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Woes to Hypocrites

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Beloved for the way in which it highlights Jesus' care for those on the margins of society and for its care in telling the story of our Savior's life and ministry, the gospel of Luke has always been treasured by the Christian church. Dr. Sproul's expositional study of this inspired account of Jesus looks at the significant events of His life and His teachings while unfolding the meaning of both for us today.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    What About Hypocrites?

  2. article

    Hypocritical Hypocrisy

  3. article

    Is the Church Full of Hypocrites?

What About Hypocrites?

The Greek word from which hypocrisy comes refers to the play-acting involved in the theater. A good actor was a hypocrite, but in time, the word came to describe people who are guilty of intentional forms of deception. More specifically, then, a hypocrite is someone who publicly and indignantly denounces certain sins, while secretly he does them himself. A hypocrite pretends either to be more righteous or less sinful than he really is.

In this sense, we do indeed see a lot of hypocrisy in the church. The problem of this kind of hypocrisy has been aggravated in recent years by the scandals that have emerged around a few (not all) television preachers. The world is only too ready to remind us of this.

The Christian church is the only institution in the world that declares itself to be a group of people who are sinners. We announce this to the world by our baptism "for the remission of sins." Since we own up to our sins, including the sin of hypocrisy, it would seem that we would not be attacked for them.

Once we are in the church, however, we realize that we are called to stop sinning and conform to the law of God. We are not supposed to scandalize the church by wicked behavior. Because God's standards are so high and holy, though, believers do fall short of them.

In the face of our failure, we can do one of two things. We can take God's law and try to bring it down to our standards. That is the case all too often today. We live in an unprecedented age of easy-believism, where obedience is not a priority. The goal now is for God to make me rich and happy, not for me to serve Him by giving my life to Him. This is one form of hypocrisy, since we are operating and communicating deceitfully about who God is and what He has called us to do.

The other form of hypocrisy is to pretend to live at a higher level of obedience than we actually do. There is so much pressure to achieve a certain level of godliness that if we haven't achieved it, we may pretend that we have. Either form of hypocrisy is a sin that believers must guard against.

Hypocritical Hypocrisy

Burk Parsons

I just began reading a book by a well-known pastor who, in the opening pages, referred to himself as a "professional hypocrite." Being a pastor, he is all too familiar with the hypocrite label that is so often leveled at pastors. On the surface it certainly seems appropriate for all pastors, and for that matter all Christians to admit that we are hypocrites. However, if we really understand what it means to be a hypocrite, then we should do everything necessary to avoid being labeled as such. We must be careful not to become hypocritical in acting as if being called a hypocrite doesn't matter. Furthermore, we must not think for a minute that just because you announce you are a hypocrite that you are not a hypocrite. While we must always strive to be genuine and honest people of God in all that we do, admitting our faults and confessing our sins to the church and the world, we also must always strive to be people who are known by the church and the world to be striving after true holiness.

In the nineteenth century, the English pastor J.C. Ryle wrote, "Whatever we are in our religion, let us resolve never to wear a cloak. Let us by all means be honest and real." Being "real" is not a twenty-first century invention of the twenty-something crowd. It is a most Christian virtue exemplified by Jesus Himself—a most holy virtue of those who seek daily to live an authentic life before the face of God, in the church and before the watching world.

Although the superficial facade of Christian religiosity should make us sick, bringing us to tears and godly sorrow, it should also make us detest our hypocritical approach to hypocrisy, which Christ Himself detested. For He not only practiced what He preached, but He preached what He practiced—a life of genuine holiness before God and men. This is our calling as well, whether pastor or parishioner, relying on the grace of God and trusting Christ our holiness, knowing that the genuineness of our faith will be proven, resulting in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7).

Is the Church Full of Hypocrites?

R.C. Sproul

About thirty years ago, my close friend and colleague, Archie Parrish, who at that time led the Evangelism Explosion (EE) program in Fort Lauderdale, came to me with a request. He indicated that on the thousands of evangelistic visits the EE teams made, they kept a record of responses people made to discussions of the gospel. They collated the most frequent questions and objections people raised about the Christian faith and grouped these inquiries or objections into the ten most frequently encountered. Dr. Parrish asked if I would write a book answering those objections for evangelists to use in their outreach. That effort resulted in my book Objections Answered, now called Reason to Believe. Among the top ten objections raised was the objection that the church is filled with hypocrites. At that point in time, Dr. D. James Kennedy responded to this objection by replying, “Well, there’s always room for one more.” He cautioned people that if they found a perfect church, they ought not to join it, since that would ruin it.

The term hypocrite came from the world of Greek drama. It was used to describe the masks that the players used to dramatize certain roles. Even today, the theatre is symbolized by the twin masks of comedy and tragedy. In antiquity, certain players played more than one role, and they indicated their role by holding a mask in front of their face. That’s the origin of the concept of hypocrisy.

But the charge that the church is full of hypocrites is manifestly false. Though no Christian achieves the full measure of sanctification in this life, that we all struggle with ongoing sin does not justly yield the verdict of hypocrisy. A hypocrite is someone who does things he claims he does not do. Outside observers of the Christian church see people who profess to be Christians and observe that they sin. Since they see sin in the lives of Christians, they rush to the judgment that therefore these people are hypocrites. If a person claims to be without sin and then demonstrates sin, surely that person is a hypocrite. But for a Christian simply to demonstrate that he is a sinner does not convict him of hypocrisy.

The inverted logic goes something like this: All hypocrites are sinners. John is a sinner; therefore, John is a hypocrite. Anyone who knows the laws of logic knows that this syllogism is not valid. If we would simply change the charge from “the church is full of hypocrites” to “the church is full of sinners,” we would be quick to plead guilty. The church is the only institution I know of that requires an admission of being a sinner in order to be a member. The church is filled with sinners because the church is the place where sinners who confess their sins come to find redemption from their sins. So in this sense, simply because the church is filled with sinners does not justify the conclusion that the church is filled with hypocrites. Again, all hypocrisy is sin, but not all sin is the sin of hypocrisy.

When we look at the problem of hypocrisy in the New Testament era, we see it most clearly displayed in the lives of those who claimed to be the most righteous. The Pharisees were a group of people who by definition saw themselves as separated from the normal sinfulness of the masses. They began well, seeking a life of devoted godliness and submission to the law of God. However, when their behavior failed to reach their ideals, they began to engage in pretense. They pretended they were more righteous than they were. They gave an outward facade of righteousness, which merely served to conceal a radical corruption in their lives.

Though the church is not filled with hypocrites, there is no denying that hypocrisy is a sin that is not limited or restricted to New Testament Pharisees. It is a sin with which Christians must grapple. A high standard of spiritual and righteous behavior has been set for the church. We often are embarrassed by our failures to reach these high goals and are inclined to pretend that we have reached a higher plateau of righteousness than we’ve actually attained. When we do that, we put on the mask of the hypocrite and come under the judgment of God for that particular sin. When we find ourselves enmeshed in this type of pretense, an alarm bell should go off in our brains that we need to rush back to the cross and to Christ and to understand where our true righteousness resides. We have to find in Christ, not a mask that conceals our face, but an entire wardrobe of clothing, which is His righteousness. Indeed, it is only under the guise of the righteousness of Christ, received by faith, that any of us can ever have a hope of standing before a holy God. To wear the garments of Christ in faith is not an act of hypocrisy. It is an act of redemption.

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