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Summary: As we better understand what a true Christian is, we’ll have a better understanding of what a hypocrite is. 3 distinctives of genuine Christians: Real Christians Are Forgiven Sinners, Are Not What They Used To Be, and Are Becoming What They Will Be.

Help for the Hypocrite

Matthew 23:23-28

Have you ever caught a salesperson in a lie? They tell you how much you need their car or product and how it will change your image, maybe even change your life! News channels often include investigative reporting on fraudulent, hypocritical business people, showing how they say one thing and do another. I wonder what kind of a story they would uncover if they installed hidden cameras in the church. What would the secret tape look like if they also shot some film when churchgoers were in their cars, at their jobs, and in their homes?

It’d be quite a story, wouldn’t it? I can see the headlines now...Christians Who Play Charades or Pretenders in the Pews. It would confirm what many already believe -- that the church is full of hypocrites. It’s difficult to believe Christianity is true when so many of its followers lead such contradictory lives.

Somebody once told a pastor that he doesn’t go to church because there are so many hypocrites there. The pastor responded by saying, “Oh, don’t let that stop you. There’s always room for one more.”

We grow tired of people saying one thing and living something that’s completely opposite. According to the dictionary, a hypocrite is “a person who pretends to have beliefs or practices which he or she does not actually possess.” As used in the Bible, the term comes from ancient Greek theater, where one actor would often play two parts. When saying something humorous, he would hold up a mask with a smiley face; when playing a tragic part, he would hold up a mask with a sad face. A good actor could imitate the speech, mannerisms, and conduct of the character he was portraying. The word literally means, “One who hides behind a mask.”

One hot day when they had guests for dinner, a mother asked her four-year-old boy named Johnny to say the blessing for the meal. Johnny didn’t really want to and complained, “Mom, I don’t know what to say!” The mother sweetly replied, in front of her guests, “Oh, just say what you hear me say.” Obediently, Johnny bowed his head and mumbled, “Oh Lord, why did I invite these people over on such a hot day?”

Perhaps one of the reasons why there are hypocrites in churches is because not all church people are Christians. Going to church will not automatically change anyone’s behavior. People go for all sorts of reasons -- maybe out of habit or ritual, maybe to seek the truth, or perhaps to just network with other people.

Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you a car. We have to live with the possibility that what some people perceive as hypocrisy in the church is in fact, the result of mistaken identity. Some people are no more Christians than I’m Asian just because I happen to love Chinese food. Some people just look like they’re Christians because they get up on Sundays and go to a place called a church.

Actually, this should take some pressure off those who might be checking Christianity out. You’re not expected to act like a Christian if you’re not one yet. As you seek and ask questions, don’t get all caught up in what you should do, or shouldn’t do. Once you surrender your life to Christ, He’ll begin changing you from the inside out. You don’t have to manufacture Christian behavior on your own. He’ll give you the desire and the power to change -- after you receive Christ into your life.

So some people in the church are not really Christians in the first place. That leads to another question. Why does it appear that so many true Christians are hypocrites? I think it results from some confusion about what a real Christian is. In fact, as we better understand what a true Christian is, we’ll have a better understanding of what a hypocrite is. I’d like to offer 3 distinctives of genuine Christians. These characteristics deal with the present, the past, and the future.

3 Distinctives of genuine Christians

1. Real Christians Are Forgiven Sinners. Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker that reads, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” The Bible never says that Christ followers are perfect. It does say that those who surrender their lives to Him will be perfectly forgiven.

There’s a difference between being a sinner and being a hypocrite. There’s an unspoken assumption that a Christian is someone who doesn’t sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, it’s just the opposite.

1 John 1:8 puts it very clearly: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” A hypocrite, or one who wears a mask, claims to be free from faults. A Christian, on the other hand, freely admits the fact that he or she is a sinner. The next verse, 1 John 1:9 describes the difference between a hypocrite and an honest sinner: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” A forgiven sinner consistently seeks cleansing from sin.

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