Everyone, to some degree, will struggle with hypocrisy. It was at a Shepherds Conference in Southern California where one of the keynote speakers once said, “It’s not a matter of whether or not you struggle with hypocrisy; it’s how much of it you exhibit.” It is possible for a Christian to struggle with being selfishly competitive. It is possible for a growing believer to still struggle with remnants of legalism. It is definitely possible for a Christian to struggle with moral inconsistencies. It is possible for Christians to fall into moral disproportion. Nearly every Christian I know has admitted to struggling with ulterior motives. It is possible for a truly regenerate individual to struggle with pretense. Every regenerate Christian is still prone to falling into hypocrisy in some way. Hypocrisy is not necessarily a sign that a person is an unbeliever.
This truth can be illustrated by considering the lives of two of the early church’s leading Christians, the apostle Peter and Barnabas. Both stumbled into hypocrisy and were confronted by the apostle Paul. The incident is recorded in summary form in Galatians 2:11-14. The event of their stumbling occurred early in the life of the church shortly after the initial inclusion of the Gentiles into the body of Christ. When the apostle Peter visited the church in Antioch—a local congregation that consisted of both Jewish and Gentile Christians—he extended fellowship with both groups. Jewish by culture, Peter understood the universal reach of the gospel to all people groups and he was more than willing to share meals with his Gentile brothers and sisters. Thus, he “used to eat with the Gentiles” (Gal 2:12).
This period, however, was also marked by the increasing presence of Judaizing legalism in the early church, a movement that arose as a reaction by some Jews to the fact that Gentile Christians were not being circumcised upon salvation. These legalists were also referred to as the party of the circumcision, specifically because they insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity were obligated to obey the Jewish ceremonial law of circumcision. As a result, division and segregation began to infiltrate the Antioch church, specifically with Jewish legalists within the church purposefully and unduly excluding Gentiles from fellowship. As the leading apostle in the early church (Acts 2), the Jewish legalists began to put pressure on Peter to withhold fellowship from the Gentiles when they arrived in Antioch. Galatians 2:14 summarizes Peter’s reaction to their arrival: “he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.”
Though he was one of the leading ministers of the gospel who preached justification by faith apart from the works of the Law, Peter began to withhold fellowship from Gentile Christians, fellow recipients of the gospel, because of their lack of adherence to the works of the Law. The content of his preaching was betrayed by the course of his actions. Paul records the resulting impact of Peter’s actions: “The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy” (Gal 2:13). Even Barnabas, the son of encouragement who preached the gospel to the Gentiles alongside Paul in the first missionary journey was carried away by Peter’s actions. Paul referred to this incongruity between the gospel they preached and the way the conducted themselves as hypocrisy. Indeed, both Peter and Barnabas (along with other Jewish Christians) were guilty of hypocrisy.
Yet there is a massive difference between stumbling into hypocrisy and being characterized by hypocrisy. Though they stumbled into hypocrisy, Peter and Barnabas were no doubt genuine Christians, true leaders of the church, and destined for heaven. They may have fallen into hypocrisy, but they were not hypocrites.
So how can you determine if you are a hypocrite? The solution is simple: evaluate whether all seven of the signs of hypocrisy that Christ speaks of appear in you comprehensively, continually, and consistently. Allow me to turn to the world of dogs as an example.
There are many dogs that weigh about 130 pounds. There are many dogs that stand about 30 inches to the withers (the highest part of the back). There are many dogs with long, thin muzzles. There are many dogs with upright, pointed ears. There are many dogs that have grizzled gray and white fur. There are many dogs that have long, slender legs and narrow chests. There are many dogs with powerful jaws. There are many dogs with a strong hunting instinct. It is possible for a domestic dog to exhibit any one, or two, of these characteristics. But if a Siberian Husky breeder tries to sell me one of his dogs that weighs 130 pounds, stands 30 inches to the withers, has a long and thin muzzle, has upright and pointed ears, has grizzled gray and white fur, has long slender legs and a narrow chest, has powerful jaws, and has a strong hunting instinct…I would look him straight in the eye and say, “Sir, that’s no dog you have. That’s a wolf!”
If those closest to you say you are selfishly competitive, culturally legalistic, morally inconsistent, morally disproportionate, wrongly motivated, pretentiously unwholesome, and self-righteous, then there is good reason to question the condition of your faith. Here’s why: to the Pharisees and scribes who did exhibit all seven signs, Jesus said, “How will you escape the sentence of hell?” In other words, the Pharisees and scribes were not believers who struggled with hypocrisy; they were not believers at all. They were unregenerate pretenders who were headed to hell. A hypocritical faith, if it stays hypocritical, will not save. If you, then, are currently wearing a mask of Christianity, then take it off. Because if you don’t, God will eventually take it off for you. Oh how tragic if the first thing you hear from Jesus on the Day of Judgment is this: “You’re a fake! Your whole life was an act!” Woe to the man who enters eternity and receives an Oscar and not a crown.
The Gospel and a Life Free of Hypocrisy
What is the solution to hypocrisy? What is the foundation for integrity in the Christian? It is none other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Hypocrisy is first and foremost a condition of the heart. The only way to live with integrity, therefore, is to have a transformed heart. Jesus Himself says, “Blessed are the pure at heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). How wonderful it is to know that our Great Physician is a spiritual cardiologist. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely declarative; it is transformative. All those who believe in Him are given new hearts (Ezek 36:26). A heart impacted by the gospel produces a life of integrity.
The man who knows Christ as Lord and Savior won’t try to look pretty on the outside; rather, he looks to God to save him from his sins (Rom 7:24-8:1). Such a man won’t ever pretend to have it all together, because he knows that his sin is what put Christ on the cross (1 Tim 1:12-17). He won’t panic when people realize that he’s a sinner, because he knows that Christ paid the full price for his sins. He won’t care about how others think of him, because he knows that Christ is taking him to heaven (Luke 10:20). He won’t care whether or not he wins an Oscar, because he knows that reserved for him in heaven is the crown of life (2 Tim 4:6-8). The person who is transformed by the gospel is the person in whom hypocrisy is being mortified and in whom integrity is pervasive.
Integrity is not an impossible quality to attain. It is not only commanded to us by God; it is expected of us. And it is not only expected of us; it is needed from us. The church has been polluted by hypocrisy since its dawning (1 Tim 4:2), and it constantly gasps for the purified air that can only flow from those men and women with such wholesome Christian character. Where, then, are the men and women of integrity? Where are the ministers of God who, like the apostle Paul, can testify with a clear conscience that they have conducted themselves in holiness and godly sincerity (2 Cor 1:12)? It is my hope that you, dear reader, are one of those people.