I just had another conversation from a faithful member concerning sin in their lives.
If you think this blog is about you...it is...but it's about me too. So don't worry, I will happily go through this trial with you.
I was told how their particular sin was hindering their lives. No matter how many times they tried to defeat this sin, it came back and bit them in the butt again. Every single time they failed over the sin, they felt like a hypocrite. And there was no place more evident for these feelings than when they were at church in community with other believers.
Don't worry...I go through the same thing.
I mean, how can anyone honestly sing praises to God when we've struggled so mightily just this last week with sin and failed the very God we say we serve? Doesn't that make the time of praise full of just empty words devoid of any true meaning? In our minds, it becomes just a clever masking, putting on a good face in hopes that no one can pierce the fake veneer with their gaze and expose the terrible wretch seated just inches away from the saints we have surrounded ourselves with. The sincerity seen on the others' faces further condemns our actions and makes us feel unworthy of the presence of this great cloud of witnesses that surely shouldn't include us. And if we find ourselves in a place of leadership or teaching within the faithful, it makes us feel more faithless still.
The pressure to keep the image of holiness is compounded by the fact that the messages from the pulpit or our Sunday School classes or Bible studies are so convicting, hitting us in the very place of our imperfections...that despair is often our response, especially when the altar call or call to repentance remains visited by so few...if any at all. Because of these feelings of shame, it is easy to feel defeated all the time and give in to the false notion that until our lives are cleaned up, we are useless to the community of believers. After all, we must be the only ones in this holy place that struggle with these things.
The sinless ideal can be so oppressive that those crushed under its weight feel that they have no other recourse than to leave the fellowship of believers altogether along with the unrealistic expectations perpetuated by its existence. Once removed from this all-encompassing presence, the feelings of guilt begin to subside, often being replaced by bitterness as run-ins with the saints they surrounded themselves with expose a similar struggle with sin never acknowledged in the company of other believers.
|Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici |
Another successful convert to hypocritical Christianity.
How Hypocrisy Happens
The modern day American church has fallen victim to two equally destructive lies that threatens its very mission of sharing Christ to the world and creating true community among believers.
- The presence of sin in our lives makes us a hypocrite concerning our faith in Jesus Christ.
- Confessing to sin is a sign of weakness and an admission of unholiness and unworthiness of Christ's sacrifice in our lives.
If the first lie is believed but not the second, then we live powerless lives for Christ always weighted down by our failings. We constantly confess to our struggles but never fully believe that "if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). We continually attempt to be perfected in the flesh believing our salvation and sanctification depends solely on our own behavior instead of Christ's finished work on the cross and the Holy Spirit's transformation of our lives to that of Christ's.
We fall victim to the same lie that faced the Galatian believers and try to continually prove to God that we are worthy of the very sacrifice we could never make. It's like acknowledging we were unworthy of the initial sacrifice of Christ, but now that we believe in Him we perceive it a burden for Jesus to bear our imperfections again.
It is the weight of our sense of hypocrisy that will eventually drive us from the church. The judgment that we put on ourselves every single time we fall short becomes unrelenting. It becomes easier to battle these demons in quiet solitude rather than public humiliation of confession again and again. The sentence of hypocrisy is firmly placed on us with no hope of overcoming such a charge.
If the second lie is believed and not the first, then we live prideful lives, haughtily condemning those who struggle with sin, especially the big sins (whatever those may be). We do not see the contradiction of the grace that we afford ourselves in our private lives because we never admit to the struggle with sin in community.
This type of lie can be believed most easily by those of us in authority in the church or those desiring authority. As more influence has been granted by we who have been perceived to be faithful, a fear grows among us in leadership that any sign of sinfulness disqualifies us from the authoritative position we enjoy. So confession becomes reserved, in our mind, to the immature or to those who are simply insincere about their relationship with Christ. Ironically, because of this attitude, many in leadership become vulnerable to falling to the same "big" sins we condemn because of inability to confess any sins.
|Image courtesy of artur84 |
We deliberately forget the Word of God that condemns such action. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ... If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (1 John 1:8, 10).
When that happens, it is those outside who rightfully level the charge of hypocrisy against us, though we ourselves feel immune to such accusations until such time egregious sin is found in our lives.
However, when both of these lies are believed, then the charges of hypocrisy abound. The church stands condemned both from the inside and outside.
What's worse, it creates an atmosphere of insincerity that nullifies the grace of Christ and prevents the gospel from being rightly conveyed. It is impossible to share the grace of Christ to individuals who don't believe that He can truly forgive them their sins or are surrounded by "believers" who give the appearance that they never sin and look down on those who do.
The reason why the charge of hypocrisy against the church hurts so much and has us so defensive is because it is often true.
To overcome the charges of hypocrisy, the body of believers must adopt two stances and know they are what we are called to do in true Christian community. Adopting these two stances will also help us to understand when false accusations against us or the church are being leveled.
- Every believer will continue to struggle with sin until the day they meet Jesus.
- The confession of our sin to one another provides grace and support for our struggles and points others to the true hope of liberation and forgiveness through Christ.
We are not alone. Everyone...in every congregation around the world...struggles with sin. Period.
Anger. Unforgiveness. Pornography. Violence. Worry. Doubt. Theft. Cursing. Drunkenness. Addiction. Unfaithfulness. They are present within every gathering of the faithful. It is found among the leaders, among the lifelong members, among the newly converted and among those yet to experience the grace of Jesus Christ.
We are commanded to "bear one another's burdens" and "forgive one another, as the Lord as forgiven us" (Galatians 6:2; Colossians 3:13b). But how can we fulfill these commands of Christ unless we truly believe that the sin that we struggle with is a common experience among the faithful (1 Cor. 10:13)? Not only is it a common experience, but a common experience that we may fail often (Luke 17:3-4). We must truly believe this and become comfortable with this reality if we are ever going to extend grace to ourselves that Christ already has done for confessed and repented sin (even if we just screwed up an hour ago). Our justification has never been in our own actions, but through Christ's finished work on the cross. So can we stop pretending that it ever was anything else?
We must be bold enough to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). This needs to start with the leadership. I think many who come to me for help are often surprised when I confess that many of their struggles are things that I contend with too. Often our times of prayer are not a one way street of someone who has conquered a sin but rather a mutual struggle where we both seek the grace and forgiveness promised through Christ in an attitude of repentance. But according to James, healing only comes through confession and the accountability that accompanies it. So our own healing depends upon the courage to confess that we are in need of it to others...even the ones we are praying with as leaders.
The beauty of this confession is that it frees both ourselves and the people we are praying for from the unrealistic expectation that it is through our own goodness or righteousness by which we are perfected. Rather, we, just like they, are seeking the same Savior as the solution to our sinfulness.
It must bleed through to the community who becomes unafraid to flood the altar week after week praying for the same sins over and over again, not in a meaningless act of show, but a sincere desire of repentance unashamed for the need of the grace of God through Christ so everyone can see that our hope has never been founded in our sinless perfection...only His.
Only then will the world's constant drumming of hypocrisy toward the Christian be drowned out by the grace, freedom and forgiveness only Christ offers. It is this very grace, freedom and forgiveness that we as Christians ourselves believe we receive from Christ...and hope present to others...imperfect as we may be.