Our Responsibility to Fight Hypocrisy


Have you ever known people who pretended to be virtuous and godly, when in reality they were self-serving and phony? Did their hypocrisy make you angry enough to turn to a public forum to denounce their duplicity? If so, you have something in common with Jesus.

Here’s a sample of what Jesus declared publicly to the hypocrites who would eventually get him crucified:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
— Jesus, Matthew 23:27-28

Jesus hates hypocrisy, and so should we.

But before we post our tirade on social media against the hypocrites in our life, we should consider something else Jesus said about hypocrisy:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
— Jesus, Matthew 7:3-5

Christ’s words should give us pause. He was justified in pressing charges against hypocrites because he himself was free from hypocrisy. We are not.[1] If we’re honest, we have to admit that we fall short of our own standard of morality, let alone Christ’s standard. Whether you’re an atheist or the apostle Peter,[2] we’re all guilty of pretending to be more virtuous than we really are. We’ve all played the hypocrite.

In a strict sense, the accusation that “The church is full of hypocrites” is true. But by the same standard, the entire world is full of hypocrites, including the hypocrites who complain that the church is full of hypocrites.

Pascal reveals our double standard when he writes, “We do not like others to deceive us; we do not think it fair that they should be held in higher esteem by us than they deserve; it is not then fair that we should deceive them and should wish them to esteem us more highly than we deserve.”[3]

What makes someone a hypocrite is not that they lack moral virtue, but that they pretend otherwise.

Most of us already agree with Jesus that hypocrisy is wrong. What we easily forget is that our responsibility to fight it begins with identifying and denouncing whatever self-righteousness we find in our own hearts.

Given time, all true Christ followers rise above hypocrisy. We’ve already admitted our need of forgiveness and transformation in coming to Christ. If we’re truly following him, we’ll become more honest about our need, not less.


[1] This, by the way, does not imply that we’re disqualified from ever judging behavior as right or wrong. What the immediate context (Matt. 7:1-5) makes clear is that what is prohibited is not judgment of any sort but hypocritical judgment in particular.

[2] See Gal. 2:11-13.

[3] Blaise Pascal, Pensees and the Provincial Letters (New York, NY: Random House, 1941).