By Leah Lively, Crosswalk.com
Hypocrisy is one of the most common reasons people give for not attending church. People who grew up in church and no longer attend—or those who have no interest in visiting church—have said to me “the church is full of hypocrisy.” My response and those of other church-goers seems automatic, “No one is perfect. God is forgiving. We are all hypocrites.”
While these answers are valid, I feel a deep sense of conviction.
One friend who grew up in church commented on not wanting to pursue a relationship with a man who “claimed” Christianity. She sees believers who claim to follow Christ, then behave in ways directly opposite to their beliefs. I began to reflect on how, despite attending church each week, I act in less than “Christian” ways the remaining days of the week. I claim to be a believer, but too often I fall prey to a disgruntled attitude or become attracted to the most recent neighborhood gossip.
I know I am forgiven of my sins, including hypocrisy, but why I am not motivated to bear better fruit?
Claiming forgiveness and continuing to pursue hypocritical behavior is not bringing people into a relationship with God. My behavior hardly influences anyone to cross the threshold of a place of worship.
Maybe the best way to encourage us all to come together is if each of us faces and deals with hypocrisy in our own lives. Here are four ways each of us can allow God to overcome our hypocrisy:
1. Embrace that you are not alone in the struggle against self.
The Bible proves that as believer, none of us are alone in our hypocrisy. In Romans 7 and 8 the Apostle Paul talks about his “flesh” taking over and living out of his own desires. In the Message Bible, Paul writes in Romans 7:14-15 “I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.”
Paul wants to obey God, but his own sinful desires take over. He knew, without fully submitting to God, he would not have victory over his hypocrisy.
I come to church wanting to obey God, learn more about Him, and worship Him, but I end up seeking my own selfish desires. My mindset becomes: “attending church makes me look like a good person,” or “going to church makes me look like I have my life together,” or worse, “I win brownie points with God if I am in church and serving.”
Attending church becomes something a good Christian or disciplined person does. While going to church makes me feel a great sense of approval from God, my children and husband continue to suffer from my angry outbursts and negative attitude.
I want to draw closer to God, but I am “full of myself.”
2. Allow yourself to be pruned, and bear new fruit.
I’ve begun to realize that I am the definition of why people turn away from church. Do you ever feel this way? I cover up my hypocrisy by using church as a Band-Aid, instead of allowing God to get into my soul and heal me from the inside out.
In John 15:16 CSB, Jesus tells his disciples, “I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain” (emphasis mine). A grapevine must first be planted and tended to by a gardener. The gardener prunes the areas that won’t be productive to allow good fruit to grow.
John writes at the beginning of John 15 that God is like the gardener. He must come into our lives and trim away the sin that is keeping us from growing fruit. The issue is, I don’t want to be trimmed because pruning is painful.
It means I must recognize and deal with my sin.
Fruit is evidence that I am allowing God to do the pruning. Consistent trimming takes years to produce good fruit. In Galatians 5:19-26 Paul compares the fruit of living in the flesh to living in the Spirit (connected to the vine).
My flesh will produce withered branches of selfishness, anger, and hatred. But when I allow myself to be pruned by the Gardener, my selfishness will be removed, and I will grow in my love for others. Anger will be cut away to bring abundant joy, no matter the circumstance. Hatred for another will be pruned to allow for more patience.
3. Remain in God’s Word for continued growth.
Pruning happens when I allow God to speak to me through His Word. Jesus refers to himself as the “vine” in John 15. Jesus is also the Word of God. John 1:1 CSB says “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus tells his disciples in John 15:6 that their relationship with him is based on his words remaining in them.
If believers do not open the Bible on a regular basis to read the words that keep us connected to the Vine, we will not produce fruit. John writes that those branches who do not remain connected to the vine of His Word, will wither, and will be collected and burned.
At times, I may only open my Bible when I am instructed to by the pastor on Sunday. Sometimes I don’t bother to bring my Bible to church because I can look at the scripture on the screen in the front of the worship room.
When I open the Bible daily, God shows me parts of myself that need to be trimmed away. I see branches that are withering and do not show good fruit.
People have turned away from church because all they see is a pile of withered branches. A fruitless life is a life of hypocrisy.
4. Pray for the grace to become known for your abundant fruit.
While I will never be completely free of being full of myself, I can desire to live a pruned life so that I will be known as a believer for the fruit I bear—and not for my hypocrisy.
Paul is known as the greatest missionary who ever lived because he consistently pursued God’s pruning. He is not remembered for his tendency to be full of himself.
My greatest desire as a mother is for my children to learn about the love of God. They should see the love of God displayed in me. I am the first person they encounter each day. If I don’t bear the fruit of love, it will be harder for them so see the love of God. If my anger is displayed daily, showing no evidence of joy in my life regardless of how my children behave, how will they see the true joy God can bring into their lives?
Allowing God to prune away my sin has been the most difficult part of my faith journey. It has involved professional counseling, repeated lessons in humility, and countless requests of forgiveness within my relationships. Now, when I walk into worship each week, I can raise my hands because I know my Gardener. He is the one who takes this hypocrite and prunes me and shapes me through His Word. As I surrender to God’s pruning and bear the fruit of my relationship with Him, the product is worth every snip.
What would our churches look like if we all spent time getting pruned by our Gardener?
If believers opened God’s word each day, surrendering to the trimming of our dead branches, we would see an abundance of fruit. The growth of a fruit-bearing church would attract those who discarded their faith years ago.
If we focused on our Gardener and His words remaining in us, we would influence those around us to do the same. Our churches would be known for flourishing with fruitful believers and not the hypocrisy that once caused our branches to wither.
Leah Lively is a wife and mother of four living in central Virginia. She is passionate about encouraging others in learning more about the Bible and maturing in their faith. She writes on her blog at leahlivelyblog.com and just published her first Bible study in May 2019, “30 Days with John: A Journey with Jesus’ Most Beloved Disciple.”
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