hypocrisy by being honest about who we are–broken–and inviting others to be broken with us, that one day we will be made righteous through Christ.
If ever we do well, it’s because we love.
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