I realized last Sunday that I have been a hypocrite. It was quite disturbing for me. It happened not long after church on Sunday. I just finished preaching against hypocrisy, and the Lord showed me that I was personally being a hypocrite about the way that we approach baptisms in our church.
Let me give you a little background. We went through great time and effort to develop a process to help people understand the significance of baptism. We want it to be a really big deal for them. We wanted baptism to be a very big deal for our church. So, we created a process that would allow everybody in the church to know when somebody was being baptized. Part of that process involved creating a video testimony of someone’s life changing experience with Jesus, which we show before a baptism. These videos are so moving, so well produced, and so effective, that I have grown to love these baptism videos. Our church gets excited when we see these baptism videos.
I didn’t even notice until it was too late those videos started to become an unwritten rule in our church. People generally didn’t get baptized if they weren’t willing to create a video. We never set out to make it a “law” that you had to create a baptism video in order to be baptized…it just kind of happened that way. Driving home from church last Sunday, the Lord showed me that those baptism videos had become a hindrance to people being baptized. It’s a bit humiliating, but I’m going to have to stand before our church and say I was doing the very thing last Sunday that I was preaching against. I was being a hypocrite.
This just snuck up on me. It came out of nowhere. So, how do you know when you’re being a hypocrite? Here’s a couple of telltale signs:
Making my preference become mandatory
All of us have preferences. I like my preferences. You like your preferences. There’s nothing wrong with having preferences. However, sometimes we try to force our preferences on other people. Sometimes we try to make our preferences become mandatory in a church. As soon as you take a preference and turn it into a rule to follow, you’ve become a hypocrite!
Letting rules replace a relationship
A church, by its very definition, is a group of people called out in service to King Jesus. In other words, if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus you’re really not part of the church. But this also means that people in the church are united to each other through a common relationship with Jesus. Where there is no relationship with Christ or others there is no church!
This is what makes hypocrisy so dangerous. Hypocrites will try to force people to follow the rules. There’s nothing wrong with rules. The problem develops when rules become more important than the relationship that unites people. In other words, when rules replace relationship you’ve become a hypocrite.
Trying to force others to follow the Holy Spirit
At its essence, hypocrisy in the church, is an attempt to force people to follow the Holy Spirit. Of course the Holy Spirit is capable of causing people to follow the rules. Only the Holy Spirit is able to give people the power to live a God-honoring life. Therefore, the very idea of trying to enforce what only the Holy Spirit can do is highly dangerous to someone’s faith.
If you’re not careful, following the rules can take the place of following the Holy Spirit! This is what Jesus warns his disciples about in Luke 12:1-2. If we’re not careful, following the rules will lead someone straight to Hell! Jesus suggests in Luke 12:4-5 that people are following the rules just to avoid criticism from the religious leaders. He suggests this can lead straight to Hell.
Here’s my suggestion for a recovering hypocrite… Passionately pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ, depend daily on the power of the Holy Spirit, and fall more in love with God today than ever before… then the rules will take care of themselves.