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“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do– this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God– through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15-25)
One of the biggest reasons people turn away from God and the Christian faith is the hypocrisy of Christians. Even those who have very little knowledge of the Bible know that the message of Jesus had something to do with love and moral living, and when they see followers of Jesus who preach love but live lives marked by looking down on the world, judging others, or moral failure, they are turned off from Christianity. Add to the everyday hypocrisy of believers bigger scandals such as the Catholic sex abuse scandal or the shady dealings of some televangelists, and it’s no wonder that many people in our world have a hard time embracing the Christian message.
But what if we’re preaching the wrong message? What if we are unwittingly preaching a message that goes something like this: “We are Christians, and that means that we are more moral than you and have better lives. Become one of us and you too can become a moral person with a better life!” If that’s our message, then it is no wonder that the world is quick to label Christians hypocritical when they act like sinners.
What if, instead, we took care to preach the true gospel message, that Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, lived the perfect life we could not live, died a sacrificial death on the cross in our place, and rose again to conquer sin and death? What if we preached the message that Christians are simply sinners like everyone else, but sinners who have repented of our sins and received the forgiveness offered to all by a loving and gracious God? What if we simply admitted that we are not any better than anyone else – in fact, we know that there are non-Christians who by the world’s standard of morality may be more moral than we are. Our message is not about our goodness, but about God’s love and forgiveness as displayed in Jesus Christ, dying on the cross for our sins.
I love how the singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson put it:
“It’s the great, confounding reversal of the Gospel of Jesus. If the word we preach is one of attainable perfection, of law, of justification by works, then when we fail, our testimony fails with it. But if we preach our deep brokenness and Christ’s deeper healing, if we preach our inability to take a single breath but for God’s grace, then our weakness exalts him and we’re functioning as we were meant to since the foundation of the world.”
In other words, if our message is one of salvation by grace, of our complete dependence upon Christ for anything good in our lives, of the greatness of God’s love displayed in the death of Jesus for we who were His enemies, then even when we royally screw up, all that does it drive home the point that we are not the Savior, but Christ is; we are not the hero of the story, Jesus is.
The next time you hear someone bemoaning hypocrites in the church, or calling you a hypocrite for not practicing what you preach, make sure you are preaching the right message. And if your message is one of God’s salvation for sinners (like you and me), then remind your accuser that the Christian message was never about our goodness and morality, but about Jesus’ goodness and His love for us, sinners though we are. If our message is that we are saved by grace, a completely undeserved gift of God, then we are not hypocrites but rather are exactly what we claim to be: sinners saved by the amazing grace of our loving God.
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