Answers to Skeptics Part V: Aren’t All Christians Hypocrites?

This post is part of a series called “Answers to Skeptics.” The series contains some of the thoughts I’ve shared with my non-Christian friends over the years. Each post is written directly to skeptics. If you find them of value, feel free to share them with others. Join over 25,000 other readers and receive free blog updates. You can receive them by RSS or by Email.

“So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” ~ Romans 14:12

In the Bible, there is a letter called “James.” Many Bible scholars believe that James was Jesus’ half brother.

James talks about two kinds of faith. False faith, which is mental assent. The demons have this kind of faith because they give mental assent to God’s existence.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? (James 2:18-20)

The other kind of faith is true faith, which is a matter of the heart. True faith is a yielding to the reality that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord and Savior of the world.

If a person really believes this, it will change the way they live their lives.

True faith has nothing to do with trying to be good enough to merit God’s favor. It is simply entrusting one’s life to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

For James, true faith will produce good works. The Bible uses the phrase “good works” to refer to deeds which help alleviate the suffering of others

When a person trusts in Jesus, God’s Spirit takes up residency within them and something changes within their hearts. They feel compelled to deny their selfish tendencies and love others, just as Jesus did.

In addition, they feel horrible when they injure others. They are compelled to apologize and make things right.

(The nature of God’s life is love. According to Jesus, all of God’s commandments are summed up in His commandment to love people.)

When we have true faith, on the positive side, we know that God is near. He is no longer distant and unfamiliar. We have a love for Him that His Spirit puts within our hearts and we have a new-found love for others.

On the negative side, when we commit a sin (which is a violation of love for God and/or others), our inward peace is disturbed and our conscience is stricken. If we persist in a sin, there is a tug of war that goes on inside of us. We are inwardly miserable.

True faith produces this kind of experience. False faith—mental assent—does not. People who have false faith can consistently and deliberately hurt other people and not wince. They can even clothe their hurtful actions in religious language and justifications and their conscience will remain silent.

A great deal of human cruelty and evil has been done by “religious” people in the name of God in the past and present. This holds true for countless people who have professed faith in Jesus.

One of the common things that non-Christians have observed (even people who have commented on this blog) is that Jesus isn’t attractive to them because of the horrible way that some Christians treat their fellow Christians.

In July, I wrote a post called Why I’m a Christian: 12 Reasons. At the end of the post, I asked non-Christians to tell us why they’ve chosen not to follow Jesus. One of the people who commented said this:

“I’m not a Christian because of how most of the Christians I’ve known treat each other. Not loving like their founder taught but just the opposite.”

In the same way, Gandhi once said, ‘Your Christians are so unlike your Christ . . . if it weren’t for the Christians, I’d be a Christian.”

True faith in Jesus is incompatible with human cruelty. True faith treats others the same way we would want to be treated if it were us in the same situation. This was Jesus’ summary statement in Matthew 7:12.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

This brings us to the subject of hypocrisy. When I’ve shared the good news of Jesus with people, some of them have said, “I don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus or Christianity because Christians are hypocrites. Why would I want to be part of that?”

What is a hypocrite?

A person who makes mistakes isn’t a hypocrite. Even the most devout and mature Christians have erred and done things they regret. All Christians . . . and all mortals for that matter . . . make mistakes. And I have a notion that every person is guilty of some form of hypocrisy at one time in their lives. (Even Peter, who is considered by many to be the greatest apostle of Jesus, fell into it – Galatians 2:11-13.)

But a hypocrite is someone who demonstrates a consistent pattern in their lives. The word “hypocrite” means someone who pretends or puts on a show. Imagine a person who speaks out against the use of handguns and condemns those who own handguns. Imagine that this same person owns and uses a handgun themselves. That person would fit the definition of a hypocrite.

Jesus scolded the religious leaders of His day for “playing the hypocrite” because they constantly chastised God’s people for certain sins while they themselves were guilty of other sins. (I discuss the problem of “sin metrics” in some detail in my book Beyond Evangelical in a chapter entitled “Sinning Differently”.)

So there are people who claim to be Christians but who have false faith (so says James). And there are people who live a life of hypocrisy.

But neither is a valid excuse to reject Jesus.

God will deal with the hypocritical and those who do not have real faith. This is not our issue. Playing the “Christians are hypocrites” card to blow off God and reject Jesus will not convince the Lord.

Each of us is solely responsible for our acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ . . . we cannot blame anyone else for either.

Granted, throughout my life I have met my share of people who professed to be Christians but who demonstrated a pattern of abusive and hurtful behavior toward others.

But I have met many others who have shown me what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I’ve known people – past and present – who showed me how to love to my enemies, how to return good for evil, how to remain silent under persecution, how to care for the poor and the oppressed, and how to treat others the way I wanted to be treated in all circumstances.

These people weren’t perfect by any means. They all made their share of mistakes as we all do. But the pattern of their lives showed me what Jesus said would be the outstanding mark of His followers: Love for others. 

