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.
It’s not so much about right belief or practices as it is about a relationship and right being. It’s about who you are. You’ve got to be the Gospel before other people will be able to hear the Gospel from you. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “You are the light of the world” and “You are the salt of the earth” The old saying is true: seeing is believing; hearing is not believing. God’s plan for us is to be witnesses of the faith by how we live before we tell them about the faith. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love…” Seeing is believing.
Steve Saccone tells the story of meeting Michael who was a young entrepreneur with an athletic training business in LA. His business kept growing as did the demand for his services. He was sharp, witty, successful, wealthy, good looking, had a way with the ladies and everything he touched turned to gold. He seemed to have everything going for him. But there was a struggle underneath. Michael was also an alcoholic. When he finally went to AA, it changed his beliefs. He just knew there had to be something more in life and thus began his spiritual journey. Steve began meeting with him regularly and having spiritual conversations. He eventually invited him to church until one day, he asked Steve how he could become a follower of Jesus Christ. He gave his life to Christ and within a few weeks, he asked if he could start a small group Bible study with his friends from AA with Steve leading. The night of the first meeting, Michael’s living room was packed. Steve began with a simple question, “So where do you see God at work in your life lately?” The conversation unfolded for hours as people opened their lives, their fears, their struggles and their doubts. These deep conversations continued each week as they met. Finally, Steve asked how Michael was able to get so many people to attend. Michael shared his compassion for his friends because he knew they were as broken as he was and he wanted them to get to know God as he had. He began sharing his faith respectfully and humbly making sure he didn’t talk down to them, demean them, undermine what God was already doing in their life. But most importantly, Michael’s friends began to recognize the changes in his life. They saw he had a newfound contentment and peace and a new joy and strength that exuded from him. And because of that, they heard the Gospel because they saw it first in him. And Steve Saccone writes, “If only Christians understood….(they) could do evangelism that way….What if we let our life story speak?...And what if the changes in who we are becoming were so evident that others were compelled to come to…” Christ? This is why Jesus said you’ve got to lose the religion and instead allow your faith to change who you are.