A while back, I was talking with a guy at a Harley store. Our conversation turned to the subject of God, and he asked me why there are so many religions. How can one belief be true and not all the others? As I was thinking about what to say, and suddenly a very loud Harley rode by. I knew it was a Harley by that familiar rumble.
So I said, “Do you hear that sound there? That is the sound of a genuine Harley Davidson motorcycle. There are a lot of other bikes out there. A lot of them are clones of Harleys. They kind of look like a Harley. They try to sound like a Harley, but they are not real Harleys. But the thing is,” I said, “just because there are imitations out on the road doesn’t mean there isn’t a genuine.”
The fact of the matter is that because there are imitations, you can be certain there is a genuine.
Jesus told a story about the wheat and the tares, which is a picture of the real and the unreal growing up next to each other. It is the story of a man who planted a field of wheat, but his enemy came along during the night and planted tares, which looked exactly like wheat. They grew side by side. If you don’t know a lot about agriculture, you can’t even tell the difference between the two until much later. Then the tares actually begin to uproot the wheat.
In the same way, the Bible tells us that in the last days, there will be genuine Christians and fake ones. And the fake Christians will be really convincing. In fact, they might even convince the real Christians.
It is not our job necessarily to identify who the fake Christians are. But we need to make sure that we are not the fake ones.
Sometimes people will say they don’t want to go a church because it is full of hypocrites. And many times a person will identify any Christian who falls short as a hypocrite. If you do or say anything that doesn’t measure up to your faith as a follower of Jesus, then you are immediately branded a hypocrite.
But let’s understand: just because you believe something and don’t always live up to it doesn’t mean you are a hypocrite. In fact, that doesn’t mean you are a hypocrite at all. What it means is that you are a human being. None of us measure up all the time to the very high standards of God. We all fall short again and again. We are imperfect people serving a perfect God.
Even the great apostle Paul admitted this struggle: “So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:14-16 NLT).
That wasn’t Paul’s everyday experience, but it was a candid admission. It should not be used as a justification to say that we always will be struggling in this manner and therefore shouldn’t even try. Because Paul also wrote, “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT).
The further you go in the Christian life, the further you realize you need to go. The more you grow spiritually, the more you realize you need to grow spiritually
So to believe something and to fall short of it is not hypocrisy; it is humanity.
So what is hypocrisy? A hypocrite is an actor. In fact, the word from which “hypocrite” originates means “an actor.” In its original usage, it wasn’t meant in a negative way. It simply meant “an actor.” That is exactly what a hypocrite is. It is a person performing, someone pretending to be something they are not.
But as we see it applied in Scripture, a hypocrite is someone who deliberately deceives others. It is a person who goes out of their way to convince others they are something other than what they really are.
Have you ever done something to impress people with how spiritual you are? Maybe when the offering basket goes by in church, you make a production of pulling out your money and putting it in. Or maybe as you are singing, you sing a little bit louder than everyone else. God is looking at this and saying, “That has nothing to do with me, does it? It is all about their putting on a performance.”
Jesus said, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1 NLT).
In these last days in which we are living, we are going to see the real and the fake. We are going to see the tares and the wheat. But if persecution comes along and there is actually a cost for being a follower of Jesus, that is going to thin our ranks out very fast. But guess who will be left? Real Christians. And those real Christians will make a real difference in the world. God can do more with a handful of committed Christians than he can do with thousands of half-hearted people.
The first-century church was a persecuted church, but the authentic followers of Jesus marched on and changed their world. And we can change our world as well.