I’ve followed Jesus for the past 16 years, and I’ve been a pastor for the majority of those years. During that time I have been called prideful, arrogant, brash, opinionated, thick-headed, and a hypocrite. Early on I bristled at these labels. I defended myself. But now, they bring a different emotion to my heart.
The shift happened on vacation in 2008. I was laying on a floral print couch in our Mammoth rental while working through a Bible study called Gospel Transformation. In one moment, God took truths of the gospel that I knew cognitively, and he drove them deep into my heart. Revealing that I was far more sinful that I previously thought and Jesus loved me far more than I could fathom or imagine. With teary eyes I peered over the couch and said, “Babe, I think I just got saved!”
Keep in mind, I was already a professing Christian and a pastor at this time. It was such an overwhelming experience that I didn’t have the words to process what was happening in my heart, but now I’ve seen this process of authentic gospel transformation happen to many people who have been in churches for years.
You’re worse that you think, Cheer Up!
A few months later someone pulled me aside after sermon and said I came across prideful and arrogant that day. I knew they were serious because they used that breathy prayer voice like it was some kind of holy confrontation. I probably deserved it, and my mind geared up for the usual witty defense. I took a deep breath and long exhale. One of those closed lip cheek filling type of exhales. Then my mouth said something my head had not planned on. “Yep, I’m a hypocrite. Actually I’m more arrogant and prideful that you think. If you knew all that I thought and did, you probably wouldn’t even be my friend, not that we are friends, but that’s why I need Jesus. I am so happy and grateful he died for me.”
They came to fight me with a gun of judgement, but my remarks unloaded their gun mid draw. There was nothing more to be said. I told him I had been studying the book of Romans again and doing a new Bible study that was rocking my world. I explained that Christianity was no longer about me trying to be perfect for God, but about Jesus’ perfection given to me by grace. I talked about how I no longer felt the pressure to pretend I was holy because I was clothed by someone who actually is holy. We walked through the pressures of hiding sin from others and the freedom that came from knowing the penalty for our sin was killed on the cross.
It was a freeing conversation, and the best part is was the internal change. As the “confrontation” conversation continued, I welled up with gratitude for Jesus and was overcome with joy. Tears filled my eyes and my accuser had nothing more to say. He was totally disarmed by God’s grace.
I no longer need to defend myself because Jesus is my advocate before God. I can now, by God’s grace, embrace my wretchedness and lean on Jesus to be my righteousness.
The Nature of Hypocrisy
There is a hypocrisy epidemic. All humans are hypocrites. For all the talk of religious hypocrisy I can’t recall meeting anyone whose external persona authentically reflected their true inner self. We hide our true nature because we fear losing the approval of others. We hide our true nature because we want to control the perception of those around us. We hide our true nature because we fear losing the stability, acceptance, and security that comes from being socially acceptable. All people project to be something they’re not. This is hypocrisy.
I confess that the nature of religion often accelerates the practice of hypocrisy. There is a stigma that religious people (not synonymous with Christians) are supposed to be the nicest people around. Unfortunately, religious people (once again, not synonymous with Christians) tend toward judgmental hypocrisy.
What Can We Do?
Here’s my proposal for those who have been gripped by the grace and mercy of Jesus. Instead of pretending we’re something we’re not, let’s own up to our shortcomings and remind everyone that Jesus came for the broken, not the perfect. Jesus came to die for those who recognize their need for a savior not for those trying to earn their own salvation. Jesus frees us from the need to earn the approval of others. Jesus died on the cross because we are hypocrites, and he saves people despite hypocrisy.
This means, Christians ought to be the most aware of how terribly hypocritical we can be. We are now freed to be the most gracious people around because of how much grace we have received. We can now tear down the walls of defensiveness when our character is under attack because our character was so flawed that it had to be redeemed by the death of God’s perfect son.
We must longer defend and pretend when someone says, “I don’t go to church because Christians are hypocrites.” Now we can proudly respond with recognition that we are prone to sinful hypocrisy and that’s why we need a church that constantly proclaims the good news about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Well may the accuser roar of sins that I have done. I know them all and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none.
What are your thoughts?