You're All Hypocrites!

Christian apologists give reasons that substantiate the faith. But sometimes Christians are the reason people find the Christian message implausible. People object to Christianity because of their sense—accurate or not—that the gospel doesn’t make people better and, in fact, seems to make some people worse.

Church history is filled with examples of professing Christians behaving badly, and it is no different today. People who bear the name of brother (1 Cor. 5:11) commit the works of the flesh: sexual immorality, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, rivalries, drunkenness (Gal. 5:19–21). Sometimes these acts are particularly horrific. Sometimes they even come from positions of leadership within the church.

“If that’s how a Christian lives, then no thanks.” Perhaps we've heard it said about another Christian we know. Perhaps it has also been said about us.

So how can apologists answer the charge of hypocrisy?

Acknowledge that Hypocrisy Is a Terrible Sin

The Greek word hupokritēs describes a pretender. Originally, a hypocrite was an actor who wore a mask by which he changed into someone else.

Hypocrites preach one thing and deliberately practice another. They judge others by standards they have no intention of keeping. Their actions proceed from “insincerity, and not from personal conviction.”[1] Jesus’ mental picture of a hypocrite is unforgettable: a man with a log jammed into his eye socket criticizes another man for the speck of sawdust in his. You can hear Jesus’ disgust: “You hypocrite” (Matt. 7:1–5).

Faithful Christians recognize hypocrisy as a great sin. When Ravi Zacharias’ sins became known, he was almost universally denounced. Now, we must resist canceling other Christians simply because they did something unpopular or were merely accused of committing a sin. But we must courageously rebuke hypocrisy, even when doing so hurts. Part of our apologetic is to agree with critics that hypocrisy is sin, and to refuse to tolerate it.

In fact, hypocrisy is serious enough to warrant church discipline. Paul refused to ignore the hypocrisy of one of the most prominent church leaders. The apostle Peter was publicly declaring a gospel of free grace, but privately suggesting that something more was needed, namely conformity to the Mosaic Law. So Paul called Peter out: You hypocrite! Your “conduct” is “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:11–14). And if Peter hadn’t repented, he would have been excluded from the church.

Church discipline refuses to allow professing church members to boldly live contrary to the gospel. Excommunication is the most extreme means the church has to say, “They went out from us but they were not of us” (1 John 2:19). When that tool isn’t used, our apologetic suffers.

Hypocrites lack a compelling testimony. Johannes Vos writes about some church members “who have to be constantly … catered to in order to get them to maintain even a passable outward show of a Christian profession.”[2] That’s a shame. If in the categories of faith, hope, and love, and practical obedience—including church life—it is hard to distinguish you from the world, you need to repent of hypocrisy. No one finds your faith compelling.

A faithful apologetic demands faithful living (1 Thess. 1:5). “We should live in such a way that people see God in us. … A ‘good testimony’ is … redemptive in his relationships, from the inner circle within his own family to the outer fringes where his enemies stand.”[3]

Understand that Not All Hypocrites Truly Belong to the Church

It is not safe to assume that professing Christians who commit terrible acts truly represent the church of Jesus. The church is an external, visible organization into which any outsider is admitted on the basis of a verbal profession of faith and the outward appearance of Christ-honoring behavior.

Children of members are graciously extended the privilege of church membership without any commitment of their own. It is hard to imagine an organization that is easier to join than the church. The Ethiopian eunuch joined the church within hours of meeting his first church leader (Acts 8:34–38).

And this is right! The church should be as open to repentant sinners as God is! But this also means that it is easy for the church to admit insincere members, especially when there are social advantages for hypocrites to join the church.

Even the apostles’ inadvertently admitted members who later turned out to have hearts filled up by Satan (Acts 5:3). The church is a mixture of true believers and unbelieving hypocrites. Paul put it this way, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring” (Rom. 9:6–7). Of the massive numbers of members in the church, “only a remnant of them will be saved” (27).

John said that some “left us, but they were never really with us. If they had been, they would have stuck it out with us, loyal to the end. In leaving, they showed their true colors, showed they never did belong” (1 John 2:19 MSG).

