Who wants to be an actor?
(picture above from State Library of NSW archives on flickr. h/t Dave Miers).
I had a fascinating conversation this weekend about what it means to live the Christian life. My conversation partner came from a religious background that put the emphasis on what we need to do to please God, mixed in with a heavy dose of guilt when we don't live up to those expectations. In addition, there was (in his observation) a load of hypocrisy that went with it; people pretending to be right with God by displaying their “good” actions while, at the same time, living unrepentantly and observably in sin.
To further compound this, was his own observation that he simply couldn't do it. He found the task of living up to the moral standards put in front of him simply impossible. In his own words
I don't want to be a hypocrite!
I don't want to claim that I follow Jesus while also recognising that my life simply doesn't match up to the claim.
Of course, at one level, this sincere cry is entirely Biblical. Doesn't the Apostle Paul say much the same thing when he writes,
Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Jesus Himself saves His fiercest criticism for hypocrites,
Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.
Frankly, when one considers their own heart it is entirely understandable that we would not want to expose ourselves to Jesus' piercing analysis. How many of us could stand up under this examination? Who is without hypocrisy, never acting one way but secretly living another?
The answer to this conundrum lies, Jesus tells us, in embracing the dilemma fully. Rather than walking away from the danger of hypocrisy we should, instead, expose it for all it is worth.
Luke 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The point is clear. The apparently-righteous hypocrite talks about how good he is. The truly-righteous sinner recognises how bad he is and pleads for God's mercy. He humbles himself and is treated graciously by God.
Yes, that's right. I said, 'truly-righteous sinner'. A contradiction in terms? Not according to Jesus. The sinner is righteous when he recognises his sin, admits it, and calls to God for mercy. He remains a sinner – he's still going to sin badly at times, he's still going to know the cancer in his own heart that entices him with every heartbeat to do the wrong thing – but he admits his sin to God, he never hides away from it rather pouring it all out and pleading for God's forgiveness.
And he gets it. He is “righteous”. He has a right-standing with God.
So the answer to the fear of hypocrisy is to embrace the hypocrisy! Own it, expose it, declare it and plead for mercy.
No more acting.
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