The truth of Christian Hypocrisy

Just a few weeks ago, I was involved in a conversation about Christian hypocrisy. One issue non-believers love to point out is that Christians are the most hypocritical bunch out there. They claim to live their life one way, all the while they speak or act in a different way. To the outside world, most, if not all Christians are hypocrites.

After the conversation and parting of our ways, I began to think deeper on the very topic. Are there certain ways in my life that would portray me as a hypocrite of the faith? Are Christians hypocrites? These are just some general ideas, but the topic itself was one I could not get away from all day. The more I pondered the very issue, the less I saw it as a qualifying statement against believers.

Hypocrisy is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another or the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.

Hypocrite Definition

Now it is true that Christians can sometimes show a hypocritical attitude. Some examples that may be more obvious than others could include how we treat another person, it could even be our language or many other areas. However, just because a Christian falls into these sort of sins, does not automatically qualify us to carry the title “Hypocrite”.

The word in Greek (hypokritēs x20) refers to someone who is an actor, or pretender. The only time we see this within the scriptures is through the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself. Every time Jesus used the word, it was in reference to those “whitewashed tombs” we know as the Pharisee. This is a group of people who were so pious, so self-righteous that in their own minds they were truly “Holier than thou”. These people had no need to repent. and Jesus (sarcastically) knew this. This is why He was clear to share that “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32).

We can see within Jesus own words, what was the dividing trait of a true hypocrite and a stumbling believer…

Matthew 6:2 “…when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do…” Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites”, Matthew 15:7 “You hypocrites, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you…” Matthew 23, Luke 6, 12, and 13.

All through Jesus’ ministry, he was surrounded by people, The Pharisees who were the “most righteous” and their followers, as well as those who truly knew their spiritual depravity. They knew just how guilty they were before the Lord. What we must realize is that Jesus never once called any of His disciples hypocrites for their failings. Even though Peter professed how loyal he would be to remain even until death, Jesus did not call Peter a hypocrite (even knowing that Peter would reject Him, by our standard this would be a lie) instead, He told Peter what would really happen, and in the end, Peter was restored.

Also in the Hebrew (ḥānēp̄ x13) the common usage here refers to those people who are godless, profane, irreligious. As I was researching this particular use of the word, one verse stood out to me above all the rest.

With his mouth the godless man (ḥānēp̄) would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.

Proverbs 11:9

Here we see that the Lord has again divided the hypocrite from the righteous. By the Lords own words in this verse, we have the hypocrite identified with the godless person who remains in their sins.

Is there such a thing as a “Christian-Hypocrite”?

The two words Christian and Hypocrite can not possibly be harmonized, an individual can only be a godless man/woman or a just/righteous [wo]man. But they can not be both and within this brief overview of the text, we find that there is in fact no such thing. Can believers fall into certain hypocritical attitudes? Yes. Does their day by day nature qualify them as a hypocrite? No.

As Jesus has said “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”. (Matthew 5:8) Jesus is not talking about the perfect, but the heart whos desires are pure to live day by day seeking the righteousness of God (v.6). The believer who is in constant battle to gain victory over their sins.

The next time you meet someone who is calling you a hypocrite, I would first like to encourage you to look into yourself to see if that is spiritually true. But also ask them according to the words of the Lord, who are the hypocrites really? Be willing to point them to the various verse where these words are used, and find out who it is referring to. This may be a challenge at first, but if it is done with love, with an effort to help them to understand truth, in the end it will be worth the while.