Is my faith for show or for real?
In Matthew 6:2 and 6:16, Jesus tells us not to act like the “hypocrites” do.
“Hypocrite” is a Greek word. It was a technical word from the world of Greek drama. Literally, the word means “an interpreter from underneath.” In Greek drama, the actors wore masks to make it clear to the audience which part they played. There was a mask for the hero, and a mask for the heroine, and a make for the villain. Different masks were used for comedy than for drama. A “hypocrite” was one who spoke, or interpreted, the play from underneath a mask. Jesus expanded the word to anyone who put on an act, pretending to be what he or she is not.
Unfortunately, hypocrisy was not just a problem among the highly religious people of ancient Palestine. It continues to be a problem today.
Dick Sheppard spent much of his life preaching in the open air to people who were either hostile or indifferent to Christianity. Sheppard shared that from his experience, “the greatest handicap the Church has is the unsatisfactory lives of professing Christians.”
John Stott adds, “Hypocrisy is hideous. What cancer is to the body, hypocrisy is to the church.”
When we put on an act spiritually—when we pretend to be something that we are not—we poison people’s attitude toward Christ.
Sadly, we are all inclined toward hypocrisy. None of us are 100% genuine.
Much of the reason for this is that we all want to be liked by others, and in our desire to be liked by others we pretend to be what we are not, hoping that others will like us for the image we present, since we fear they will not like the truth about us.
David Benner expresses this struggle well in his book The Gift of Being Yourself:
“My longstanding investment in being respected has been an attempt to control my environment and guarantee the sense of specialness to which I have become addicted. The bondage in any false self is the bondage of having to keep up the illusion…. My compulsive pursuit of…the respect of people who are important to me suffocates the life of my true self. It blinds and inhibits my growth and restricts my freedom. It is important for me to remember that I am a human being, not a human doing. My worth lies in who I am, not what I can do or how I am seen by others.”
What is the remedy for the poison or prison of hypocrisy?
The remedy is found when personal honesty is met by grace. It is only grace that enables us to know that we are loved not on the basis of what we pretend to be but on the basis of God’s humungous, forgiving, unconditional, nevertheless, gracious love!
In their book How People Grow, Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend write, “We all need a place where we can say, ‘You won’t believe how sick I am! Let me tell you about this thought I had today.’ We need to make this kind of confession normal. Then we can begin to clean up our insides.”
Kellen Criswell adds, “If I really believe and feel the depth of my need for God’s grace, and know that I have it through faith in the gospel, I will be able to hear you be transparent about your need for grace without my spiritual gag reflex going off. I will be able to listen to you be honest about your darkest temptations, grossest sins, or most painful manifestations of brokenness without viewing or treating you as someone with a worse-off spiritual condition than my own. If you really believe and feel the depth of your own need for grace and that faith in the gospel has supplied all the grace you need, you will be secure enough to hear me be transparent about the same things with you. This is gospel safety.”
When honesty is met by grace, we don’t have to pretend; only then can we move away from hypocrisy.