Why I Love the Local Church Even When People Say It's a Man-Made Institution and is Full of Hypocrites
Print This Sermon
Sunday, January 11, 2009 - 10:00/6:00  Sermon #: 1237/1238
Pastor Don Horban

You’ve all heard it a million times: “I don’t go to church anymore. The church is full of hypocrites!” If there is one sin people - especially pagan people - associate with Christianity, it’s hypocrisy. “Practice what you preach,” is a slogan that is so familiar, applied to so many different people, we easily lose sight of the fact that by using the word “preach” that phrase is forever stamped with a religious application.

Just as the problem of evil and suffering keeps people from believing in the God of the Scriptures, the accusation that there are hypocrites in the Church is the primary means the hard-hearted use to evade the message of the Church and the conviction God means to bring to those who don’t believe in Him or call upon the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The charge of hypocrisy is certainly easy to lay these days. These past few decades have been ones of stark disillusionment. News travels so much faster than it used to. We can see the whole world at a glance. Our confidence in public institutions in general has been eroded beyond any hope of repair. Go back to the world of my parents and the general attitude of people to anyone in leadership was respect. Today the general attitude toward anyone in leadership is suspicion. Even if we don’t know the leader personally, even if he or she is just a face in the news, if he is a part of the system he’s part of the problem. We have come to the place where we assume hypocrisy. We assume lack of character. We assume a large amount of bluff and con in anyone of position.

Even wicked people are sick and tired of hypocrisy and phoniness. In fact, you could easily get the impression that hypocrisy and intolerance are the only sins in this world. People almost speak and write as though as long as you are open and unhypocritical about committing sin, you are righteous: “Sure I drink too much, but at least I’m honest about it!” Or, “Certainly my wife and I fool around sexually. We’ve talked about it openly and come to a mutual agreement. We’re very honest in our sexuality.” Or, “Pastor Don, I don’t even bother going to church anymore. I know I’m not living for the Lord and, after all, I don’t want to be a hypocrite about it.”

What never seems to dawn on these people is hypocrisy is not the only sin God hates. He will judge sexual immorality whether people are honest and open about it or not. A thief is still a thief, even if he’s an honest thief. There are a host of other sins God condemns. Just because you aren’t a hypocrite doesn’t make you righteous. Honesty doesn’t cleanse you from these other sins. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can do that.

But this world does have its antenna up to detect phoniness and the church hasn’t escaped this suspicion. Nor has it earned an exemption. We’ve all seen the scandals on TV. We all know how many Christians play the game. We know the duplicity. We can usually see it in everyone but ourselves (remember Jesus’ words about the speck in our brother’s eye and the log in our own?).

Is the church full of hypocrites? If she isn’t, why do so many people accuse her of being so? I can think of several reasons this accusation springs so quickly from the lips of critics:


Likewise, the terms “hypocrite” and “sinner” are confused. So people rather carelessly put it all together in their minds something like this:

a) The church is full of sinners
b) Hypocrites are sinners
c) The church is full of hypocrites

But this doesn’t follow at all. Let me give you another example just to illustrate what I mean:

a) The church is full of sinners
b) Rapists are sinners
c) The church is full of rapists

I think you can start to see what I mean. One term (sinner) is more general and inclusive, while the other (hypocrite or rapist) is more exclusive and specific. All hypocrites are sinners, for sure. But not all sinners are hypocrites.


I think we need to be patient and exercise understanding toward those who are outside the saving grace of Jesus Christ. There is a lot of confusion out there. Many times outsiders simply observe Christians sinning. They see things in our lives that don’t add up.

Remember they know very little about the Christian life. All they know for sure is Christians are not supposed to sin. They know that at least we Christians believe sin is a bad thing. Then they see us commit some sin. And they know we aren’t supposed to sin. Therefore, we’re hypocrites in their eyes.

Do you see what has happened? In their ignorance about Christianity they have mixed something true - Christians shouldn’t sin - and something untrue - when Christians, who know they shouldn’t sin do sin, they must be hypocrites. The unspoken (and false) assumption they have made is that the Christian is one who claims he doesn’t sin. So when he does sin, he’s a hypocrite.

But no Christian worth his salt would claim he never sins. We strive not to sin. We strive for perfection in holiness. We strive not only to be “in Christ Jesus,” but, as the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 4:19, we strive to have “....Christ formed in us.” We are “in Christ” when we are saved. The process of “Christ being formed in us” is progressive and gradual. It takes years.

