Negative Effects of Religious Hypocrisy

Past negative experiences with professed Christians and/or religious institutions by religious people are cited as the top reasons why people question Christianity.

This March report released by Barna Research found both religious people, as well as those who claimed no faith were the most affected by religious hypocrisy.

“For those with some distance from Christianity or the Church (whether we analyze by people of no faith, the unchurched, those who could be described as deconstructing and so on), the “hypocrisy of religious people” is the top driver of doubt,” the survey reported.

This reminded me of Jesus’ condemnation of the religious leaders of His day who He labeled as hypocrites. In His famous Mountain Message, He said their prayers, charitable deeds and fasting all had one thing in common–hypocrisy. The deeds they did were done “that they may be seen by others” (Matt. 6:1-14).

The word “hypocrite” means “an actor” or a “stage player.” It was used of Greek and Roman actors who wore masks in their dramatic productions. William Barclay says the word came to be used in the worse possible connotation referring to a “pretender…who acts a part, one who wears a mask to cover his true feelings, one who puts on an external show while inwardly his thoughts and feelings are very different.”

“Hypocrisy,” Barclay explains is “the sin of using religion to cover up sin. A hypocrite is not a person who falls short of his high ideals, or who occasionally sins, because all of us experience these failures. A hypocrite deliberately uses religion to cover up his sins and promote his own gains.”

Barna’s survey further reinforces what Jesus said about these religious hypocrites in Matthew 23:13.

“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.”

Hypocrisy has to do with motive, intentionality, and the reason, goal, or object of one’s actions. Those in Jesus’ day were obsessed with meticulous rules, regulations and rites that often were based in their traditions and not Moses’ law. Their prideful, ostentatious display of their religiosity was nauseating to Jesus. In His scathing denunciation recorded in Matthew 23, Jesus repeats the refrain “woe unto you,” eight times, calling them “hypocrites” seven times.

Preachers, pastors, parents, Bible teachers and all Christians ought to seriously take to heart Jesus’ words of rebuke. They are not recorded as a historical narrative to inform us of the Pharisees’ faults, but to remind and warn us of the danger of hypocrisy in our own lives.

Consider these three negative effects of religious hypocrisy.

#1 Hypocrisy Defiles Our Character.

Character involves honesty, honor and integrity. It even supersedes reputation. William Bach wrote, “Reputation is what people think you are. Character is who you really are. Take care of your character and your reputation will take care of itself.”

Hypocrisy harms us internally. It damages the heart. Corrupts the mind. Deceives the emotions. And short circuits our will or violation. As a result our spirituality becomes shallow, hollow, listless and lifeless.

#2 Hypocrisy Blinds Us to the Reality of True Discipleship.

Instead of following Christ, we’re following a carnal, fleshly figure disguised as Jesus. The reasons for our work and worship become distorted. Regular Bible reading becomes a mere check list we can brag about. Our prayers sound pious to men, but not to God. Our worship is based on repetition and routine, instead of being “in spirit and in truth.” And our ministry can become an occasion for showmanship, instead of spiritual devotion.

Like the Pharisees, hypocrisy can leave us looking good on the outside, like white washed tombs, but corrupt on the inside, like the decaying bodies of dead men’s bones.

#3 Hypocrisy Tarnishes Our Spiritual Influence.

Not all Pharisees were hypocrites. But our impression is a negative one when we hear the name, because of those who were guilty of religious duplicity.

The Barna survey speaks to the impact of hypocrisy on Believers and unbelievers alike. It sows seeds of doubt, suspicion, and distrust on Christianity in general and the church specifically. Furthermore, when hypocrisy is discovered in the lives of spiritual leaders, it leaves a stigma that’s difficult to diffuse. Hypocrisy not only hurts the hypocrite but harms the church, fellow Christians, as well as non-Christians.

Sheldon Vanauken, author of A Severe Mercy, once wrote, “The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians—when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”

The antidote and answer to hypocrisy is genuine faithfulness and a sincere fidelity to Christ. It calls for a good and honest heart. Motives that are fueled by our love for God; a faith fortified in His Word; a humble spirit that acknowledges one’s imperfections; and a heavenly hope that rises above the mundane rewards this world offers.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman


Filed under Discipleship

2 responses to “Negative Effects of Religious Hypocrisy

  1. I have never been inclined to believe that the reason an individual choses not to attend church is due to religious hypocrisy, it’s more the answer they give, than the real reason. The real reason is personal choice generated by personal sin.
    As the article said: “A hypocrite deliberately uses religion to cover up his sins and promote his own gains.”


  2. Pingback: Weekly Recap: April 17-21 | ThePreachersWord

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