It is ironic to me that Christians are accused of being hypocrites when they make mistakes. (Let’s set aside for a moment those who judge others, while sinning in the same way. That would indeed be hypocrisy.) In reality, a core element of the Christian faith is that we are all unable to be good enough – on our own – to live up to the holiness and perfection of God.
Those who call themselves Christians (including many, I believe, who genuinely intend to follow Jesus) have not always been Christ-like. Sometimes, Christians have demonstrated behaviors quite unlike what Jesus taught. In some ways, this fact makes sense, though: The very foundation of Christianity is that Jesus died to pay for the sins of, well…sinners.
In fact, Jesus spent time with all sorts of people who had sin in their lives. While He asked his followers to stop sinning and to live a life of love, He – being all-knowing – must have understood that they were imperfect people, and despite Him giving them clear principles of right and wrong, becoming like Him would take time.
Most of the really devout, faithful Christians I know (those who are emulating Christ) will still say that trying to become completely like Jesus is a life-long goal. We must strive to become like Jesus, but I wish that the rest of the world understood that we follow Him because He covers (and helps us overcome) our shortcomings…and not because we gain our salvation by being perfect, whether before or after we choose to follow Him.
Don’t get me wrong: Christians who look down on others as somehow “less good” than themselves are annoying, and give a bad impression to others. Jesus saved some of his harshest criticism for those who believed that they were better than others (see Luke 18:9-14).
There are also those who look at Christians, and judge them based on actions that have been culturally (or “religiously”) defined as inappropriate, but actually have nothing to with God’s commands. As those whose sins have been paid for, Jesus calls His followers to obey Him, but He doesn’t call them to follow every extra rule that mankind has wrapped around (or alongside) the commands of God.
However, while I wish that those outside the body of Christ would learn the exciting and rewarding truth about Jesus’ kingdom, there is much that Christians could do to get this message out. Let’s take a look at several verses from Philippians chapter 2:
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
Philippians 2:1-2 NASB
In this passage, one of the first points stressed is unity. Yes, Christians have come to different conclusions about many minor details in the Bible – and on a few pretty important ones. However, when our differences define us more than the clear message about Jesus that we agree upon, we dilute that message, and perhaps forget the prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (John 17:20-21). This prayer for unity was one of Jesus’ last statements before He headed to the cross, and we would do well to remember it when we’re tempted to attack someone else’s minor traditional differences.
Next, the book of Philippians calls its readers to humility.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4 NASB
When we set aside our pride, it becomes less important whether we get credit, or whether we “look good” for others. Instead, we can focus on loving and serving others – both inside the church, and outside the church. Throughout history and today, when the church shows the ridiculous, unrestrained, unashamed love to others that God showed to us, no one can legitimately speak ill of Christians living as they were intended.
Finally, if Christians (including myself) think that we’re better than anyone else (just because we admitted that we were unable to fulfill our purpose on our own), we have an ultimate example of how to be humble and act accordingly:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 NASB
So, if you like to refer to Christians (or “other” Christians) as hypocrites, I hope that you’ll consider what it actually means to be a Christian, having fallen short and being saved only by the grace of God. And, if you do follow Jesus, you aren’t just encouraged to fight for the unity of the body of Christ, and to humbly serve others. Instead, these are obligations, not suggestions.
Finally, if you aren’t currently a follower of Jesus, and have become disillusioned with Christians, I pray that God will place some genuine people in your path. I would love for you to get to know followers of Jesus who exemplify – as best as they can, being mere human beings – His calling and lifestyle, and that you will see Him through them.