But no Christian I know claims to be totally without sin. In fact, just the opposite is true. The Christian life can’t even be entered into until I admit that I am a sinner. That’s how the whole walk with Jesus starts. The Church (and here I mean the Body of Christ) is the only body on earth you absolutely cannot join until you admit you’re a sinner.

You can join the Library, the Country Club, Club Link, any Health Club of your choice, you can apply for any Gold Card or group membership you want. As far as I know, none of them requires you to admit you are a sinner. But not so the Church. You simply can’t become a part of the Body of Christ until you admit you are a sinner. In that one sense at least, the Church is the least hypocritical body in the whole world.


Unfortunately, Christians are guilty of all sorts of sins. And the sin of hypocrisy is one of the sins they commit. We all find the lure of pretending to be more spiritual than we are very enticing. It gives us the image of Godliness without the cost of Godliness. That’s because hypocrisy feeds our fallen pride with applause for pretended spirituality, whereas true Godliness can only be developed with the crucifixion of self.

So, to be painfully honest, there are hypocrites in the institutional church. In fact, people detect hypocrisy in the institutional church for at least three common reasons:

a) Sometimes there are people in the church who profess faith but are not born again. This is getting increasingly common. In this age where people are taught to assert their own rights and their own will, there is a growing number of church goers who try to claim salvation on their own terms.

I had a person in this church tell me recently, “I do love Jesus, but nobody is going to tell me how to live.” Now that person is just proving he has no understanding at all about the Lordship of Jesus. He thinks he can profess Christ and order his own life exactly as he wants. And he expects the church to accept his approach to Christianity.

Many people are tied into a church socially because many of their friends are there. They’ve been raised in the church and feel at home there. Many people keep coming to church because they can see the moral chaos and corruption all around them and they feel the church can instill some good moral values in their children.

Of course, none of those things is the same as conversion. These people aren’t committed to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and sooner or later that is going to be reflected in their actions and priorities.

But the people who see these churchgoers only see the surface of their lives. They don’t know these people aren’t a valid measuring stick of Christianity. They don’t know they don’t have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. So they assume these churchgoers are Christians. And when they see their actions outside the church, they assume they are hypocrites.

Jesus Himself predicted that the visible church would always be a mixture of wheat and weeds: Matthew 13:24-30 - “He put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, [25] but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. [26] So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. [27] And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?' [28] He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' So the servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' [29] But he said, 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. [30] Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' "

b) Sometimes churches are the source of the problem of hypocrisy. There are communities of faith where people don’t live like Christians because the church doesn’t teach and insist that they live like Christians.

There are many churches that never call for a clear confession of biblical faith. Nor do they call people to live lives distinctly separated from the ways of the world around them. Many churches are nothing more than a pathetic reflection of the culture around them. They are no longer salt and light.

c) Sometimes genuine Christians are careless about keeping their vows of dedication to the Lord. People on the outside, especially those looking for an excuse to reject Christ, notice these inconsistencies.

Perhaps this is where hypocrisy is at its ugliest and most damaging to the cause of Christ. Christians make promises to the Lord. Every truly converted person promises to crucify the life of self-gratification and dedicate himself or herself to the pleasure and glory of God. Unfortunately, this world pulls Christians away from that foundational, saving commitment.

Christians commit to faithfulness to the local church. But here again, this world gets very busy. Christians can easily bump commitment to the Body of Christ down the list as spendable time begins to shrink.

In all these areas - the dedication of children - the sacrificial investment of finances in the extension of Christ’s kingdom - and a host of other promises that accompany salvation - it is easy to forget, or at least neglect vows of faithfulness that accompany saving grace. That’s why the Scriptures give warnings not to forget our primary commitments of service to the Lord:

Psalm 64:10-65:2 - “Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult![65:1] To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. A Song. Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. [2] O you who hears prayer, to you shall all flesh come.”

So our religion can’t be all talk. We are to be mindful of the promises we make to the Lord. They don’t lose their weight before God just because some of them were made long ago. They aren’t annulled just because our feelings change over the years. God hears our vows. God remembers our vows, even when we forget them.


Remember, hypocrisy is always an intentional sin. This is what makes hypocrisy different from failure. Hypocrisy is pretending a righteousness on the outside that we don’t genuinely possess on the inside. The hypocrite is usually one person in public (or in Christian company) and another person in private (or with a different set of friends). And the hypocrite expends vast energy maintaining this deception. Jesus sliced right to the core of the ugliness and phoniness of the sin of hypocrisy:

Matthew 23:13-14, 25-28 - “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. [14].... 23:25-28...."Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. [26] You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. [27] "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. [28] So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

For Christians who have taken the time and effort to familiarize themselves with the teaching of Jesus Christ in the gospels we see an anger in His words just read that we don’t often see. Obviously this sin bothered Jesus deeply. Why did He sound so alarmingly harsh and sharp in these denunciations of hypocrisy?

