Why Are Christians Such Hypocrites?

Cast your mind back to April 2020. The UK was in a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. We were ordered to stay at home and have no contact with others to reduce the rate of transmission. Yet, Dominic Cummings, then one of the Prime Minister’s chief advisors, was spotted journeying to Durham with suspected coronavirus, reportedly driving around the country to ‘test his eyesight’.

The UK was both obsessed and in horror at the actions of the Prime Minister’s chief aide. In late May 2020, Cummings had to make statements on his actions to the media and provide reasons as to why he acted the way he did. At the time he stated the need for childcare while self-isolating as his reason for travelling.

I watched his press conference at the time and though he gave a very full account of why he acted the way he did, the majority of the British public were still left outraged. But why was this? Whatever your personal perspective on the situation the reality of it is that the guy who helped make the rules and regulations that told us to stay at home in the first place was not making the sacrifices we were making. He’s a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy by definition is about pretending, being something you’re not or saying something you don’t really think is true, or acting in a way you said you wouldn’t and that you tell others not to. To be a hypocrite is to be fake, to pretend, to not be completely authentic. Hypocrisy in our society makes us angry because so often we don’t acknowledge when our pretending or lack of authenticity hurts people. Many people wanted Dominic Cummings to simply apologise because he wasn’t acting as who he’d promised to be. Hypocrisy is a very real problem that we wrestle with.

And it’s not just our politicians is it? Think of maybe an influencer that you follow online. It makes me frustrated when an influencer who claims to want to save the planet shows discount codes on her story one day for reusable water bottles and takes a plane ride to Australia on the next. We know that nobody is perfect, but we are still left annoyed when people pretend to be something they’re not.

To be a hypocrite is to be fake, to pretend, to not be completely authentic

But it’s not just our politicians or the influencers we click through on social media. The question we are looking at here is about the hypocrisy of Christians. Why are Christians hypocrites? And by extension, why is the church hypocritical and how could God ever allow it? When we look at millionaire church pastors laundering money or priests convicted of child sex abuse, we are more than just angry. We are deeply hurt. Every part of us thinks it’s awful because it’s more than just hiding your actions or an inauthentic influencer. It’s awful because these are the people we are meant to be able to trust. It’s awful because real people have been affected, taken advantage of and abused. There is real suffering here. They said we could trust them, but they’ve broken our trust completely. Why were they so selfish, greedy? Why are Christians hypocrites?

This is more than just abstract stories in the media too, I’m sure there are Christians you know that fall into this category. The girl on your course who’s a Christian but frankly she never seems to care for your problems. Or the guy you knew who partied hard and lied about it to their Christian friend the next day. Pretending, hiding things, selfishness and greed, living behind some sort of mask. It makes us angry doesn’t it? And it gets even more personal, because maybe you have been hurt by the church or by a particular Christian in your life. If that’s the case, please let me say sorry for the hurt that you’ve experienced; I’m so glad you’re reading this.

Jesus hates hypocrites

Before we think about the ‘why’ of hypocrisy today I want to be really clear about one thing. True Christianity doesn’t embrace hypocrisy or the hurt that is caused by it. Jesus, the central figure of the Christian faith, the Son of God, condemns hypocrisy very strongly.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27–28)

These words are directed at people in authority, the very people meant to be teaching the people the right way to follow God and the law. It’s a pretty shocking and bleak picture, isn’t it? Shiny on the outside, dead on the inside. Jesus loathes hypocrisy, and above all finds it terrible in people who promised to be in authority.

Jesus loathes hypocrisy, and above all finds it terrible in people who promised to be in authority

How did you feel as you read those words? There’s something in this isn’t there? We read it and we agree – we hate hypocrisy. Jesus hits the nail on head – he condemns these teachers because they’re trying to appear as something they’re not. With shiny outsides of good deeds and kindness, but inside things aren’t looking so good. Just before those words, Jesus says that hypocrites are full of greed and selfishness, this is a bleak picture of human nature that maybe we find hard to hear.

Now you might be thinking, ‘Great, thanks for sort of answering the question: Jesus hates hypocrites. But we still haven’t got to the why’. That’s what we’ll spend the rest our time thinking about.

We are all hypocrites

So why are all Christians hypocrites? I found writing this article an uncomfortable thing because there are moments when we are all hypocrites. Here I am, trying to show you something of Christianity as I answer this question, it’s my job to think through the big questions of faith with students. Yet in writing this – I lacked so much motivation. I’m a hypocrite, right? I’m sure that like me, you can think of times where you haven’t been the son or daughter, student or worker, friend or partner that you promised you’d be.

True Christianity doesn’t embrace hypocrisy or the hurt that is caused by it

I’m sure we can all think of times we spoke one way to someone’s face, then said something different behind their back. Or times where we’ve made excuses about why we can’t call that friend, even though we told them we’d always try to be there. There’s hypocrisy and selfishness in our actions so often. We’ve all been a hypocrite at some point or another. I’m sorry if that sounds blunt but this has been a difficult question to consider, and there’s no other way to say it. We’ve all been a hypocrite at some point.

I don’t want to take away from the fact that inauthenticity bothers us and hypocrisy hurts. And of course, being a bad friend does not cause the same hurt or suffering as the abuses of power in the church that I mentioned earlier. But the reality is clear. Christians are hypocrites because, in so many ways, we all are. Think about it for a second: are you always, in every moment, completely authentic? Completely truthful? I know that I’m not.

You might be thinking for a second, ‘Woah now! We are all human for sure! But Christians have promised to be good people, better people. Maybe I’m only human, maybe Dominic Cummings is only human, but Christians aren’t allowed to be hypocrites. That’s why I’m asking this question.’ Maybe right now you’re raging at me, ‘Christians just shouldn’t be hypocrites, they’ve said that they’ll be better than that’.

