There are almost as many answers to that question as there are hypocrites, with each of us having our own unique reasons why we might say one thing and do another. But one of the main overarching reasons is simply that people seek acceptance and identity from imperfect humans and imperfect human organizations rather than from a perfect and holy God. We have all noticed – in others and in ourselves – how humans have this ability to strongly condemn something until they or someone they identify with commits the same error. In those cases, all of the sudden, what we know is right or wrong takes a back seat to supporting the people, group or cause with which we identify.
Sometimes this manifest itself as something as silly as screaming for your rival’s college sports team to be placed on probation when they commit one infraction but somehow claiming your team shouldn’t be put on probation when they have committed multiple infractions of the same nature. The issue here is that too much of our identities (or for some even the meaning in their lives seems to) come from a favorite sports team. But in other areas of life, such as in politics and the justice system, the implications are much more serious.
We all – whether we are fully conscious of it or not – must have a sense of purpose and meaning, we need a group to which we belong and a cause bigger than ourselves which we can promote. And the power to conform to the norms of our chosen group is one of the strongest hidden influences in our lives. If your meaning in life comes from your sports team, then when they cheat, you excuse it. If your purpose in life comes from your identification with a political party, then when someone on your side does the same thing you were yelling “impeach them” about when someone on the other side did it, you all the sudden don’t see a problem with it.
Again, there are numerous reasons for the hypocrisy we see in life. But the acceptance/identity/ conformity issue is a huge underlying factor. TV Evangelists who draw their acceptance from their viewers and financial contributors rather than from God, can preach against adultery during the morning while committing it at night. And environmentalist can write editorials against climate change while in their own life they are producing a carbon footprint ten times larger than the average American. Why is there no self-check on blatant hypocrisy at that level?
One reason is, of course, as Jesus told us in Matthew 26: 41 “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”. But another main reason is simply that we don’t hold the ideas against which we are acting hypocritically as dear as we hold the acceptance from others who (at least claim to) hold to those ideals as well. I may not care one way or the other about cheating in college sports but pounce on the issue when a rival team seems guilty. The televangelist may not be all that spiritual but enjoys the benefits of pleasing the viewers who want someone to say they stand up for what they are for or against. And the environmental leader may not be willing to crimp their own lifestyle to save the planet when they can enjoy the same benefits of a different group by vocally claiming to support what those folks hold most dear.
The sports teams with which we identify will eventually have a player who does something wrong. The politicians for whom we vote will at some point have their human frailty exposed. And the causes or groups we identify with and support most passionately will end up with a crack in the armor or a failed leader from time to time. But if our level of commitment is high enough to those people, organizations or causes, we will allow them to be hypocrites and will, in fact, wallow in hypocrisy with them rather than admit something or somebody in which we are so invested, something with which we identify so strongly is imperfect
For Christians, though, if your identity, your purpose and meaning truly come from glorifying God with your life, your perspective changes dramatically. If your passion is to serve Christ and please God, always being sensitive to any overtones of self-righteousness or the seeking of approval from other people, your perspective is permanently altered.
The biggest difference comes from this: Christians stand for the eternal truth of the eternal, unchanging, perfectly holy, always faithful God! Who God is and what God promotes will never fail or have cracks. There will never be anything Christ-centered or God-empowered we have to apologize for. We will never have to choose between supporting what is ultimately right or supporting what we have chosen to identify with in that entity’s weakest moment.
When we know that our righteousness doesn’t come from what we say or do but only from Christ and when our identity comes as those who belong to God (because we were created and saved by Him) and our purpose comes from glorifying God and serving His purposes on earth, even the opportunities for hypocrisy fade quickly.
Of course, Christians must stay focused on God and the Bible, the only perfect and unchanging things in our lives, and not fall to the temptation of focusing on other people or purely human endeavors. Christians must hold each other accountable as part of our focus on God and His glory. We must never allow that ever present temptation of human nature – supporting those with whom we identify with at all cost – to cloud our judgement. The scriptures make this abundantly clear.
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” I Corinthians 5: 12 – 13
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6: 1
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5: 19 – 20
Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them. Proverbs 24: 24 – 25
The only person we should support at all cost is God.
Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.