“Christians are hypocrites!” said an acquaintance. “That’s for sure!” I replied. “And I am one of the biggest hypocrites there is.” But who is worse off – someone who sees his or her hypocrisy and repents from it, or someone who says there is no God when there is, and who claims he doesn’t need God when he does? Hypocrisy means simply to pretend; to feign beliefs, feelings, or virtues one does not really possess. Hypocrisy regarding one’s need for salvation will bring the irrefutable verdict of “guilty” – that is, “This one is full of guile.” Guile is deceitfulness or playing a part. Guile is much like hypocrisy. This may be illustrated by the condemnation of an accused criminal who claims he didn’t do it. In a court of law in the United States this person may, after trial, be pronounced “guilty” or “not guilty.” If he is found guilty, he really has been found to be a hypocrite in the eyes of a jury of his peers. He has tried unsuccessfully to cover his sin, just as Adam and Eve tried to cover their sin with fig leaves. Before God, who knows the hearts of all men, all the world is “guilty” since His standard is so straightforward: “The LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty’” (Ex. 34:6-7 KJV).
Four Aspects Of Sin
It is abundantly clear from this verse that God – in His mercy, grace, goodness and truth – can forgive all manner of sin, iniquity, and transgression; but to those who are guilty, judgment remains. Does this mean only those guilty of “iniquity and transgression and sin” will be forgiven? No, for then this verse is a contradiction; no one could be forgiven, and no one would have hope. But, in fact, this promise is for all who have realized their guilt before God and have called upon Him for forgiveness, whose guilt is thereby removed. All who put their trust in God’s salvation will find their iniquity, transgression and sin forgiven both now and in eternity. But those guilty of continually excluding God from their lives or of denying His pronouncement of “guilty” will find at death the impossibility of being forgiven. An eternity of hell and the lake of fire awaits them; no wonder there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Lk. 13:28).
The general term sin includes iniquity, transgression, and guile. Sin is missing God’s mark of perfection, as when an archer aims for the “bull’s eye” but misses. When the arrow falls short of its target, it is sin to the archer. A more familiar analogy today may be when a golfer, allowed so many shots to put the ball into the hole, misses on the last putt for a bogey (one stroke too many) – that’s a sin. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” but “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (Rom. 3:23; 1 Tim. 1:15). He can keep us on the narrow way, heading straight for the mark of His high calling (Mt. 7:14, Phil. 3:14).
Iniquity is doing our own thing, going our own way. “If it feels good, do it” is society’s motto today. We are likened to the sheep going astray in Isaiah: “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” (Isa. 53:6). Notice it was our iniquity that was laid on God’s servant, Jesus, our great Shepherd: “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25). He is the only one able to bear our iniquity and carry us back to safety.
Transgression is doing what’s wrong even while knowing it is wrong. It is rebellion against the powers that be, in our case, against God. Breaking the law makes us transgressors. Jesus “was numbered with the transgressors; and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). By becoming one of us, He ultimately took away everything that was against us, nailing it to His cross (Col. 2:14).
If, however, you consider yourself not as bad as others – thinking that God will surely overlook your little faults which “don’t amount to much,” that you have tried to follow the Ten Commandments and other religious rules sincerely, that you have no need of God’s mercy – then you are simply full of guile, a hypocrite from head to toe: “For whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, He is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10). God will by no means clear that guilt. Jesus illustrated the attitude of a self-righteous religious leader with this parable: He “prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican” (Lk. 18:11). No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites seven times in Matthew 23.
A Parable About Sin
In Luke 15, Jesus gave a four-part parable to the hypocritical Pharisees, the most well-known part being the story of the prodigal son. The first part of this parable is the story of the lost sheep, one of 100 sheep that went its own way, illustrating our iniquity. The owner left the other ninety-nine, found the wanderer, and carried it home on his shoulders rejoicing. The second part is about a woman who had ten pieces of silver, but lost one – showing our sin, because that coin was then out of circulation thereby missing its intended purpose. The woman did all she could to find it and put it back into use. The third part of the parable, the story of the prodigal son, speaks of transgression, for the son knew what the father desired of him, but did the very opposite. But the father was ever watchful, waiting for the son’s return to restore his place near him. The fourth part, the climax to which Jesus was leading, is the story of the older son, who was a hypocrite. He played the part of serving his father, but he had no heart for the things his father cared about. He was just like the Pharisees in their relationship with God.
