The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . . . (Romans 8:15-17)
I’ve heard that accusation more than a few times. And because I know humans attend church, and all humans (like myself) are sinners, I have found myself agreeing with their accusation – if only because I didn’t know what else to say in defense.
But is it true that the church is full of hypocrites? Of course it is not true, and here is why:
Any dictionary will define the word hypocrite as a person who, for example, says one thing but routinely acts to the contrary. In other words, hypocrites do not even attempt to walk whatever it is they talk. And as one might expect, Scripture is not silent when it comes to addressing hypocrites. For example, St. Paul warned Titus to beware of those in the church who “profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. (Titus 1:16).
The Lord Jesus also warned us to beware of hypocrites. He called them ‘tares’ among the wheat. (Tares are a type of grass whose seeds have a strong sedative effect known by modern medicine as a hypnotic. Tares look very much like wheat and cannot be easily distinguished from the good grain until the harvest). Christ speaks of them this way:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.
The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’
But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn. (Matthew 13:24-30; See the Lord’s further explanation in verses 36-40).
Christians must be careful to not let the ungodly label us with the grossly inaccurate term hypocrite. Rather, we – like all humanity – are sinners (which is bad enough), but sinners trying to learn and do what is pleasing to God. We are not perfect, but our desire is to imitate Jesus. We often stumble and fall on our faces as we try to walk a holy lifestyle, and when we fall we feel dirty. But we repent, confess our sins, get washed again in the blood of Jesus . . . and get up again. That does not describe a hypocrite. That simply describes a sinner saved and kept and carried by the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God through periodic moral failures.
Christian, words mean something. If we let the world define us, if we let it label us, we might easily lose heart and demand of ourselves a sinless perfection unattainable in this life. Let’s instead let God define us. He calls us his beloved children, children who daily need His power and mercy and forgiveness to overcome our moral failures and grow in our relationship with Jesus.
How do we grow in that relationship? How do we mature in our ‘walking the talk’ to the point where we more fully overcome our bent toward moral failures? The Holy Spirit answers the question multiple times throughout Scripture, but His answer can probably be synthesized into one overriding theme. St. Paul addresses that theme in his letter to the Colossians:
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1).
In other words, keep seeking Jesus. Fix our eyes on Jesus. Intentionally walk more closely each day with Jesus. The more we gaze at Him, the more we become like Him (see 2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
The church is not full of hypocrites, although one can find hypocrites – or tares – in every congregation. Rather, God’s Church is full of sinners on a faith journey like you and me, sinners who hate sin and long to be holy, even as Christ is holy. So the next time you invite someone to attend your church, let him or her know your parish is full of sinners – but sinners seeking to learn how to walk like our Lord.