But that’s not quite right and not quite fair. Despite the stereotype, Christianity isn’t a religion full of do-gooders looking down on the rest of society saying ‘do a bit better now, God’s watching!’ That’s not true of Christianity. Despite the assumptions people make, Christians are people who know they need help, who know they can’t please God. True Christians know that they’re hypocrites. They know that they’re selfish, greedy, pretending. They know that they have the power to hurt others.

Despite the stereotype, Christianity isn’t a religion full of do-gooders looking down on the rest of society saying ‘do a bit better now, God’s watching!’ 

It’s not news to the Christian that we are imperfect people who need help. To be a Christian is to say, ‘I’m a hypocrite, I’m selfish, I can hurt people and I’ve turned away from God’.  This isn’t some sort of coping mechanism to embrace failure, but a realism that gives us the freedom to work out how we live as God’s people in an imperfect world.

So, halfway through this article we are kind of left saying we are only human. We are all human and Christians are too. But that’s only part of the answer. Hypocrisy can deeply hurt in big ways and in everyday ways. Does saying we are only human satisfy the frustration and anger you feel when someone has wronged you? Or when you see great abuses of power and position? I don’t think it does. There are consequences to hypocrisy that we all need to take seriously. The response that society leaves us with here doesn’t satisfy our longing for justice or help the fact that it’s hard to be completely perfect all the time. Saying, ‘I’m only human’ isn’t a good enough response.

So let’s look at what the God of the Bible does with hypocrisy, what he says to the hurt and the hypocrite, to those longing for justice against abuse of power, and to those who know they are selfish and greedy. Please listen to what I’ve got to say because God is speaking to all of us here.

A bigger problem that we think

The Bible makes a big deal about an aspect of hypocrisy that we haven’t thought about yet. The Bible speaks about hypocrisy as a problem between us and God. In the Bible, the thing God most often calls us out on is that we have turned away from him. We have turned away from the God who is all knowing and can see into each and every situation we find ourselves in. He knows the moments of cheating or inauthenticity that plague us and that we regret. He knows when we are hiding or pretending, and when our selfishness hurts others. Our hypocrisy and the suffering that it can cause is part of a wider problem, we are not living as God intended, we all too often embrace greed and selfishness.

Jesus has done something about the deeper problem: our brokenness, sin and hypocrisy.

This problem or gap between us and God is what the Bible calls sin. Sin is an old-fashioned word that we don’t use very often. But it means to live in a way that is far and distant from God, not living with God as our authority. It means living with our backs turned to God. Sin exists because there’s a brokenness in our world that we have caused but that we cannot fix. We are only human, and part of that is sin. We are all hypocrites because we are broken people, people who care and create beautiful things, but also people who can deeply hurt one another and be hypocrites. This is sin and it’s our biggest problem. But there is a solution to our selfishness. A solution to this inevitable hypocrisy that is better than shrugging your shoulders and saying ‘Oh well I can’t help it, I’m only human’, and a solution that is better than saying ‘Try harder, try harder to be a good person’.  

So what are we meant to do about hypocrisy? What are we meant to do about sin and brokenness? Jesus said this to his followers one day: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him’ (John 14:6).

Jesus says he has done something about it. We can try and try to do a bit better – and that’s a good thing – but it won’t fix the problem. Jesus has done something about the deeper problem. He has done something about our brokenness, sin and hypocrisy.

Jesus describes himself as truth; he is authenticity. But he is also the way to the Father, the God who loves us but who we in our pride and rebellion have turned away from. God knows we are only human, but he’s done something about it. The accounts of Jesus’ life from which I’ve quoted here tell us of how God sent his Son, to die on a Roman cross, being punished with the penalty that we should have paid for our wrongdoing and the hurt that we cause. The consequences of the inauthenticity or lying or cheating we regret, has been taken away. The gap between us not living the way that we intend is closed, leaving us a way to God through Jesus, one who is truth and authenticity.

wonderfully, God’s justice means that hurt and pain are not overlooked

And for the one who has been hurt deeply by abuse of power or by another’s selfishness or greed there is life and freedom in Jesus too. The God of the Bible is loving and just, and that means he brings justice and declares that hurting one another is wrong. We’ve seen that we can’t just shrug our shoulders, because hypocrisy is a very real problem that affects all of us. But wonderfully, God’s justice means that hurt and pain are not overlooked. There is one who cares, who knows the wrong that was done to you, and who will bring justice. While still being the God who offers forgiveness through Jesus to the hypocrite in all of us.

So imagine: What if we lived in a world where we could freely acknowledge failure and the things we had done to pretend, hide or cheat? What if there was one who had taken away our shame, the reason we might have been a hypocrite in the first place? What if there was one we could trust to bring justice to those hurt by hypocrisy? Jesus claims to have done this and he claims to also transform those who follow to be more like him. So we don’t have to live in selfishness and sin anymore. My question to you is, will you take a look at those claims for yourself?

Look at Jesus

Let me leave you with an analogy. Think of your favourite song, the one you sing along to in the shower and that brings a smile to your face whenever you hear it. But now imagine hearing a terrible cover version. It’s just not the same. It doesn’t bring about the smile or good memories, and quite frankly they’ve ruined a masterpiece. You’d never be content just listening to the cover version, would you? The cover version nearly always disappoints, the original doesn’t.

What does this have to do with Christian hypocrisy? The church or Christians are the cover version of this analogy. They are the less adequate, less authentic version of the original. That original being Jesus Christ, God himself. My plea to you today is to look at the claims he makes. Please look at the original before making your judgement based on the inferior cover version. Why not read one of the accounts of life of Jesus? Please don’t settle for only listening to the cover version, take a look at the authentic original for yourself.

© Bethinking 2021