Hypocrite – a person who claims, or pretends, to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs. Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Hypocrite, it’s a dirty word. No one wants to be known as a hypocrite. We probably don’t consider ourselves hypocrites very often. Yet, part of me can’t help but think hypocrisy is a somewhat unavoidable aspect of the “human condition.”
I expect if you examine any of our lives under a microscope you are bound to find SOMETHING that doesn’t jive with the words flowing out of our mouths. However, I have noticed that the cries of “hypocrite” seem loudest when they are directed at Christians. I’m not sure why Christianity seems synonymous with perfection to some people, but it is an unrealistic expectation to place upon anyone, even a person of faith. If you expect perfection from any human being, you will always be disappointed. Likewise, if you expect perfection from a Christian human being, you will always be disappointed. And, if only this nonexistent perfect Christian human being can share the faith or gain the trust of those teetering on the edge of salvation, then Christianity is in a heap of trouble.
I understand the skepticism. The rise of the in-your-face televangelist begging for money, preaching repentance and a sinless life who then spends his off hours squandering funds and hiring prostitutes? The recent revelations from the Duggar household and countless other scandals within the Christian “celebrity” community? Not Christianity’s finest moments. I’m not here to excuse or to judge these behaviors. Their repentance, forgiveness, and correction is between them and God. However, one should not judge an entire faith by the poor choices of some of its more high-profile, though seemingly less reputable, proselytizing representatives.
From the perspective of everyday, “real-world” Christianity, we also run the risk of missing out on some great witnessing opportunities if we automatically dismiss the testimonies and teachings of Christians who have a “past” and who readily admit they still slip up on occasion. It is not uncommon for Christians to have “colorful” track records from which the rest of us can learn valuable lessons. I know several believers who survived incredible hardships and overcame troubled pasts through Christ. Prior to becoming a Christian, I learned more about salvation, grace, and the life-transforming power of Christ from the “imperfect Christians” in my life then I did from a pastor preaching at me from the pulpit or from the judgmental church goer. These Christian mentors never pretended to be something they were not. They didn’t put on any pretenses. They were who they were – a continual, imperfect work in progress trusting in the Lord to teach, forgive and correct when necessary.
I certainly have to count myself among those Christians with a past littered by mistakes. I am a divorcee who has since remarried. I will admit to anyone who asks, and sometimes even if they don’t, that I have made many bad decisions. I haven’t always been successful in following my beliefs. I have experienced the shame and guilt that comes with engaging in behaviors contrary to scripture and hurtful to God. And guess what? I STILL MESS UP. Do my past, and current, hypocrisies exclude me from the privilege of helping others in their walk with Christ or standing up for my beliefs? They shouldn’t, but unfortunately these past, and current, transgressions often negate my credibility in the eyes of not only the un-believer but also the believer. Despite receiving forgiveness and grace from the Lord, I have discovered it is much more difficult to receive forgiveness and regain credibility from fellow human beings. Believe me, the road to forgiveness hasn’t been easy and there have been definite consequences to my actions, yet I believe God can still use me to help others despite my failings.
At this point, I do feel it is perhaps necessary to point out the obvious. I am not saying that Christians have a “get out of jail free” card just because we can seek God’s forgiveness when we behave contrary to his will. Upon becoming a Christian, the desire to continue scripturally incorrect behavior should cease and if we do slip up, we should sense a deep conviction, seek forgiveness, repent, pick ourselves up and try again. There are many scriptures that warn against hypocrisy – this idea of portraying yourself as one thing when you are living as another. Perhaps if more Christians were more forthcoming about their own struggles – whether it’s gossip, doubt, depression, addiction, covetousness, adultery, etc – the cries of hypocrite would lessen. It starts with all of us – Christian or not – examining the log in our own eye rather than rushing to point out the hypocrisy of others.
In the end, I think it’s important to remember that Jesus Christ is the only perfect being ever to walk this planet. He is the only one who won’t let you down. He is the only one in whom you should place your faith and trust. He is also the God of an imperfect people. It would be nice if un-believers and believers alike would stop equating Christianity with perfection. It only sets us up for failure because perfection is unattainable. What we can do is pray for the strength to adhere to scripture so we might be a light to others, but also accept that on some level, at some time or another, hypocrisy happens to us all whether we like it or not.