Thursday, February 14, 2019

Contemplating a Sanctified Hypocrisy


Can hypocrisy be a good thing? This is an attempt to see if it can be viewed that way. Whether you can find that angle or not, Christians need to know that their failures do not mean their attempts to be holy are fake. What matters is whether we are trying to grow. If we are, then that is a reason to be encouraged.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been mulling over an idea and I finally feel ready to say something about it. Don’t take this as me saying I have it totally ironed out, though. It’s an unpolished concept, so I do not know if I can say it exactly the way I mean it to sound (let alone make it easy to understand).

A couple of my recent articles have made mention of the origin of the word “hypocrite,” and how it is derived from the practice of ancient Greek actors wearing masks on stage. Obviously, when you wear a mask, you are showing others a false self. From a spiritual perspective, hypocrisy is a serious flaw. When we pretend to be something we are not, we are both lying while also judging others for the faults that we hide. That is why Jesus aimed His most stinging rebukes at the hypocritical. It is also why many non-Christians say that they despise Christians. When we proclaim a moral standard and expect others to follow it, but then fail to achieve it ourselves, it supposedly shows the worthlessness of our way of life.

Hypocrisy, then, is clearly very dangerous. But it occurred to me that, purely as a thought experiment, it might be possible to find a positive angle on it. If you are skeptical, I appreciate it. It is a good thing to have others carefully and critically assess my ideas. I only ask that you give me the chance to make my case, rather than deciding at the outset that I must be wrong. That filter will make it too difficult to see what I am really trying to say. If you get to the end and decide I did not say anything, fair enough! Just hold off on a decision until then.

Who Are You?

This comes down to a single question that I am not sure anyone can answer easily. What is your truest self? As has been said on numerous occasions, there are not many truths. There are, however, many sides of ourselves that we show to different parts of the world. If we boil them down to two, are you more the person you try to be around others, or is the “real you” whoever you are in unguarded moments?

What the unguarded self has going for it in this debate is that it is instinctual. And maybe that is the end of it. Perhaps you are, at base, your impulses. So your careless, emotional, automatic actions are the ones that come from the deepest depths of your soul, and do the most to define you. There is a certain simplicity to it, but is that who you really are?

For myself, at least, I certainly hope not. I don’t particularly like that foul-tempered, fearful, lazy person. I can’t deny that he is real, but I am not ready to concede he is primarily what I am.

Some people are, admittedly. They embrace the id and attempt to feed its every desire. Most of us know better, though. We recognize that there are better things than following our urges wherever they lead. You might say that is the person you are, but not the person you want to be. The other version of the self, your “better you” that strives for more than self-gratification, is certainly more valuable.

Again, however, it might not be more real. If we are trying to make it, then it does not currently exist. In which case, our attempts to put it on are a sort of masquerade. We are trying to cultivate an appearance that covers up what is underneath.

I think this is true of almost all people. In fact, I would be willing to go a step further and say it is true of all rational people without exception. Even those who pursue their urges have limits. There are certain situations in which they will control themselves, and certain people in front of whom they will not act like animals. We all put on masks of refinement. But Christians do so than a greater extent than others do, and it could be argued, we are supposed to do so.

Christian Appearance

It comes down to the fact that Christians have a dual identity. On the one hand is the sinful self, that all so “natural” part driven by selfish desires. On the other, though, is the new spiritual self birthed when we come to Christ and accept the redemption offered through Him. This second, better nature is more lasting. The old self eventually dies, but the new life is eternal. Still, they are in conflict in this world, and we all struggle with the fact that the worse self is the default setting.

The Christian life, then, is hard work. We have to make an effort to live it. The work does not save us, but it refines us. As we follow the guidance of the Spirit and obey the Scriptures, we draw closer to God and become better representatives for Him. That means putting on a new appearance.

Bear in mind, this is precisely what we are told to do. Rom. 13:14 tells us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t make plans to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Likewise, Gal. 3:27 is a reminder that we “who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” We are no longer meant to represent ourselves, but rather to allow Jesus to be seen in what we do. From a certain perspective, you might say He is the mask we are to wear.

The Right Outlook

It is at this point you can draw a conclusion, and more than likely already have. It is pretty ridiculous to call Christianity a sanctified hypocrisy. The concept stretches the meaning too far. Hypocrisy, after all, is about lying. It is about what you want others to see, rather than who you want to be. But hopefully this little excursion has still been beneficial. There are a few positives to take away from it.

The first is freedom from guilt. I can assume, after your moments of weakness and selfishness, you have wondered, “How can I be such a hypocrite?” Hopefully, now you can see that isn’t the right question. If you are not playacting, then you are not a hypocrite. You are a soldier on the field (Eph. 6:11–17), a fighter in the ring (1 Cor. 9:26). There is back and forth. Sometimes you get knocked down. But don’t focus on the failures or allow them to convince you that your faith is fake. Focus on getting back up and pushing forward for the Lord.

The second, drawn from this, is to not allow anyone to call you a hypocrite. At least, again, as long as you are not being one. A “faith for show” is worthless. A faith with faulting steps is of immense value. Don’t be burdened by the labels others place on you. Remind them, and remind yourself, that you are still in the process of growing. A low moment does not invalidate the holiness to which you aspire. It only shows how much you still have to learn and, when viewed rightly, will inspire you to renew your reliance on Christ.

Some people will not let you do that. They will insist on pointing out your hypocrisy. Fine, then. I’m a hypocrite. Find me someone who isn’t by that definition. I only know of one exception, and He gave His life so mine could look different. My greatest desire is to reflect Him. If that is a mask, then it is one that becomes more the reality with each passing day. This is the truth all believers are experiencing even if we are not always mindful of it. The real you, the real me, is the one the Lord is making when we share in the effort of following Him. I thank God for that.

Have a question about the Bible? Want to share this article on Facebook or Twitter? Interested in becoming a patron of Quest Forums? Check out the links in the sidebar!

No comments:

Post a Comment