My friend and I were discussing recently, the implications of some of our man-made rules in Christianity. I made a statement as to what I believed about a particular issue and she pointed out to me that I was a hypocrite. I was shocked and I didn’t like what she said. However, further discussions and a review of some scriptures proved that indeed, she was right. I was a hypocrite. What qualified me as a hypocrite? The fact that I was imposing a rule on others, that I did not comply with myself.
Jesus gave many descriptions or examples of hypocrisy, as was practiced by the scribes and the Pharisees. My example was one of them. Going through Matthew Chapter 23, there are a lot of those examples. The first one was the one that applied to me, found in verse 4:
‘For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers’
Wait! Before you stop reading this, please bear with me. Let me assure you, it was a shock to discover I was a hypocrite. And the good thing is, once I discovered, it gave me an opportunity to reconsider some of my beliefs and actions. I am not quite there yet, but the chance to review my beliefs in the light of the gospel and work towards change is a good thing. Not many people have such an opportunity. And I would rather chastise myself than wait to be chastised when it is too late to do anything about it!
I never set out to be a hypocrite. It has come to me by my failure to always check my actions and thoughts against scripture. We are responsible for what we believe and what we do. Everyone today has access to the Bible for guidance and instruction, so we cannot blame our pastors, or preachers or our denominations, for our wrong beliefs and hypocritical doctrine. We have the words of Jesus. We can study the Bible for ourselves. We can choose to apply what we read in our personal lives and ensure that we are always in line with scripture. Or we can go the easy route and just follow what others are doing! Whichever one we choose, we are responsible for the outcome in our lives.
When we blindly follow others, we end up where we don’t want!
“Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.’ Matthew 5:14 NKJV
Jesus had a lot to say about hypocrites. He detested them so much. Why? Because they led men astray. Instead of leading men to God, they made their own rules and ended up leading the people to religion, to observances, to rules, to compliance, to a set of rules that they themselves found it hard to obey! It was so bad that when the Messiah came, they couldn’t recognize Him. All they could see what that He was not complying with their rules. So they opposed Him and killed Him off. The Desire of Nations that they had waited for, for over 400 years! They killed Him off due to non-compliance with rules!
I do not blame them. They were misled. As I was. But the difference is that I was supposed to learn from their mistakes. (1 Cor. 10:11) I failed to do so.
This same Jesus will return again and when He comes, will He find faith on the earth? Or will he find us lost in the web of rules and observances, ticking off the things we have done and the things we are going to, and totally ignorant of the Lord?
Paul was a Pharisee. A Pharisee of the Pharisees (Phil.3:5). And yet, God opened his eyes to see beyond the rules and observances. But this did not happen until Saul was blinded. In the presence of Christ, he could not see. Everything he had seen before became darkness, until Jesus opened his eyes to see the light of the gospel and sent him to show this light to the Gentiles and the Jews alike. Saul became Paul. Old things passed away. Everything became new. Saul who persecuted the Christians became Paul who preached the good news!
It was this same Paul who asked the Colossians why they were subjecting themselves to regulations; “touch not, taste not, do not handle”. (It is a long passage, but I need to quote it fully, so that we can understand the full import.)
“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” Col. 2:20-23
Why do we subject ourselves to regulations, when they do not have power to help us or keep us from indulging in the flesh? The regulations impact on the outside, they are not effective on getting our insides clean. And Jesus said that it is not what enters a man’s mouth that defiles him. It is what comes out of it (Mt. 15:11). He also spoke about hypocrites washing the outside of a cup when the inside is filthy. (Mt. 23:25-26). He described hypocrites as whitewashed tombs, looking good on the outside, while the inside is rotten. (Mt. 23:27).
What am I saying today?
First of all, this is not a call to freedom without boundaries. True, it is for liberty that Christ set us free, but we are not to use our liberty for license (Gal.5:13). Anyone who knows God knows that He is holy and He wants us to be holy too. (1 Pet.1:15-16)
Second, we must not get consumed with the routine religion that we have the tendency to easily fall into. We are to wake up, check the scriptures against our beliefs and actions. We must stop saying ‘This is how we do it in my church”, or “A Christian should not …” without verifying for ourselves what the Bible says and what Jesus wants from us. Remember, men of God are men too, and they will give account of their stewardship, just like us. They are not God! We must know God’s voice and obey Him directly. His sheep hear His voice (John 10:27).
God does not have any grandchildren and He did not instruct us to follow men of God blindly. Paul said “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). We are only supposed to imitate our leaders as they imitate Christ. If they do not imitate Christ, then we are not obliged to imitate them. In fact, we must immediately stop imitating them. But how will we know when they stop imitating Christ, if we are not familiar with Christ and His ways? It is our responsibility to know!
With all due respect to our leaders, this is not meant to disparage them or put them in bad light at all. We are all soldiers together but some have been called to higher ranks, to maintain order and act as shepherds, as assigned by God. Let every member of the body function in their own calling effectively and correctly. That is how the whole body can be strong, healthy and vibrant.
Also, this is not to assume that every Christian is a hypocrite. The piece is written to share my experience and to encourage us to examine ourselves, if we are in the faith.
This is my story of hypocrisy. I have commenced an audit of my beliefs and my actions, to ensure that I stop being a hypocrite. I am asking for grace to do a thorough job, for my own good. I recommend you do the same.