The fact is that any group of people can be castigated by those who misrepresent the whole group. There are corrupt politicians, corrupt police officers, corrupt attorneys, corrupt judges, corrupt car salesmen, corrupt business people, corrupt contractors, etc. That doesn’t make all politicians, police officers, attorneys, etc. corrupt.

We live in a society of blamers. The act of blaming began with the first humans. The first man blamed his wife. In turn, the wife blamed a serpent . . . and the serpent blamed God.

Since then we have all become experts at shifting our responsibility onto others.

This reminds me of an objection that I have heard countless times from people I’ve shared Jesus with:

“What about the aborigines in Africa who have never heard the gospel of Jesus? Will God condemn them because they never received Jesus?”

What is more intriguing to me than this question is the person who concocted it in the first place. To my mind, the question is a classic case of misdirection and responsibility-evasion.

To put it bluntly, the African aborigines do not have any bearing on me or anyone else who has heard and understood the gospel. Nor does their situation alleviate or nullify my responsibility or your responsibility to respond to the gospel we have heard.

I am perfectly content to rest strong on the mercy and grace of my Lord on that question. He is just and does all things well.

We will all stand before God one day. And on that day, any attempts at hand-waving and finger-pointing will not suffice. The responsibility of what we did with Jesus will rest squarely on our own shoulders and no one else’s.

So put your eyes on Jesus who is the human face of God. He is Savior, He is Lord, He is King, and He is Judge. And He is worthy of your complete allegiance.

We love Him because He first loved us.

Answers to Skeptics Part IV: Can a Good Person Be Condemned?

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Comments

  1. Richard Kentopp says

    Frank

    I am an avid reader of your books and blogs (emails). While I realize that today’s post was directed towards skeptics ( I am skeptical of many things, but not of Jesus), I was intrigued by one of your comments. You stated that one of the things that those of TRUE faith had taught you was how to be “silent in the face of persecution.” By that did you mean that Christians in America should be silent about the persecution of hundreds of millions of Christians throughout the world (predominantly in Muslim nations but also secular ones like China)? I would like to hear more about what you mean by “silent in the face of persecution.” It seems to me that the American “Church” has basically been silent on this, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
    All the best
    Richard Kentopp

    • says

      Not at all. The context is when things are happening *to you.* So silent when you are being persecuted. That is, not defending yourself, attacking those who persecuted us, or retaliating. Jesus gave us the example, He taught it in the Sermon on the Mount, and Peter described in 1 Peter 2. A very un-American thing to do (by the way). Westerners are taught to defend themselves when persecuted and to retaliate. But this isn’t taking upon oneself the spirit of the Lamb. The subject deserves a full article. I only mentioned it in passing. :-)

      • Richard Kentopp says

        Thanks Frank. That’s what I thought you meant. I just wanted clarification. I would love to read a discussion of what the proper response of the American “church”, who enjoy a great deal of religious freedom, should be to the plight of our brothers and sisters who do not. Thank you for responding to my question. I realize it was off your main point.
        Richard

  2. Brett says

    Good thoughts. I think hypocracy is not just a consistent pattern of behavior however, but also of thought or belief. Gandi and your blog responder are making a decision not to follow Christ because of the behavior of Christians they know or observe. Gandi in particular states he would be a Christian if not for the Christians – who he states are unlike Christ. This recognizes Christ for who he is, yet rejects Him based on something other than who he is. Those who do that are without excuse.

  3. says

    Great post. But I’m not sure I agree with your take on the question about Aborigines. There are multiple passages in Psalms and Romans that point to men being able to see God through His creation. Which, I think fits right in with your thoughts about hypocrisy. God doesn’t say everyone has a chance to know Him, then leave some without that opportunity. And that fact is an example for us.

    The natives might not have the same wording to name and talk about Him. But they still are given the chance to know Him. We in “modern” society have His Word in published book form, which means we have more responsibility. We have both greater opportunity to know Him and the tools to refine our understanding of Him and His thoughts for us.

    The question about the natives may, as you suggest, be misdirection. But it may also be genuine seeking to determine if the hypocrisy that’s complained about is rampant all the way up the chain of command right to God’s throne room. Or is it a human add-on that expresses something other than the heart of the Christian God. It’s worth answering. If it’s a real concern, the answer is important. If it’s an excuse not to believe, the answer will lead to other “objections”. And we can move on to someone more open.

    • says

      Thanks for the kind remark. I’m familiar with those texts you’re referring to, but none of them are detailed enough to give absolute certainly on how God judges people who’ve never heard, including infants and the mentally disabled. The best scholars and theologians interpret those texts in different ways and some are humble enough to admit that they just don’t know what they mean. The Bible doesn’t clearly address that question as it doesn’t address many other issues that we speculate about. But that’s a side point to this post – a quick blurb that I threw in. The point I was making is that when it comes to someone who is presented with the gospel in clear terms and offers that question *as an excuse,* it *is* a case of misdirection and hand-waving. Again, the issue for those who have heard is “repent and believe,” not “but what about those who . . . ” Putting that side-bar aside, the main subject of the post is on the hypocrisy excuse.

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