Recently I had the pleasure of addressing this fun filled topic with Pastor Jeff Denton of Waterbrook Bible Fellowship in Wylie, Texas. I am posting a question per day from that discussion. Here is question number 3..
Don’t hypocrites think they’re fooling everyone, yet their behavior gives away who they really are?
Absolutely. It is not just a spiritual phenomenon.
Al Gore has made an amazing personal comeback with his global warming documentary. I will not debate the claims of his film here. Instead I want to focus on a very inconvenient truth that all of us battle. We are natural born hypocrites. All of us. Gore outlined a list of sacrifices that we should all make to help the environment. Use a clothesline instead of the dryer. Drive a hybrid. Cut back on the thermostat and home energy consumption.
But Al Gore’s personal lifestyle hypocrisy severely damaged his message. The Chattanoogan newspaper reports that Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year. So how does Gore justify this apparent case of talk not matching walk? Mr.Gore purchases “carbon offsets” to make his consumption “carbon neutral”. By paying to plant trees or contributing to solar or wind powered energy it “offsets” the personal excessive usage.
The spiritual application is real and sobering. A messenger without commitment to the message loses effectiveness. Christians produce our own version of “carbon offsets”. We talk about the life changing power of Jesus and don’t demonstrate it. We talk about God’s love and don’t manifest that love. So we invest in “carnal offsets” like serving on every church committee or saying yes to every church request so that others can see how committed we are to the church.
“Look at how hard I am working.”
“I am doing so much more than that person.”
And we spectacularly miss the point of following Jesus.
Researcher George Barna has a fascinating theory about hypocrisy and my generation.
“Twenty five years ago, Baby Boomers wanted nothing to do with institutional religion and generally felt that Christians were hypocrites. Today, Boomers are half of the born again population. You have to wonder what caused such a massive turnaround. It was not simply because they had children and wanted their offspring to have religious training.
“After pouring over numerous national studies we have conducted since the early Eighties, I believe that the issue is the way in which we have proposed Christianity to the Boomer generation. At heart, Boomers are consumers. The way we presented Christ to most Boomers struck a resonant chord with them from that mindset. We told them all they had to do was say a prayer admitting they made some mistakes, they’re sorry and they want to be forgiven. Boomers weighed the downside – which really amounted to nothing more than a one-time admission of imperfection and weakness in return for permanent peace with God – and figured it was a no-brainer, a can’t-lose transaction. The consequence has been millions of Boomers who said the prayer, asked for forgiveness and went on with their life, with virtually nothing changed.
“Sadly,” the researcher continued, “they misunderstand the heart of the matter. They saw it as a deal in which they could exploit God and get what they wanted without giving up anything of consequence. But very few American Christians have experienced a sense of spiritual brokenness that compelled them to beg God for His mercy and acceptance through the love of Christ. We have a nation of ‘Christians’ who took the best offer, but relatively few who were so humiliated and hopeless before a holy and omnipotent God that they cried out for undeserved compassion. That helps to explain why in practical terms it’s hard to tell the difference between those who have beliefs that characterize them as born again and those who don’t; the difference between the two groups is based on semantics more than a desperate plea for grace that triggered an intentional effort to live a transformed life.”
I am afraid that is scarily insightful. As followers of Christ we have not demonstrated that grace that transforms lives. We have not displayed the humility and brokenness that makes faith real. There may be a silver lining here. The charge of hypocrisy offers a great opportunity to confess our own failings and explain grace. Admitting mistakes will be disarming and may well open a dialogue of grace and healing.
Tim Keller writes that “Christians, surprisingly to most people, should not be surprised and might even expect to find nonbelievers who are much nicer, kinder, wiser, and better than they are. How can that be? Christianity is unique in that its followers are not accepted by God because of their moral performance, wisdom, or virtue, but because of Christ’s work on their behalf. Almost every other religion assumes that one’s spiritual status depends on your religious attainments and discipline. This naturally leads adherents to feel superior to those who don’t believe and behave as they do. The Christian gospel, in any case, should not have that effect.”
Our lack of explaining the distinctives of Christianity leads to part of the hypocrite conundrum. We don’t explain that our faith is not about our righteousness but all about the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us by faith. Because we have made it about us and our behavior we have opened the door for the church to be charged with hypocrisy.
To be continued…