A recent study found that among the various perceptions of Christians, the third most common is that they’re hypocritical.1 Eighty-five percent of respondents between the ages of sixteen and twenty-nine voiced this reaction to Christians.2
Let’s explore this perception. First, what is a hypocrite? Most simply, it’s a person who says one thing but does another. Merriam-Webster defines a hypocrite as “a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion” or “acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs.”3
So why are Christians in particular viewed as so hypocritical?
To begin, we must understand a bit of what Christianity is all about. For the sake of space, an overly simplistic description is this: Christianity is the fulfillment of God’s plan to restore a broken world through the person of Jesus. Two keys to Christianity include the belief that 1) the world is broken,4 and 2) God is in the process of restoring the world.
Christians believe that not long after its creation, the world went awry. When we humans chose our own way rather than God’s—you might recall the story of Adam and Eve—we got what we wanted. But in the process we also became alienated from our creator.
According to Christian understanding, without delay, God began to institute his plan to restore our relationship with him. As part of the plan, he chose specific people—the Israelites—constituted a nation from them, and made his presence clearly known in the world. Through the successes and failures of this “chosen people,” God prepared the world to receive his son, Jesus, who would redeem the world and humanity forever.
Hypocrisy Doesn’t Discriminate
Perhaps the most important realization we can have is that hypocrisy is ubiquitous. That is, hypocrisy is not limited to one religious, racial, gender, or age group. Indeed, even the nation of Israel—God’s chosen people—exemplified inconsistency between beliefs and lifestyle.5
Most of us can highlight a myriad of examples of similar inconsistencies today: the communist leader who lives like a king while the common people stand in line for a loaf of bread; the vegetarian who slips quietly into a burger shop for a secret indulgence; the politician who claims to have principles yet changes her policy after reading the polls. The list goes on.
So is it any surprise that Christians can fall prey to the same misdeed? They are people, after all—flawed people. Sinners, even.
In fact, the apostle Paul, one of the most revered ancient Christian writers, admitted: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”6
I’d wager that we can all relate to that. The truth is, we’re all like that, aren’t we? We all want to live differently than we do.
We wish we were nicer, more honest, more selfless, more giving. We’d like to be more concerned about those less fortunate than us. We want to live consistently with those things we believe are true, noble, right, pure, and lovely.7 This is an almost universal desire.
In addition to this, Christians are actually called to perfection. Matthew 5:48 plainly states, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”8 Quite a daunting task, don’t you think?9
In fact, perfection is an ideal that no person can attain in this life. We all know this, if we’re being honest. All anyone can do is make the effort to actively strive toward perfection. This is where humility comes into play.
The problem arises when we pretend that we’re better than we really are. We act nice, but really we backstab and manipulate. We want people to think we’re truthful, but actually we are quite deceptive. Most people would say that you’re a good person, but the skeletons in your closet might change their minds.
When Christians’ pride won’t allow them to admit that they cannot attain perfection but are simply in the process of pursuing it—that they, in fact, struggle with sin—hypocrisy enters the equation.
The Irony of Hypocrisy
But here’s the ironic twist to the story. The fact that Christians—or all people, really—are hypocrites is the exact reason Christianity exists: We all need a savior. Every person is flawed and broken, whether we like to admit it or not. The Bible states, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”10 And Jesus came to fix a broken world.
I’d wager most people would acknowledge they’ve got a ways to go to reach perfection. But the above statement goes on to say: “All are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”11 In other words, through Jesus, we all can be redeemed and restored.
If the story of Christianity is true, then one day, there will be no more brokenness and hypocrisy. But until then, will Christians continue to sin? Absolutely. (Though, hopefully, they’ll do so less and less as they grow and are restored to the people God created them to be.)
Will Christians continue to be hypocritical? Unfortunately, some will. But for those who humbly acknowledge their sin to themselves, to God, and to the world, there is no room for hypocrisy—only a desperate need for a savior.
- The Barna Research Group and the Fermi Project, “A New Generation Expresses Its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity,” September 2007. Details of the study can be found in the book unChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity . . . And Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007).
- Kinnaman and Lyons, unChristian, 27.
- “Hypocrite,” Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hypocrite.
- Perhaps a few people would argue this point, but most of us are willing to acknowledge that things are not the way they should be. We all long for more, whether it be more love, more peace, or more life.
- See the book of Exodus in The Holy Bible for various examples of this.
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Romans 7:15.
- Paul encouraged these things in his letter to the Philippians. See The Holy Bible, Philippians 4:8.
- The Holy Bible, Matthew 5:48.
- Another reason Christian hypocrisy seems so obvious and prevalent is the fact that many people are hyper aware of the high moral standards Christianity sets for its followers. With such public expectations, it is much easier to see Christians failing to achieve them.
- The Holy Bible, Romans 3:23.
- Ibid., Romans 3:24.
- Photo Credit: funkyfrogstock / Shutterstock.com.