To put it more pointedly, one way to respond to the unbeliever’s charge of hypocrisy in the church is to assure them that many religious hypocrites are not really believers, but unbelievers. Their hypocrisy is proof that they are pretending to be Christians while living according to the flesh.

Joining the church doesn’t make anyone a good person. Jesus’ lesson of the log and the speck is immediately followed in Luke with this truth: a bad tree cannot bear good fruit (Luke 6:43). Joining the church doesn’t change that truth. The root must be made good by a supernatural work of regeneration.

And even when that happens, the transformation from darkness to light is a process. Even as a body of true believers, the church is a constantly changing organism made up of many members all at different points in their sanctification. Not until our full redemption will the church be free from sin. But the hypocrisy of some does not spoil the Christianity of all.

Recognize that the Charge of Hypocrisy Reveals Some Surprising Truths

Sometimes the charge is simply a baseless assertion. For example, compare the claim that Christianity is anti-woman with actual history:

“Our best estimates indicate that women made up nearly two-thirds of early Christian communities—basically the opposite of that found in the broader Greco-Roman world. Apparently, women found the church to be a place where they could find honor, dignity, fair treatment, and healthy marriages.”[4]

The church has always been the world’s most pro-woman organization. Scripture teaches that women and men are made in the sacred image of God. There is “no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Women were especially drawn to Jesus and loyal to him for his gentleness and lowliness. On the other hand, according to non-Christian thinking, it is unclear why women should be respected along with men.

While we cannot always decern motives, we must recognize that there is a malicious dimension to false accusation. Some critics invent “imaginary scandals” out of “a hatred not so much of the scandals themselves but of the gospel, in order to bring it into disrepute in any way possible.”[5]

Ironically, unbelievers lack the grounds to discern hypocrisy. After all, how can anyone “make the moral accusation against Christians (charging them with being “hateful”) when they have no grounds for knowing what’s moral or immoral in the first place?”[6]

In fact, Scripture says that unbelievers are hypocrites. They know God, but do not honor him.

The charge of hypocrisy proves the Bible’s teaching that people are bad, that our hearts waver between two opinions, and that we need to be delivered from our bodies of death (Rom. 7:13–24).

Beyond all of this, hypocrisy also reveals the beauty of God. The charge of hypocrisy is a surprising admission that God’s law is good. That Ravi Zacharias violated the seventh commandment is not an argument against the God who mandates holiness; it is implicit approval of God’s law of holiness. God’s laws, if lived out, have the ability to create a sort of heaven on earth. Even our sin reveals that there is no law-maker like our God (Deut. 4:8).

That there are sinners in the church shows that God has come to save sinners. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31). There are spiritually sick people in the church. They used to be dead. Now they are ill. One day they will be whole. That Christians sometimes fall into sin is not a sign that the gospel is powerless but that God is patient in preserving his people through their recovery.

Human hypocrisy argues for the uniqueness of Jesus. No matter how often two-faced people disappoint one leader will never fail you. Jesus always practiced what he preached. He made the law. He came to earth as a true human to keep the law. Despite his innocence, he suffered the extreme penalty of the law. “He was pierced for our transgressions” (Is. 53:5). No one but Jesus can escape the charge of hypocrisy. The critics of Jesus could come up with no reasonable accusation of sin (John 8:44–46). “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (6).

Bring to the cross your hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of others, and Jesus will make all things well.

Read the previous posts in this series here.

William Boekestein is pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Related Links

"Evangelism: Personalized and Spatially Aware" by Justin Poythress

"Reforming Apologetics," review by Ryan McGraw

Surviving Religion 101 by Michael Kruger

Defending the Faith by Gabriel Fluhrer

C.S. Lewis: Apologetics for a Postmodern World by Andrew Hoffecker 


[1] John Stott, The Message of Galatians (Downer’s Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1968), 52.

[2] J.G. Vos, Genesis, 461.

[3] Jim Petersen, Evangelism as a Lifestyle: Reaching into Your World with the Gospel (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1980), 66, 70.

[4] Kruger, Surviving Religion 101, 208–209.

[5] John Calvin, Concerning Scandals, 84, 11.

[6] Kruger, Surviving Religion 101, 75.