But hypocrisy can also refer to an inconsistency of another kind, pretending not to have inward convictions when exercising them is inconvenient or difficult. In Galatians 2, Paul recounts an important interaction he had with Peter and Barnabas (vv. 11–14). When Peter joined Paul in Antioch, he initially enjoyed the company and fellowship of gentile Christians without hesitation or doubts. This is wholly consistent with Peter’s growing understanding of the message of the gospel that breaks down the traditions and distinctions that separated Jews from gentiles (see Acts 10–11). Yet, when others called “the circumcision party” arrived who maintained traditional distinctions between Jews and gentiles, Peter “drew back and separated himself” (Gal. 2:12). Why? Because of his fear of men. When Barnabas and many other Jews began to follow Peter, Paul confronted Peter and called out his hypocrisy (v. 13). Peter should have known better. Though he truly believed in the power of the gospel to break down human barriers, Peter followed the ways of men because of his fear of man’s judgment. His outward actions were inconsistent with his inner convictions.
If we are honest, we struggle with both forms of inconsistency. In the church, we often seek the acceptance and recognition of other believers by speaking, acting, and serving in ways that make us look more faithful, more knowledgeable, and more mature than we actually are. Moreover, in our daily lives, we often seek the acceptance and recognition of the world by muting our convictions and hiding our commitments in the ways we speak, act, and serve. Neither is acceptable.
The Scriptures exhort us to be consistent Christians, with a life of faith informed and motivated by the gospel. Clearly, this is easier said than done. Perhaps the church in Colossae is instructive. When Paul wrote his letter to that congregation, the Colossian church was small and new, and many of its believers were struggling to live out their faith in a world that was confusing and hostile. On all sides were philosophies, wisdom, and religions that encouraged these believers to mute, mix, and at times abandon their faith. To these Christians who were struggling to live out their faith, what did Paul say? He emphatically and repeatedly reminded the Colossians that Christ is supreme over all things and that all believers belong to Him (Col. 1:15–20). As the Heidelberg Catechism beautifully states, “I am not my own, but belong—body and soul in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ” (Q&A 1). Moreover, if we belong to Him, then we as believers ought “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col 1:10; see 2:6).