Christians can get a bad rap. The word hypocrite is thrown around quite liberally at believers nowadays. Sometimes it is well-deserved. But the truth is, sometimes it’s not. Having high ideals and failure to keep those ideals is not always hypocrisy. Simply, hypocrisy is living behind a mask.  It involves a lack of honesty, consistency and sincerity concerning faith and sin.

What is the difference between hypocrites and honest Christians?

1) Hypocrites work at creating illusions of holiness.
Remember when Jesus talked about those who like to “stand on the corner” and pray (Matthew 6:5-8). Or they like to be called by certain titles, or they like to wear big symbols of religious status… Hypocrites create illusions of holiness. These are people who try to make others think they have a special connection to God. Or, that somehow God has shown them unique favor.

Crosses, yard art, overly religious vocabulary, using labels for people… these can be growing signs of hypocrisy, especially when character and lifestyle doesn’t match the outward message of the symbol.

2) Hypocrites deny or diminish the reality of their own sin.
This is what Jesus was talking about when he told his disciples not to judge in Matthew 7:1-5. He said it is wrong to try to remove the speck from your brother’s eye when there is a plank in your own. That is hypocritical judging. It is focusing on the faults of others, while refusing to deal with your own. A simple example of this is when someone criticizes dishonesty in others, but lives a life which condones their own “little white lies.”

3) Hypocrites hold others to standards they can’t achieve and maintain.
Jesus mentioned this when he condemned the teachers of the law held others responsible for levels of righteousness they couldn’t achieve themselves. In Matthew 12:1-7, Jesus showed the teachers that they were holding people to impossible standards that make a mockery of what God truly desires.

4) Hypocrites focus on the small issues, while ignoring the big stuff.
In Matthew 23:23-24 Jesus lambastes the hypocrites because they are worried about the details of obedience, but were forgetting the bigger issues. We get mad at the homeless man for urinating on the sidewalk, but we don’t worry about issues that may have propelled that man toward homelessness.

Honest Christians must remove the mask.  Christians do have high goals and ideals. Scripture shows us that God has those same impossible standards. It is called “holiness.” Yet, for honest Christians, these ideals always include the hope of forgiveness for the repentant heart. It isn’t hypocritical to fail if we’re honest about our failure.

Hypocrisy is most easily conquered with honesty. To live lives of sincere faith, we have to be honest with ourselves and with others about our sin and our struggles.

1) Honest Christians know that Christ’s righteousness has been given to them by grace. They don’t spend time creating illusions. They seek after holiness and know they fall short. They don’t want credit. They don’t look for others to notice them for their faith. They just live it. When they share it, it is always with honesty about their own need for grace.

2) Honest Christians know what sin is. Not because they are experts at seeing it in others, but because they have become experts at noticing it in their own lives. They don’t trust in the “forever forgiveness” of God, without practicing ongoing repentance and confession for sin they struggle with.

3) Honest Christians strive for consistent treatment. They have high ideals, but forgiveness flows freely. Because they are honest about their own need for continual forgiveness by the grace of God, they are quick to offer that grace to others. They do this even when the offense is painfully personal. They realize that their own perfection won’t be achieved until they are face to face with Christ, and so they never hold others to that standard; even while encouraging them to do better.

4) Honest Christians get angry about sin. But the anger comes from the danger and destruction sin creates in people’s lives. They understand the bondage of sin. They recognize, with compassion, that it is only through re-birth by the Holy Spirit that people will experience freedom from sin. And they know that spiritual growth and maturity are a work of God’s Spirit in a person’s life. No list of do’s or don’t’s will affect one’s standing with God.

Don’t be quick to call others hypocrites. Instead focus on your own spiritual honesty before God and others.  And invite others who fail to join you in the experience of God’s grace and love.