Thursday, February 17, 2011
Hypocrite, or Human?
A while back, I read an intriguing book entitled unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity...and Why it Matters, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Essentially, the book uncovers the results of three years of exhaustive research done by Kinnaman and the Barna Group, the leading faith-based research firm in the world. The research centers around the opinions and beliefs of 16-29 year-olds who candidly share their negative feelings towards Christianity.
One of the most interesting chapters of the book deals with hypocrites. First, it's critical that we understand what the word hypocrite truly means. Dictionary.com defines hypocrite this way: a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess. It doesn't say that a hypocrite is someone who has a tough time with self-control, or who struggles with various forms of sin: pride, lust, self-righteousness, greed, substance abuse, etc.
Many of us confuse hypocrisy with disobedience. Hypothetically speaking, if I tell people that I am a Christian, but I have a problem with anger, I am not being a hypocrite. I am failing to live up to the perceived "Christian Standard" for one, but mostly I am just not living as Jesus wants me to live. I believe that treating people harshly is wrong, and it isn't what God wants...but, I struggle to live it out. It's only hypocrisy if I pretend to believe in Christ and what he's for, but don't really believe it in my heart.
Followers of Christ really do have a tough time living up to the “standards” that non-believers have set for them. Generally speaking, people who are not Christians expect that those who profess their faith in Jesus Christ will always be (or at least act) perfect. Sadly, a lot of these people are looking for Christians to make a mistake in order to harshly and unfairly criticize Christianity.
As Christians, we believe that lying is wrong. We believe being unfaithful to our spouse is wrong. We believe hurting people physically and emotionally is wrong. Yet, each and every day Christians do these things – and worse. We fail, we fall, we flounder. We make poor decisions and critical errors in judgment. But, are we hypocrites? Or, are we simply human?
This whole idea of acting like you believe something you really don't - true hypocrisy - is something Jesus strongly opposed. It angered him, because he saw the damage that the Pharisees were doing by setting unrighteous, self-righteous examples for the people they "led." But, Jesus saw right through the charade.
In Matthew 12, Jesus confronts the religious leaders of the day, and makes it clear to them that their actions and words do not line up with their beliefs. What they profess isn't matching up with the attitude of their hearts.
Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.)
And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.”
Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus. Matthew 12:9-14 (NLT)
If our heart is in the right place - following after the Lord - then He will change us from the inside out. Our actions will begin to line up with what we believe. And, the perceptions of others who don't know Christ yet will begin to change.
Until then, we'll be classified by millions of people as hypocrites - but only if we choose not to love as Jesus did - selflessly, and with eternity in mind.