Summary: How can we avoid being a hypocrite and instead be a faithful witness?
The Sermon on the Mount is the longest recorded teaching of Jesus in the NT, the most widely quoted and the best known, which includes the Lord’s Prayer. Many Christians say the Sermon on the Mount contains the central tenets of the Christian life. In this Sermon, Jesus’ addresses the problem of hypocrisy in the faith. The Greek word for hypocrite means stage actor. In other words, it’s impersonating somebody you’re not, pretending to be someone on the outside that you’re not on the inside. But hypocrites aren’t relegated to Jesus’ day alone. We must admit that we, as God’s people, throughout history, and even today, have not been God’s best advertisement at times. If we’re honest, there’s some hypocrisy in all of us. The modern notion of a hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another, a person who is two-faced, who is inconsistent or phony. But as followers of Jesus, we are called to a higher standard, for Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the leaders of the law, by no means will you enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 5:20 What’s the solution? In the words of the REM song playing at the beginning of worship, “You’ve got to lose your religion.”
What’s a religion? A religion is usually made up of a set of institutionalized, religious practices and observances, rules of conduct and entrenched traditions. A religion focuses on religious practices, rules, observances, and traditions, all in an effort to find favor with God. Faith on the other hand is about a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Because we have a Savior who died on the cross for our sins and paid the price for us, we believe we don’t have to earn our way into God’s favor by following religious observances, keeping traditions, and doing good works. We believe God reconciled us to himself through Jesus, and our response is to love God, keep his commandments, love our neighbor, do good works, and serve and worship God. Anything we do should be the result of that love, not to gain favor with God. Thus, our faith is about a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ which literally changes our being. The Apostle Paul put it this way in “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph. 2:8-9:
Now the problem with religious people and the Pharisees whom Jesus is speaking to is that they tend to emphasize or focus on orthodoxy or having “right” beliefs and practices of the faith and they judge everyone by that. The reputation that religion has earned is we’re judgmental. If the Pharisees believed people didn’t have the right beliefs, they were judged to be heretics. Christians have been just as guilty of this through the ages. We saw it in the Crusades. The Pope put a price out on the head of Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant movement, when his beliefs were deemed heresy. In colonial Massachusetts, if you were deemed a heretic, you were put to death by burning at the stake. Yet Jesus says, we must go beyond the religious who emphasize orthodoxy or right beliefs or practices.