The Cure For Hypocrisy
Before Pilate, the Lord Jesus’ confession was, “Every one that is of the truth hears My voice” (1 Tim. 6:13; Jn. 18:37-38). Truth in the inward parts is what He seeks. All who fall on the stone of truth shall be broken in repentance, but those who refuse to be broken before God shall be crushed in judgment (Lk. 20:18). God wants us simply to admit our sin, iniquity, and transgression before Him, and receive His forgiveness and mercy.
In 2 Samuel 11, David sinned when he stayed home instead of going to battle. He pursued iniquity when he sent for Bathsheba, the wife of another man. And he transgressed when he committed adultery and hid it by arranging her husband’s death. At first he covered all this with guile, but when his sin was revealed by the prophet Nathan, he pleaded with God: “Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 51:1-2). He knew the cure for guile: “Thou desirest truth in the inward parts” (Ps. 51:6). God is not impressed by religion, political power or legal right. But David knew that God responds to a broken spirit: “A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17). Accepting the truth in his heart – the “inward parts” – is just what David did when convicted of his sin. He confessed, repented and was restored.
In Psalm 32:1-2, David wrote: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” Notice that it is the Lord who forgives transgression, covers sin, and imputes no iniquity, while our responsibility is to be honest with ourselves and with God.
In Psalm 19:13 David also wrote this: “Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.” Is it not in the presumptuous sins of pride and arrogance that guile takes hold, pushing out truth and replacing it with deceitful lusts? Once we belong to the Lord, having obeyed from the heart the gospel of Christ and having acknowledged our sin, iniquity and transgression, we must be on guard not to fall again into hypocrisy. Below are examples of some who did.
Examples Of Hypocrites
• Gehazi: “And Elisha said unto him, ‘Whence comest thou, Gehazi?’ And he said, ‘Thy servant went no whither’” (2 Ki. 5:25). Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, had gone after Naaman, a healed leper, to make some profit from the miracle of healing. Upon his return, Gehazi’s answer clearly revealed his deceit. Because of Gehazi’s hypocrisy, Naaman’s leprosy fell upon him and his children, and his relationship with his master Elisha broke down. However, it is interesting to find Gehazi later talking with the king of Israel, telling him about a woman whom Elisha had helped, when in walked that very woman to appeal to the king to give back her land. Because of Gehazi’s testimony, her request was granted. Can God still use us even after we have acted as hypocrites? It seems so in the example of Gehazi.
• Ananias And Sapphira: “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 5:1-2). The early Church must have been tremendous, thanks to the care the people had for one another. But Ananias and Sapphira, who wanted to impress the apostles with their generosity, lied to God about the completeness of their sacrifice. Due to the exceptional circumstances of the time, they did not get away with their hypocrisy, but were immediately judged, killed and carried out for burial. How many of us would have survived that time period? Though judgment does not fall as swiftly, God’s attitude toward hypocrisy is unchanged.
• Peter: “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their hypocrisy” (Gal. 2:11-13). Even the apostles were not immune to the pressures which produced hypocrisy. Peter, knowing the liberty in Christ, ate with Gentile believers in Antioch, but when fellow Jews showed up he changed his behavior to conform more to his Jewish upbringing for fear of what others might say about him. His example led to others doing likewise. How often do we go back to how we were before being saved, when friends or relatives are present? If we remember to fear God more than men, we may be delivered from many hypocritical failures.
Hypocrisy keeps unsaved people out of heaven, and it keeps saved people from living a life in happy fellowship with God. Let’s keep in mind the solemn warning of Isaiah 9:17 to hypocrites: “Every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.”
By Tom & Susan Steere
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org