One of the main objections and roots of hostility toward Christianity is the claim that Christians are hypocrites. Many people disdain Christians because they supposedly claim one thing and do another. Because of this, they reject Christianity and the Christian message. I would like to explore this thought process and examine whether or not it is legitimate.
To do this, it would be helpful to break down the argument in order to understand and investigate what those opposed to Christianity are actually saying. It seems to me that the general argument can be broken down into two separate claims: 1) Christians are hypocrites and 2) Because Christians are hypocrites, the Christian message is not true. I will examine each of these claims separately.
Claim 1) Christians are hypocrites.
- What is a Christian and What is a Hypocrite?
It seems to me that before you can determine the truth of this claim, you must understand the terms you are using. For our purposes, a useful definition of hypocrite is “one who acts in contradiction to her stated beliefs or feelings.” A Christian is, essentially a “Christ-follower” or “one who professes beliefs in the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
So if a Christian is one who professes certain beliefs and a hypocrite is one who acts in contradiction to those beliefs, it is easy to see that Christians easily could be hypocrites. However, we cannot draw conclusions on these facts alone. If the determining factor of whether or not a Christian is a hypocrite is the message that they profess, we must know what the Christian message actually is.
Working with the aforementioned definition of Christian, Christians profess beliefs in the teachings of Jesus Christ. I think here, we have reached a point that is critical to our examination. Before labeling a Christian as a hypocrite, we must determine if we can truly label them as a Christian. In other words, is what they proclaim truly the message of Christ? There are a lot of people in the world claiming things in the name of Christ that do not in any way, line up with the true message of the Gospel.
- What is the message of Christianity?
This leads us to another critical point. If Christians are Christians because they preach the message of Christ and others label them as hypocrites because they preach the message of Christ, but don’t live it, it follows that both the Christian and the accuser must know what the message of Christ really is. If the “Christian” does not know it, he is not truly a Christian. If the accuser does not know it, he cannot legitimately accuse the Christian of hypocrisy.
The message or Gospel of Christ and, therefore, true Christians, is often misunderstood. This in turn, leads to confusion and sometimes, inaccurate accusations of hypocrisy. There are certain things that the Gospel is and is not. Establishing these distinctions will provide clarity.
The Gospel of Christ is not “total tolerance.”
The Gospel is, without a doubt, a message of love and grace. However, I think this aspect of the Gospel has been interpreted to mean something that it does not. What the love and grace of Christ does not mean is “total tolerance” in the sense used today.
In today’s world, tolerance means absolute acceptance of anything and everything. If it makes you happy, it’s right. Ironically, tolerance claims to welcome any and all beliefs, yet adamantly rejects those who have beliefs that necessarily make other beliefs wrong. In short, tolerance is intolerant of the intolerant. To “love” someone and accept them, you cannot make any moral assessments of their life choices.
This is not the love and grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is not love or grace at all. Grace itself implies that there is a debt to be paid for a wrong committed. If it is not possible for an act to be wrong, there is no need nor even possibility of grace.
The Gospel of Christ is total forgiveness of and freedom from acts that are inherently sinful.
What the love and grace of Christ does mean and what the message of Christ really is, is this:
1) There are acts that are inherently wrong (sin).
2) We have all committed such acts (Romans 3:23).
3) Therefore, we deserve death (Romans 6:23).
4) However, Christ died to pay our penalty (Romans 5:8).
5) Thus, if we believe in him, we are justified before God and saved from His wrath (Romans 5:9).
6) Now, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1.
7) And finally, we are set free from sin and bound to righteousness (Romans 6:18).
In short, the Gospel is that our sin is great, but that God’s love was greater in sending His son to pay our penalty so that we could be freed from sin in order to live lives of holiness. If the Christian lives a life of utter licentiousness because he can always “fall back” on the grace of God, he is not truly a Christian. The crucial point here is that the grace of God is not a ticket to continue sinning as we please without fear of punishment, but a means of forgiveness and empowerment to put our sin to death.
The Gospel of Christ is not self-righteousness but Christ’s righteousness.
This is where I think things get tricky and where we Christians really do need to listen up. We are most certainly called to stand for the truth of God. Contrary to the world’s “tolerance,” we must be those who claim that certain things are not right, no matter how “happy” it makes someone. However, we must be careful how we do this.
