A hypocrite is one who pretends to be something outwardly that he is not inwardly. Hypocrisy should not have a room in the Christian life and the life of the church.

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Of pious frauds much could be said, and indeed, much has been said, especially by those who wish by any means to undermine or defame the Christian faith. Certainly, no Christian is so blind as not to recognize the existence of such persons and the harm they have done and continue to do in the church. Hypocrites are nothing new. They existed in Christ's time, in the days of the apostles, and throughout the subsequent history of the church, and they are with us in abundance today. Like the poor, it seems we will always have them with us.

There is a bit (or more) of the hypocrite in the best of us. As sinners, early on we all developed many ways and means of looking more virtuous than we really were. And we soon became adept in misrepresenting ourselves to others. That does not mean that every Christian is still a pious fraud. But it does mean that since we have not yet reached perfection, and since many of the old ways (the old man) are yet an unsanctified part of our response repertory, there are times and situations in which we too act in a hypocritical manner. When the inner and the outer man are in complete harmony, when at last we get it all together in an integrity like the integrity which Christ had from conception, then, and then only, can we be free from the charge of at least occasional acts of pious fraud.

Because that is true, we must be careful not to condemn hypocrisy in others without first condemning it in ourselves. The hypocrite sees only the speck in another's eye and misses the log in his own. That is one of the sad things about the pious fraud; in time he learns to defraud even himself. This recognition of our own tendency toward hypocrisy, however, must not make us so lenient on hypocrisy in others that we say or do nothing about it. When we have truly come to hate it and deal with it in our own lives, we are able to hate it and deal with it elsewhere.

Jesus' words against hypocrites were much stronger than those He spoke against prostitutes and thieves. There is something peculiarly heinous about lust, pride, and greed draped in heavenly robes. The twenty-third chapter of Matthew, which is an invective against pious frauds, contains some of the strongest language in the New Testament. And it all comes from the lips of the Savior Himself. While He is the only One whose life makes Him capable of casting the first stone in the hypocrite's direction, we do have His words and His warnings about hypocrites, and we must heed them.

In Proverbs 11:9 we read, "With his mouth the hypocrite wrecks his friend . . . '' There is danger in befriending a hypocrite. If you become a close associate of his, not only will he lead you astray, but in time you will begin to accept the philosophy by which he lives, and at length you will find yourself becoming like him. Moreover, he will only pretend to befriend.

A hypocrite is one who is defiled in mind and conscience, while concealing it. He pretends to be something outwardly that he is not inwardly. Nothing is more devastating to the Christian life than adopting ways of pretense and deceit in place of reality and truth. The word used in Proverbs that I have translated "wreck" also means "destroy, lay waste, and ruin." In time, acceptance of the words of a hypocrite will lead to the utter destruction of the life of the one who believes and follows them. No wonder Jesus warned us to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees (Matt. 16:6).

Hypocrites make a mockery of the ways of God, they give. Him a bad name before the world, and they give the unbeliever a handle by which to lay hold on the church. Therefore, as soon as they are discovered, hypocrites who cloak their evil deeds with garbs of righteousness must be called to repentance. If they refuse, the process of discipline must be applied, and on utter refusal to change, they must be put out of the church. Every vestige of hypocrisy within each of us likewise must be seized and dealt a death blow as soon as it surfaces.

Of course, hypocrisy is not in itself a fatal objection to the truth of Christianity as some seem to think when they say the presence of hypocrites in the church keeps them from Christ. There are two powerful replies to that line of thinking. The first is that men are called to follow Christ, not His disciples, and Christ is the one Person in history against whom the charge of pious fraud could never seriously be leveled. The second reply is that men do not pretend to be something that is not valuable. Counterfeiters do not counterfeit pennies; they counterfeit bills that have value. If there were not something about being a Christian or being righteous that was worthwhile, only crazy people would imitate Christianity.

Nevertheless, to the extent that we follow a hypocritical path, we too hurt the Name of Christ, and by the words with which we perpetrate the falsehood and justify it before others, we lead them astray. Hypocrisy is a nasty business. But Christ has the power to free us from it. To pursue relentlessly every strain of hypocrisy in our lives and to rid ourselves of it by His power, therefore, must be a high priority item. When was the last sermon you heard on hypocrisy? When did you last think about it? Is it not likely that there is some hypocritical way lurking in the shadow of your soul?

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