A book about Christianity is opened on my lap. Looking down, I read these lines: “… the three most common perceptions of present-day Christianity … hypocritical”.
Those sentences bring me back to the year I was 14-15, some time after I had read about “hypocrisy” in the Bible. Looking at people around me, I thought of it again and again. With questions growing inside me, I formed a letter in my mind:
To whom it may concern,
I recently read about hypocrisy in the Bible, about people who say one thing but do another. But to me it seems that most people around me, Christians and non-Christians alike, are hypocritical to some extent. And as time goes by, I also seem to understand more and more why people are like that.
It is difficult to ignore the fact that there is a gap between what we want to be, or ought to be, and what we actually are. For this reason it is perhaps almost necessary to hide our negative sides by “pretending”, or by controlling what we show others. It’s all very disappointing, but maybe this is just life – we probably can’t avoid it. I don’t know.
The words in the Bible confused me.The teaching of hypocrisy sounded right, but according to what I observed from life and from myself, it just didn’t work that way. The critical 14-15 year-old Christian concluded that she had seen enough to decide that there were no answers to her questions. Years later, I wish I could go back in time and reply to the letter.
A new life – a new letter
As Christians, there is actually no need to suffer from pretending to be something we are not. We don’t need to feel that we are giving people advice that we know we cannot follow ourselves, because it is possible to become completely good from the innermost of our heart!
Actually, you already have a clue that can lead you to finding out how this is possible. You mentioned that it is hard to ignore the gap between what we want to be and what we actually are. Johan Oscar Smith, a God-fearing Christian who inspires me often now, confirmed that thought by writing of a much deeper self-acknowledgement:
“You can’t manage to live like a Christian; it would only be hypocrisy to try. You can never be pure, devout and good. You are as black as soot and rotten to the core. All your best works are like filthy rags.”
In the same way, Paul wrote that there is nothing good in our human nature (for example, read Romans 3:10-18 and Romans 7:18-19).
Many other Christians also recognize this, but conclude that Christians are not expected to be like Jesus. However, this self-acknowledgment should actually be the turning point for a Christian. Realizing that there is a gap is not enough.
Johan Oscar Smith’s conclusion is that the point is not to pretend to be like Christ, but that His life actually replaces my life: “‘I am the door,’ Jesus says. If we are dead with Him, we believe that we shall also live with Him. There is only one life, and that life is Christ. Christ in you, the hope of glory. His life must live in us, and our life must die. We are not meant to live our lives hanging our heads and pretending to be Christ-like. No, we must die. He must increase; I must decrease.”1
His life must live in us, and our life must die.
The key is to hate the negative “I” that I see, and acknowledge how limited my own strength is. I need to cry out to God for help, believing only His help can change things. That is when God can start a wonderful process in me, called sanctification.
Sanctification – what a very strange word that would have been for a teenager. But it has answered my thoughts about hypocrisy, and many other questions I had. I continued my letter:
I wish you could have understood and practiced this, from the day you started asking questions about life. Now, after all these years, I have found this way and started living it. I can pray to God when I am tempted to sin, and He will give me the strength and the will never to give in. I can “die” and become good like Christ, instead of having to “pretend”, or even try to be good. It sounds simple, but experiencing God’s strength that enables me to do the impossible, is incredible.
I have found that it enriches my life in all aspects, and it is the most peaceful and fulfilling thing I can find.
What Christianity actually can do in our lives
The “Christian” book in my lap went on to explain the “misconception” of Christianity (hypocrisy) by saying that being a Christian doesn’t mean you are expected to be exactly like Christ. However, doesn’t this imply that Christians are also expected to be hypocritical?
It’s the same conclusion I had come to as a teenager, and what an unsatisfying conclusion that was! It is unbelievable how merciful God is, that he led me to hopeful answers that is so much more than what I can imagine. And now, I also wish that more people – Christians and non-Christians alike – could see and experience what Christianity can actually do in our lives.
Note 1: Letters of Johan O.Smith, #12, August 25, 1905, (Stiftelsen Skjulte Skatters Forlag)
© Copyright Stiftelsen Skjulte Skatters Forlag