The important key here is humility. If we make claims condemning certain acts in a way that exalts ourselves and magnifies our own righteousness, we have missed the mark and misrepresented the message of Christ, no matter how truthful our claims may be. In defending the truths of God, we must certainly be bold and unyielding, but we must also be humble and meek, not self-exalting, but Christ-exalting. The crucial point here is that the Christian message is not “Christians are perfect, so be like Christians”, but the Christian message is “Only Christ is perfect, but we strive, and sometimes fail, to be like Him.”
- So…are Christians hypocrites or not?
This leads us to what we have been trying to answer, the question of whether or not it is true that Christians are hypocrites. The answer, I think, is yes and no.
First, the answer is no, at least not in the way that many people think. I think many people accuse Christians of being hypocrites on false grounds. As established above, the Christian message is not a message of “total tolerance.” However, many people confuse the Christian claims of love and grace with total tolerance.
To them, it appears inconsistent for the Christian to preach the love of Christ while at the same time, preaching the inherent sinfulness of certain things. So, they accuse the Christian of hypocrisy. However, this is a fallacious argument because, as shown above, the love of Christ is not equal to total tolerance. Thus, it is not inconsistent for the Christian to proclaim that Christ loves the sinner and also claim that the sinner’s sin is really sin.
Secondly, I think the answer is, in a sense, yes. Christians sometimes are hypocrites. In their sin, they can misrepresent the Gospel for what we have said that it is not, a message that exalts their own, albeit false, righteousness and condemns others for their sin. We all, to our chagrin, have a little bit of the Pharisee in us.
However, I believe that this in no way discredits the message of Christianity and plan to show why. This leads us to the second part of the argument.
Claim 2) Because Christians are hypocrites, the Christian message is not true.
- This is not a valid conclusion.
In a strictly logical sense, this is in no way a valid conclusion to draw from the premise that Christians are hypocrites. If it is true that Christians are hypocrites, that is, they don’t always adhere to the message of Christ that they preach, it still remains to be shown how this has any bearing on the actual truth of the message itself.
The smoker will probably say that they believe that smoking causes lung cancer and often, death and that death is something they wish to avoid. Yet, they continue smoking. In this sense, the smoker is a hypocrite. Their actions are not in line with their professed beliefs. However, this does not in any way change the truth that smoking causes lung cancer and often, death.
In the same way, you cannot logically conclude that because a Christian’s actions do not always line up with their professed beliefs, their professed beliefs are not true.
Furthermore, I would say that we are all guilty of hypocrisy. Most of us would profess beliefs, Christian or not, that we should live lives of love, goodness, fairness etc. However, none of us live these beliefs out all the time, every time. In all of us, there is a divergence from what we wish to do to what we actually do. Call it sin or not, we all fall short of our own standards. We are all hypocrites. To judge people for being hypocritical would be…well, it would be hypocritical.
- More than Logic. The Heart of the Message.
Logic only gets us so far. Even though the truth of Christianity may be logically preserved apart from the lives of its followers, it cannot be authentic and powerful without Christians who walk the walk. Those real Christians are out there, but as I conceded, there will inevitably be times when their walk doesn’t match their talk. However, in that instance, they are most likely presenting the distorted Gospel of self-righteousness instead of Christ’s righteousness. As outlined above, this is not the true Gospel.
On the surface, it seems that the fact that Christians make these kind of errors weakens the message of Christianity. In a sense, it does. To be sure, it is certainly a hindrance in trying to present the true Gospel to a lost world. However, in another sense, I think it actually reinforces the message of Christianity. In falling short as they do, true Christians are showing they are nothing more than what they have professed to be–sinners. It shows that Christians are merely sinners who have seen their need for the grace of God and though forgiven and justified before God, still have the struggle of flesh against spirit (Romans 7:21-24) and desperately need that grace from day to day.
As Christians, we must keep this in mind. Ours is a precarious calling. We are called to condemn sin as sin and yet love sinners as we ourselves have been loved. We preach a message that is unapologetically offensive as well endlessly loving and we must not compromise either aspects of this message. We must continually bring ourselves back to the pure Gospel. If we do, we can, with boldness and yet humility, declare the absolute sinfulness of sin as well as the infinite love and grace of God, using our own stories of utter sin and total forgiveness as witness. We must humbly admit our own sinfulness that we might exalt Christ’s righteousness. In this, there can be no hypocrisy.