I think there are probably two reasons:

a) First, probably no sin is more numbing to the true heart for God than hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is not the only sin. Christians commit many others. But, unlike other sins, hypocrisy not only brings guilt to the soul, it blinds and hardens the soul to repent of its sin.

That’s because to be a successful hypocrite one must, at least much of the time, pretend the inward sin doesn’t exist. It’s this stubborn outward pretending of righteousness that makes the sin of hypocrisy so tempting and effective. But if the sin is enticing it’s also highly infectious. The longer the hypocrite is successful in his deception, the less likely he is to ever repent of the sins he is committing: 1 Timothy 4:1-2 - “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, [2] through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared....”

Have you ever seared a piece of meat on a grill. The outside gets all crusted and hard. Paul tells Timothy that, especially in the last days, people will “depart from the faith.” He says they will become victims of “deceitful spirits.” It all sounds so serious and extreme.

How will this happen? How can this happen to Christian people? Paul says this departing from the faith (which seems to indicate they had faith to depart from) will have its roots in the lying sin of insincerity (or hypocrisy). People will shut the truth out of their own hearts by listening to and practicing lies and deceit. They’ll come to the place where they can’t tell genuine righteousness anymore.

That’s what happens when you play around with the truth you have received. You can turn the volume down on your own inward witness to truth. You can shut your own conscience off. You can silence the Holy Spirit until you not only deceive others with your lifestyle, you deceive yourself.

Fundamentally, hypocrisy robs the inner life of honesty. It turns off the inner security screening for all the other sins that seek to enter our hearts. Hypocrisy paves the way for every other sin: Luke 12:1 - “In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

Hypocrisy is called the leaven of the Pharisees. They did many wicked things. But hypocrisy, quite literally, was the leaven that gave rise to them all.

b) Second, hypocrisy not only destroys the life of the hypocrite, it destroys the life of those who observe the hypocrite.

This is why Paul says evil spirits have a keen interest in the successful masquerade of the hypocrite. The hypocrite’s fall not only destroys his own credibility, it destroys the credibility of thousands of other faithful Christians. One hypocrite can undo the good influence of a thousand faithful witnesses.

There are multitudes of observers in this world who want nothing do with Christ or His church because they have been spiritually violated by hypocritical professors of Christ. Jesus said there would be, quite literally, hell to pay for those who used His Name to lead others astray spiritually:

Luke 16:26-17:2 - “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' [27] And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— [28] for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' [29] But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' [30] And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' [31] He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.' "[17:1] And he said to his disciples, "Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! [2] It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”

I’m personally convinced that these verses should be read together, just as we read them. They answer a troubling question. Why would these unbelieving people be unconvinced of the danger facing them even if someone came back from the dead to tell them about the coming judgment?

I think Jesus’ words following this account help with the answer. It’s very difficult to turn people back to the truth after they’ve been burned by a bad experience with a professing follower of God. That’s why Jesus immediately warns his disciples of the horrible consequences of causing anyone to stumble in this way.

If I am a professing Christian, Jesus says people have the right to assume that I am careful and serious enough in my Christian walk that they can trust that, while I might not be perfect, I’m inwardly striving for perfection. I’m the real deal. That’s what Jesus meant when he talked about not just cleaning up the outside of the dish and leaving the inside filthy. People have the right to assume I am absolutely thorough in my relationship with Jesus Christ - that His Lordship is total and unquestioned.

In other words, the people who see me and know me have the right to assume I’m what they should look like if they give their hearts to Jesus Christ. And they should have the right to assume that my faith is the real deal.


Jesus wants to make your life and mine genuinely His. If you want to make your assessment of Christianity this morning, then remember this: Jesus was not a hypocrite. He proved His love was more than words by dying on the cross for your sin. He proved He was the Son of God by rising from the dead on Easter morning. There was not a phony bone in His body.

And He can make you a genuine disciple of His today. You see, the church doesn’t exist to bring any praise or glory to any of its members. None of us is worthy of that. The church exists to bring praise and glory to Jesus Christ. And He will prove His authenticity to any who will forsake their sin, and call on Him with a sincere and humble heart.