The modern quandary of people who avoid church because of “hypocrites” is something that needs to be worked through. This judgment—so often found in those who have been wounded by church people—is founded on false grounds. Until this issue is settled, we will continue to see the same mistake again and again.
When someone says to you, “I just can’t go to church. All those people are hypocrites,” what do you think? Do you agree? Does it make you frustrated and leave you feeling misunderstood? I know that I have found myself on both sides of the problem. U2’s Bono sings of his struggle to find a perfect church in 1992’s “Acrobat,” from the brilliant Achtung Baby album. After describing someone who can’t place their finger on the root of their angst, he puts in his two cents with these words: … And I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in/ Yeah I’d break bread and wine If there was a church I could receive in ’cause I need it now … Why is it that he believes there is no church he can receive in? It’s obvious that he needs and wants to.
I believe the very core of this crisis has to do with expectations. If someone outside the church expects that everyone who claims to be a Christian should be perfect in all their ways and words, they will be sorely disappointed. Immediately after they find their culprit, they have the flimsy satisfaction of “knowing” that all Christians are just lousy liars. In their heart, they cling to the smug, cynical attitude that they’ll never join that crowd. Where are the grounds for these accusations?
Nowhere in the Bible do we find that we are to be completely flawless. There are references to “being made perfect,” but in no way are we, as Christians, expected to be flawless performers. Our wonderful (and perfectly applicable) trump card is Jesus Christ—His life, His sacrifice, His blood, His grace. Without Jesus, we are left to rely on our own ways and means to attain perfection. Paul, in Philippians 3, spells out his claim on Christ alone: “ … not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” Earlier in the same chapter, Paul puts forth his credentials of being perfect on the basis of his performance. He has done everything right, according to Jewish law; he is “faultless,” as he says in verse 6.
Even with that confidence in his own works and deeds, he considers them “rubbish” in order to “gain Christ and be found in him.” What has Paul discovered? He knows that the law will never satisfy. Today, when people are calling Christians to the carpet on hypocrisy, this may be a veiled attempt to excuse themselves from the church. Coming at believers with a judgment of failure is to approach from the wrong angle. Christians aren’t justified by what they do or what they fail at; they are judged according to Christ, who is perfect in everyway. When our identity is found in Christ, we are seen as blameless, perfected in the eyes of God because of his passionate love for His Son.
We, as Christians, are still going to fumble our way through life, continuing to make mistakes. We are on a journey of being healed as we live life in relationship to our God and Maker. As we continue on, we will be made into the likeness of Jesus, by His grace, until one day we are made completely perfect in the presence of God in heaven. Until that time, though, we are stuck on the other side of the mirror, only a broken reflection of our destiny.
Those who hold perfection at Christians like a standard to uphold are only seeing things through the one lens they can: judgment. While outside of the grace of God, all one can see is the law. This law is used to make us aware of our sin and need for redemption. The law is not something to be perfected by us, as if we could even attain such a goal. Even if this were to be achieved, as Paul (before his conversion) and other religious leaders of his day claimed to have done, it would lead to the sin of pride and nullify everything else. Today, there are some who take the route of legalism and try to earn their way to holiness and perfection. Without fail, this only creates a prideful, judgmental person, lacking in all the beauty of grace and love. This leads us back to the only solution: Jesus.
Embodying everything good and beautiful, Jesus came to teach us the way. He is the one we need and long for. God knows we absolutely cannot make it on our own. We will fail, we will fall, and we will mess things up. Our only hope is in the perfect life of Jesus and in the perfect blood He gave to pay for our sins.
Now, some may have problems with this issue of sin. Some may be wracked with guilt and bound up in a bottomless pit of sin and shame. Some may deny sin’s existence and laugh at what an old-fashioned concept it is. Both of these attitudes are distortions of the truth. Sin, at its very essence, is separation from God. It’s being independent and doing what we want to do. We are bent this way from our birth. Soon after we enter this world, our self-centeredness comes to the surface and we begin to live for number one. Everything is about me, for me, against me, beneath me, above me; ground zero is me. When you get into the game of religion, these acts of selfishness convert into a point system of sin, where one is either winning or losing. Until we realize that we’re never winning, even when we think we’re winning, it’s a losing battle.
Fall on the grace and love of Jesus that is offered to us. Too many times, we fall back into the dead-end cycle of trying to win God’s stamp of approval. Too many times, we believe the accusations of our hypocrisy. It’s true, you are one and so is everyone else. However, it can’t be held against you if you cling in faith to the blood of Christ. He alone is our perfection.