I’m a Hypocritical Christian

Hypocrisy is a common criticisms many outsiders leveled against today’s church. Defensive Christians respond that the church is a place for sinners, so of course it’s filled with sinful people. Others respond that overzealous “fundamentalists”give Christ a bad name. Neither of these answers are fully right or wrong, but both fail to take responsibility for a legitimate critique.

While reading an old devotional book, I realized that I am often a hypocritical Christian… And not in the way I expected. William Law, an 18th century anglican pastor, argued that Christians appear hypocritical because we’ve misdefined “devotion.”Most of us define a “devout” Christian as one who attends church, serves, reads the Bibles and prays. Law writes that true devotion is far deeper than religious observances,

Devotion signifies a life given …to God. The devout, therefore, are people who do not live to their own will, or in the way and spirit of the world, but only to the will of God. Such people consider God in everything, serve God in everything, and make every aspect of their lives holy by doing everything in the name of God and in a way that conforms to God’s glory.

Authentic devotion is a whole lifestyle, not a checklist. Law argues that Christians appear hypocritical to outsiders not when we’re too devoted to Christ, but when we’re insufficiently devoted. We appear hypocritical when we’re outwardly committed to religious observances, but inwardly devoted to selfish ambitions. Outsiders see through our superficial commitment to Christ. They wonder why our lives look no different than their lives. Law challenges us,

Many people are strict when it comes to times and places of devotion, but when the service and the church is over, they live like those that seldom or never come there. In their way of life, their manner of spending their time and money, in their cares and fears, in their pleasure and indulgences, in their labors and diversions, they are like the rest of the world. This leads the world to make light of those who are devout because they see their devotion goes no further than their prayers. When their prayers are over, they stop living unto God until the next time they pray. … This is why they are scoffed at by worldly people, not because they really devoted to God, but because they appear to have no other devotion than their occasional prayer.

Do our lives show evidence of Christ’s work? Do we look like hypocrites?

Now, if our hypocrisy is appalling to outsiders, then how must God feel? Prayers and church attendance without authentic devotion are like “prayers for wings, though we never intended fly.” Why pray for holiness, without intending a holy life? God sees through us, which is probably why Jesus had strong words for hypocrites,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence (Matt. 23:25).

Jesus juxtaposes the hypocritical prayers of the pharisees with the honest prayer of a tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:9). Repentance is the first step in fighting hypocrisy, because only God can transform hypocrites like us. Apart from him, we’re lost.

The next step is to set our faith in God: he alone can change us. By faith we wait on him to transform us from the inside out. In fact, the more assured we are that God is at work, the more we live like God is really watching, working, sustaining, and guiding. We will begin to live like we pray. In our prayers we measure our words, actions, and thoughts as though God is present. How different and unhypocritical would our lives look if we measured our normal conversations, actions, and work, as though God was really present. Perhaps authentic, and not hypocritical?

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