The Doctor has noticed that people sometimes look at Christians who have made mistakes and say things like, “Look at her- she calls herself a Christian and she did that?!?” Or perhaps they might think, “Look at him- I thought he was supposed to be religious. What a hypocrite!”
Saying these things may help such people feel better about their own personal shortcomings but it still brings up a good question- what’s the difference between making a mistake and being hypocritical in your faith? Well, let’s drop in on the Apostle Paul’s Biblical letter to the church in the town of Philippi and get the answer…
“My prayer for you is that you will overflow more and more with love for others, and at the same time keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight, for I want you always to see clearly the difference between right and wrong, and to be inwardly clean, no one being able to criticize you from now until our Lord returns” (Philippians 1:9-10).
When the Bible speaks of being “inwardly clean” in this passage, it uses a word that means to be “pure” or “sincere.” However the actual meaning of this word really goes much deeper than that, for in the original language this term means, “to judge by sunlight.” Now what does sunlight have to do with being inwardly clean? Well, let’s check out a little background information first and then we’ll talk about what it means.
You see, back in the days of the first century, dishonest pottery vendors sometimes tried to sell cracked clay pottery to unsuspecting buyers. An unethical vendor would do this by covering the cracked portion of a clay pot with wax and then painting the crack over. The resulting cracked pot looked like a new unbroken piece- that is, until you got the piece home and tried to fill it with water. So to avoid getting cheated, a smart person would hold the piece up to the sun and check it for cracks before buying it. The sunlight could then be seen through the cracked portion and the buyer would know not to purchase it.
So what does this mean for us today? Well, the Apostle Paul is saying that his prayer for the Philippian Christians is that they would be totally genuine in their relationship with Jesus. In other words, when the Philippians were “brought into the light” and examined by others, his desire was that they would be found to be genuine people of God and not hypocritical “cracked pots.” Of course, this very same thing is also true for people today- God’s desire is that the people who claim to follow Him will be sincere and genuine in their faith.
But this presents something of a problem, doesn’t it? After all, none of us are perfect, right? If we are totally honest with ourselves then we have to admit that we aren’t always everything that we should be in our faith. All of us have a few cracks here and there and we all make mistakes. The unfortunate truth is that most of us aren’t always as sincere and genuine as we’d like to be as Christians. In fact, 1 John 1:8 tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth.” So does the fact that we sometimes fail to live a totally perfect, genuine Christian life make us hypocritical?
Well, let’s think about that for a moment. A “hypocrite” is someone who pretends to be something that they really aren’t. In the days of New Testament, the word hypocrite meant “one who wears a mask.” It was used in the ancient Greek theatre to describe actors who used masks to portray different emotions. Over time, the word came to be used to describe anyone who wasn’t really what they claimed to be. A hypocrite then, is not someone who makes mistakes or struggles to do the right thing. A hypocrite is really a “mask-wearer” -someone who is knowingly and intentionally different from what they outwardly claim to be.
Now perhaps there have been times when you’ve felt that you haven’t been everything you’ve claimed to be in your Christian life. Perhaps you’ve been struggling with some particular sin or maybe you’ve repeated the same mistake over and over. In cases like this, it can certainly be very easy to feel hypocritical in your faith. But making a mistake -even a big one- doesn’t necessarily make you a hypocrite. After all, some of the greatest people of God in the Bible made some tremendous mistakes.
Struggling repeatedly with some particular sin doesn’t necessarily make you a hypocrite either. Psalm 37:23-24 tells us that, “(T)he steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with His hand” (NKJ). The meaning of this verse is pretty simple: it means that if you mess up, you can count on God to uphold you if you are really giving Him the priority in your life. God can help you overcome unhealthy behaviors in your life but it’s important to realize that His process may take some time and could involve some struggles along the way.
So here’s the question: are you real in what you believe or is it all just a show for others? Are you really interested in living the kind of life that is pleasing to God or do you just want to appear to do so? You see, it‘s definitely hypocritical to wear a mask and pretend to be something that you’re not. It’s also hypocritical to habitually live an ungodly lifestyle with no desire to change and still call yourself a Christian. In fact, Jesus gave some of His harshest criticism to those people who outwardly claimed to follow God but inwardly couldn’t care less about Him, not to those who struggled or made mistakes.
On the other hand, the Bible has this to say to those who may be struggling but truly desire to live a God-honoring life…
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:8-14 NIV).