“So put away… hypocrisy…”

1 Peter 2:1c

By Pastoral Apprentice Tim Easterday

If you’ve ever seen a play or a drama, you can appreciate the ability of the actors to walk, talk, and even think like the character they’re seeking to portray. It’s really pretty impressive how certain actors can play a part so well that an audience can forget who the actor actually is.

This was made clear to me in high school when our drama club performed Shrek: The Musical. The student who got the lead role as the foul-speaking and resentful ogre, Shrek, turned out to be my friend, Henry – one of the nicest and most caring guys I know. As I watched the performance, Henry embodied his character with such resolve and enthusiasm (and a heavy Scottish accent) that I forgot the real identity of my friend. All that I perceived was an angry, territorial, green beast. You see: his public impression was completely at odds with his real identity and demeanor. And for an actor, that’s a good thing.

While the ability to pretend is a positive attribute on a stage, Scripture always discusses this idea negatively. The word “hypocrisy” that we find in 1 Peter 2:1 was used in the first century to indicate the vocation of “play-acting” or putting on an outward show. Hypocrisy (“role-playing”) is universally described in Scripture as uncharacteristic of God’s people and inconsistent with the character of Christ.

You may recall one of Jesus’ most scathing and frequent rebukes to the Pharisees in the Gospels: “You hypocrites!” Hypocrisy was said to be the “yeast of the Pharisees” (Lk. 12:1). And when Jesus gives a warning in Matthew 23 about the scribes and Pharisees, he calls them hypocrites seven times, spelling out the real issue: “On the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (v. 28). This is the crux of hypocrisy: an outward-focused way of living that is preoccupied with pleasing people and marked by a heart issue. Jesus saw right through the ‘show’ and exposed the inward problem.

It’s really easy to ‘fake it’ or ‘go through the motions’. I can catch myself praying a prayer that’s meant to be directed toward God, but in reality my heart is more concerned about what others hear than the God who hears. There are often days when I’m frustrated, confused, or simply annoyed. On those days when someone asks, “How are you?” I can forego an honest answer and instead respond with, “I’m good. We’re good. It’s all good.” Even activities like gathering on Sundays with the church, singing praise songs, and partaking of the Lord’s Table can be done from a place of drudgery and mere obligation in my hardened heart.

The expectations of pleasing other people as well as the inward disconnect between heart and action always results in vain worship. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mk. 7:6). Yet whatever our reason for play-acting, God has made provision for our misplaced motivations.

When we look at God’s Word, we see a clear priority for the inward heart. In the Old Testament, God’s people were called not merely to a life of law-keeping, but to a life of love for God and others (e.g. Lev. 19:18; Dt. 6:5-6). In their rebellion, God made a promise to his people, saying, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26). And ultimately, God pours out his love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ who indwells us and makes us God’s children (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 4:6). This work is accomplished definitively in the person and work of Jesus Christ, in whose death and resurrection we participate.

So on days when you’re more bothered by the sin of others than by your own sin – quick to accuse and slow to repent – Christ calls you to come to him for the log to be removed and genuine love to be produced (Mt. 7:4-5). When you feel the weight of trying to be perfect and pretend, Christ is the Light in the darkness who invites you to walk with him and confess your need (1Jn. 1:7-9). And when you’re ready to give up on reading God’s Word or quit the media fast because it seems pointless, the love of God and the endurance of Christ are where the Lord “directs your heart” (1Thess. 3:5).

This heart transformation is the foundation from which we live our lives. After all, the Spirit of God who lives in us is the One who produces fruit (Gal. 5:22-23). The fruit of the Spirit isn’t manufactured or fabricated (imagine someone trying to glue an apple to an apple tree, or staple a grape to a vine…), and therefore the Spirit-led and heart-softened lifestyle is not a role to play. At the end of the day, we can put away hypocrisy as we live fully into our identity in Christ – not as an actor, but as a child of God.

Search me, God, and know my heart;

Test me and know my concerns.

See if there is any offensive way in me;

Lead me in the everlasting way.

Ps. 139:23-24

Lord, as I do this task [working, changing a diaper, praying, etc…], reveal why I am doing this. Expose the attitude of my heart. And may everything I do, in word and deed, be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.