Whenever someone refers to me as religious I recoil internally. I don’t think of myself as religious, and I don’t think describing someone as “religious” is a positive comment. A religious person is one who believes that their routines, rituals, and actions can earn them a right standing with God. If they say or do enough good things, or they attend church regularly, or follow all the right rules and look good outwardly, then they must be a “good” person who has earned the approval of God.
Describing me as religious shows that someone doesn’t understand what my faith means. My faith in Jesus Christ is rooted in the work that HE did, not on what I have done or might do. I cannot do enough good deeds to compensate for my sins. To put that kind of expectation and pressure on myself would be misplaced. I once heard striving for perfection described as being like a sumo wrestler trying to perform as a gymnast in international competition. This gives quite the humorous visual. He might make it onto the apparatus, but it isn’t going to go well.
Sometimes when I reflect on some of the things I’ve said or done, I just shake my head. I can’t believe I’ve done them. What’s worse, are things I’ve thought – some shared with others and some not. Even if I could outwardly polish myself up enough to always LOOK “good” on the outside, then a true examination of my inner thoughts and attitudes would reveal a very imperfect, not-always-loving human being on the inside. I’m definitely the sumo wrestler on a balance beam.
So, when I say I am a Christian but choose sin over a godly action or thought, does that make me a hypocrite? When I fail miserably in loving a fellow human being, does that mean I’m a liar about my faith? When I question God about His lack of answering a prayer or I waiver in trusting Him because of my difficult circumstance, does that point to hypocrisy in my heart, making me a phony Christian?
The religious hypocrites that Jesus denounced so fiercely in His days of ministry in Israel were those who rejected Him as Lord and Savior; those who thought they were righteous because of their rule-following. They pretended to know God for the purpose of money, position, and power. They were what today we would call a legalistic person…someone wanting the standing of “righteous,” or wanting the identity of “religious,” by virtue of their behavior. A religious person might even make a sincere attempt at being “good,” but complete righteousness is unattainable. Our right-standing before God can only come through confessing the work of Jesus Christ dying on the cross for our sins to take the punishment in our stead, and repenting from our sin, moving in a new direction away from our former reliance on self.
When we turn toward Jesus as the one who saves us, we also need to surrender our governance of our life over to Him. He becomes Lord of our life, which means we pursue the purposes He has set out for us, not our own. It’s basically a take-over of our life, and we refuse to associate with the person we were without Him. True conversion is evidenced by both “lip and life”. What we say needs to match what we live as best as possible.
So again, I ask…if I mess up, does that expose me as a phony? I say it does not…IF, I acknowledge my wrong and confess to the Lord my sorrow over my sin. If I justify it, then I’m not so sure of my faith. We all have blind spots about ourselves, and that is why we need to be in God’s word regularly, as well as in relationship with other believers who know us well enough and care about us enough to call out our sin when we can’t or won’t deal with it on our own. It’s a serious thing when a believer justifies their anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, immorality, addiction, self-sufficiency, or dishonesty. If God’s word, the Holy Spirit, or a brother/sister in Christ confronting us is not able to penetrate our layer of self-protection against conviction, then we may need to give serious consideration to our true spiritual condition.
I know I have initially gone against the prompting of the Holy Spirit or ignored that inner voice telling me to choose love when all I want to do is rail against someone’s actions or words, but conviction is relentless within me. I admit my lack of self-control in regard to food. I acknowledge my wavering faith at low times when life just seems too hard. I call out my selfishness when I choose to meet my own needs rather than obey a nudge to help someone in need or put someone I love ahead of myself. I do those things at times, BUT, I do confess them and ask for forgiveness.
The following passage gives us hope, and a road map to follow for adding to our faith in Christ all the good qualities He desires for us to have in increasing measure. This is what proves to us that we are genuine in our faith and keeps us from falling away from the Lord.
II Peter 1:3-10 (shortened) “By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to himself by means of His marvelous glory and excellence…in view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises, supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone…the more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away.”
I have looked at my heart to examine its genuineness. I’ve asked myself some tough questions and have searched my thoughts to really know where I stand in regard to my faith. The Lord is my most treasured relationship, and the one that surpasses all others. When tested, I know I will choose Him, even faced with the most costly of choices. I truly believe in God, the work of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and even if I don’t live out my faith perfectly, I know my righteousness (right-standing before God) is completely based on who He is, not me. So…I think I can safely say I am not a hypocrite, but rather an honest believer who seeks to become more and more like Jesus. I just have a long way to go.