Hypocrisy among Christians is a serious issue. At minimum, it’s a huge turnoff for believers and unbelievers alike. In situations where people are actually victimized by it, hypocrisy can comprise a justifiable reason to rethink or reject the truth of Christianity. In either case, hypocrisy among those who claim to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is always regrettable.
The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek hypokritḗs which means “an actor.” In other words, the root of the word describes a person who plays a “stage role.” It is a person pretending to be something they’re not. From this definition, when it comes to the Christian faith, I see hypocrisy as taking two fundamentally different forms. Both are different in nature and in effect.
Lowercase “h” Hypocrisy
In this type of hypocrisy, I don’t mean to imply that this form of behavioral inconsistency is not troublesome. It surely is. Here I’m referring to the common situation of a genuine Christian who, like all believers, struggles with various aspects of living the Christian life. Sanctification (moral transformation into the image of Christ) is a long, challenging process in which selfishness and pride die hard. A person doesn’t know how bad (selfish) they are until they try hard to be good (selfless). So all Christians are hypocrites as defined with a lowercase h.
A careful reading of Scripture and everyday experience tell us that no believer loves God and neighbor perfectly in this life. That is why we need a Savior whose grace keeps on cleansing us of our sins (1 John 1:8-10). What Christians need in this case of hypocrisy is a devotion to the lifelong practice of regular confession, repentance, reliance upon God’s Word, and an abiding awareness that God’s grace continues to forgive us in Christ (1 John 1:9). In relating to others, it may involve asking people for forgiveness and attempting to make things right when we transgress. However, sometimes behavioral problems can be severe enough to require special intervention in the form of greater accountability through pastoral counseling or psychological therapy.
Capital “H” Hypocrisy
The rarer, more serious hypocrisy (with a capital “H”) is where a person leads a double life. He or she is pretending to play a moral and spiritual role. Such people’s actions are brazenly inconsistent with their Christian morals and faith profession. That person also lacks signs of any genuine repentance from sin. Though all human hearts are broken by sin and sometimes hard to precisely diagnose, in this instance the person may not be a believer in Christ at all. In such cases the church must take the necessary steps to confront the situation and possibly remove the person from the church. If criminal activity is involved, then the perpetrator should be held legally accountable (for example, as in the case of sexual abuse). Moreover, the church should also seek ways to help anyone who has been victimized by people who have led double lives.
Disappointment with the Church
Let me also offer a three-part personal message to anyone who has been deeply disappointed by other Christians or by leaders of churches they have attended. First, the triune God of historic Christianity loves you and has forgiven all your sins in Christ (Titus 3:4–7). Second, Christian people may have deeply hurt and disappointed you, but our Lord will not. God’s grace and providential care will meet all your needs. Third, don’t give up on the Lord because his representatives are still broken and flawed or, in some extreme cases, are not even believers.
If you’ve been hurt by Christian people, then you might want to talk with a skilled, trusted pastor or counselor and work through the pain and sorrow. Everyone at one time or another needs help and guidance from a competent, qualified, and trusted Christian professional. You might also discover that the warmth and care you receive from your brothers and sisters in Christ can help soften and heal the past offenses and hurt.
To summarize, hypocrisy can be a huge turnoff and each of us would do well to avoid it. However, a Christian who by God’s grace seeks to live a life of love, truth, accountability, and courage—even while battling their own imperfections—can be a powerfully attractive force for the historic Christian faith.
Reflections: Your Turn
As a Christian, how do you address your own challenges with hypocrisy? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.
- For more about the challenge of Christian hypocrisy, see “Doesn’t Hypocrisy Invalidate Christianity?” in my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions, 201–10.
- For more on a biblical view of sin and salvation, see the section “Not by Works,” in my book 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas, 131–60.
- For more about the hurts received from other believers, see Kenneth R. Samples, “Disappointment with Other Christians.”