I cannot remember when I first heard the claim “the church is full of hypocrites,” but I do recall asking myself: Is that true? Is the church truly full of hypocrites? Over the years as I have considered the accusation, even considering how often some Christians jovially embrace the accusation, I have come to the conclusion that the accusation is not only false but altogether unhelpful and inappropriate.
It is certainly the case that there are people in the church who call themselves Christians who are, in fact, not true Christians. And while it is indeed true that all of us can act hypocritically on occasion, we are not hypocrites by definition. There are many differences between a Christian and a hypocrite. A hypocrite is an actor, a two-faced fraud. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be what he never intends to be. Christians are not hypocrites—we are repentant sinners. Even when we act like hypocrites, we are convicted by the Holy Spirit, we confess our sin and repent of it as we strive never to act, speak, or think hypocritically again. Hypocrites, on the other hand, pretend to be something they’re not, even pretending to be sorry for their hypocrisy. As Christians, we know we’re sinners, but hypocrites pretend they’re not. Hypocrites and Christians sin, but only hypocrites try to keep others from knowing it. Hypocrites love only those who love them, but Christians love those who hate them. True Christians cannot wait for Lord’s Day worship, but hypocrites look for any excuse to stay home. A hypocrite asks, How little can I give and still be noticed? The Christian asks, How much can I give without being noticed? Hypocrites primarily love what God can do for them, but Christians love God for who He is. As Christians, we hate any hypocrisy that lurks in our hearts, motives, or actions, but hypocrites revel in their pretense, hoping no one will discover what they really are.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us not only how to act but who we are as citizens of the kingdom of God. He explained to us that kingdom living is about not simply our outward actions but the attitudes and intentions of the heart. He told us that as we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth, we are to do our good works so that the world might see them and glorify our Father in heaven, but that we are not to do our good works to be noticed. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us the way of the kingdom. He taught us what it means to be a genuine Christian whose righteous works are greater than those of the Pharisee because the Pharisee’s works are done hypocritically for himself, for his own kingdom, and for his own glory rather than the kingdom and glory of God.