No matter what your beliefs are about God or church, you’ve probably seen the way hypocrisy is hurting the Church. People are leaving churches because their experiences left them convinced that all Christians are hypocrites. You yourself may have experienced a church environment that required you to act or look a certain way, and these demands left you deeply wounded.
When there’s no room to be less than perfect, the only option is to fake it. You play the part, keep it together, and try to act, look, and play the role.
This kind of performing is what Jesus calls hypocrisy in the Bible. It’s often the result of being held to an impossible, unsustainable standard. It’s derived from a Greek word that described actors who switched between various masks to play different characters. Jesus was frequently frustrated by religious leaders and other people who claimed to love God but treated others poorly.
What does hypocrite mean in the Bible, then? Like an actor puts on different masks, many religious people believe you need to don a mask in order to fit in at church or be good enough for God. Hypocrites, in Jesus’ terms, are people who put on the masks not to do the right things, but to present the right things.
4 signs of hypocrisy in Christians
Most, if not all of us, have demonstrated hypocrisy at one point or another. Here are some telltale indicators of hypocritical Christians:
1. They struggle to give grace to others
Hypocrisy drives us to assume the worst of others, zeroing in on their flaws and depleting their patience. Hypocrites are more than willing to accept the grace Jesus gives them, but when challenged to extend the same grace to others, they bristle.
2. They wish people would act just like them
Sometimes other people do things we disagree with. Our tolerance to these differences can be a key indicator of hypocritical thinking. A hypocritical Christian will find themselves picking apart the way other Christians dress, vote, or worship, for example – and wishing they’d see things their way instead.
3. They focus on rules first, relationships second
There’s a time and place to call someone up into a better way of living. The Bible encourages us to speak the truth to others in love (Ephesians 4:15). However, there’s nothing loving about being a stickler for the rules. If someone is quicker to call out others’ mistakes than they are to get to know they criticize, that’s a red flag that hypocrisy is influencing the way they treat people.
Their true self is under wraps
A lot of the time, external hypocrisy is the result of internal fear. Hypocritical people don’t want others to know the real them – the thoughts they're ashamed of, the habits they just can’t shake, the mistakes they make day in and day out – because they’re scared of how others will respond. They've worked so hard to play the role of the perfect Christian that they can’t imagine what people would think if they knew what was going on inside.
How to deal with hypocrites
Seeing hypocritical behavior in a church environment can be incredibly frustrating and discouraging, especially when people seem to be leaving in droves because they’ve been hurt by it. So what’s the best way to respond when we see hypocrisy in others?
- Don’t let anger steer the ship. If you feel strongly about hypocrisy, it’s easy for anger to bubble up when you see others behaving in such a way. The Bible reminds us how crucial it is to control our anger (Ecclesiastes 7:9), and that’s especially true in the way we interact with others.
- Check your own heart and behaviors first. As uncomfortable as it may be to admit, chances are you might’ve shown hypocrisy at some point in your life. Make an honest evaluation of your own thoughts and behaviors before you start calling out someone else’s - or as Jesus puts it, “Get rid of the log in your own eye. Then you will see well enough to remove the speck from your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)
- Don’t let your conviction outpace your compassion. Hypocritical Christians aren’t an entirely different species – they're people, just like you and me, with real feelings and experiences that have shaped who they are. Even if you’ve seen someone behave insensitively toward others, that doesn’t give you license to treat them the same way. Remember to “speak the truth in love” like Ephesians 4:15 reminds us.
Perhaps the best thing we can do when we see hypocrisy around us is to pray. Ultimately we don’t have the power to change someone’s heart, but Jesus does! And when Jesus changes someone’s heart, their behaviors are quick to follow.
Interested in learning more about what it means to follow Jesus and be part of a welcoming, loving church community? Here are some more reads that you might find helpful:
2 Signs You’re Playing the Religious Game (and How to Quit It!) How Do I Find My Identity in Christ? How Should Christians Handle Cancel Culture? What Does Kindness Like Jesus Really Look Like?
LCBC stands for Lives Changed By Christ. We are one church in multiple locations across Pennsylvania. Find the location closest to you or join us for Church Online. We can’t wait to connect with you!