Many Christians misunderstand the nature of hypocrisy. It’s common to think of hypocrisy as the gap between your actions and your feelings. So if I do something without having my “heart” in it then I’m a hypocrite. Evangelicals are especially sensitive to this charge because we believe (quite rightly) that Christianity is more than “just going through the motions.” We know that having a personal relationship with Christ is crucial. We believe faith must be sincere.

And yet, we can easily misappropriate our good instincts. Some Christians wonder if they should still go to church if they don’t feel like it. They wonder if it’s right to sing the praise songs if they aren’t feeling worshipful that morning. They hesitate to give generously because “God loves a cheerful giver” and, well, giving doesn’t make them very happy. They aren’t sure they should repent of their sins or work to forgive their offender unless they feel really sorry and feel like forgiving. Many Christians fear that doing the right thing without the right feelings makes them hypocrites.

But is this really hypocrisy? Another word to describe this behavior might be “maturity.” Children only do what they feel like doing. Adults learn to do things they are supposed to do though they may not always be excited about it. Of course, as Christians we want to grow so that we feel good about what is good. But the Christian life is full of instances where the doing and the feeling do not exactly match—sometimes with feelings ahead of obedience and sometimes with obedience ahead of our feelings.

Hypocrisy is not the gap between doing and feeling; it’s the gap between public persona and private character. Hypocrisy is the failure to practice what you preach (Matt. 23:3). Appearing outwardly righteous to others, while actually being full of uncleanness and self-indulgence—that’s the definition of hypocrisy (Matt. 23:25-28).

The hypocrite is not the Christian who struggles against sin, fights against temptation, and keeps doing what is right even on his worst feeling days. That’s a hero. The hypocrite is the Christian who uses the veneer of public virtue to cover the rot of private vice. He’s the man living a double life, the woman fooling her friends because she has church clothes, the student who proudly answers the questions in Sunday school and just as proudly romps through immorality the rest of the week.

The sin of hypocrisy is not that we are more messed up than we seem. That’s true for all of us. The sin is in using the appearance of goodness to cloak the deeds of evil. The sin is in thinking that who others think you are matters a great deal more than whom God knows you to be.

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24 thoughts on “What Is Hypocrisy?”

  1. Jim Korth says:

    I think what is often perceived as “hypocrisy” by the world is our situation as being “simultaneously sinner and saint.” As a result there are ties when we don’t do what we want to do and do do what we don’t want to do (sound familiar). This can never be used as an excuse for behavior unbecoming a Christian, but perhaps the accusation of hypocrisy in the church opens the door for a discussion about what it really means to be a Christian.

  2. Randy in Tulsa says:

    Would a fear of hypocrisy be what drives some to effectively claim and teach “total depravity of the saints” in some parts of the gospel coalition?

  3. Excellent post! I don’t know how many times I have to deal with that “but my heart’s not in it” response to various areas of Christian obedience when talking to my college students. Thanks for this!

  4. Wesley says:

    Really appreciate this post KD. It is often out of the very desire to not be hypocritical that i don’t do something i know is right. 1 Cor. 4:3,4 has been helpful for me in this regard when this label is put on me by others outside looking in.

  5. Melody says:

    Thank-you for this clarification. Misuse of this word confuses so many things!

  6. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    As a hypothetical, let’s say that I’m a cocaine user. I’m addicted, and I hate myself for my addiction, and I don’t want others to be caught in the same addictive hell that I’m in.

    I tell my children to not use drugs. Not to do marijuana or cocaine or anything like that.

    They say that I’m a hypocrite. Because I use drugs and snort cocaine.

    They strongly believe I’m a hypocrite. Let’s say that I’m ashamed. So I don’t counsel them as strongly about not being a druggie. I don’t want to be both a drug addict and a hypocrite. So I’ll just be a drug addict.

    Are my kids right… that I’m a hypocrite for telling them not to use drugs while being a drug user?

    P.S. If you don’t want to believe me that the above is purely fictitious, that’s fine with me.

    P.P.S. I believe that what Pastor DeYoung is also trying to say is to not conflate hypocrisy with moral weakness. Given that we’re all sinners, are we then to be silenced when we accountably call others to not sin because we ourselves are sinners too?

    Let’s agree that a pastor is a sinner. Shall we respond to a pastor’s exhortation to not sin with the charge that he himself is a hypocrite because he doesn’t stop sinning?

    Then go back to the example of the drug user who tells others to not use drugs.

    Or how about a prostitute who tells other girls/women to not engage in fornication? Is she a hypocrite?

  7. Lou G. says:

    Kevin wrote, “The hypocrite is the Christian who uses the veneer of public virtue to cover the rot of private vice. He’s the man living a double life… the student who proudly answers the questions in Sunday school and just as proudly romps through immorality the rest of the week.”
    Thanks, Kevin. That is very clarifying and illustrates very well what to look for.

  8. T.Newbell says:

    This is great encouragement. We don’t have to live pretending because God already knows. It’s actually freeing–an invitation to the gospel. So hypocrites can come and enjoy freedom and sweet forgiveness! Thanks for this.

  9. Jeff Baxter says:

    Great clarification Kevin. Thank you. Our thinking must drive our behavior and our feelings catch up. Many adults are not past the childish maturity of faith. This is a good reminder to mature.

  10. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    “The sin [of hypocrisy] is in using the appearance of goodness to cloak the deeds of evil.”

    In what may be mere coincidence I have just read this article posted on The Gospel Coalition’s website. It is an excellent expose on hypocrisy:

    Let Us Prey: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church

  11. Tom says:

    Good thoughts, though I would not call a man who powers himself through joyless obedience a “hero.”

    Joyless obedience is sinful at root. It is motivated by some idol other than Christ. The good law of God is powerful to stop the polluted fountain of the heart, and we can thank God for that, lest the heart’s pollution infect ourselves and others more and more.

    But a plugged polluted fountain is not yet healed. Only Christ for us and in us purifies the streams of the heart so that what flows from it is glad obedience to God’s good law. And I would want to reserve the moniker “hero” for this kind of obedience. It is found perfectly in Christ, partly in us, and fully in the glorified saints of heaven.

  12. BAM. Another excellent word, thank you Kevin.

  13. Pingback: What Is Hypocrisy?
  14. John says:

    There is one Christian you forgot in your blog. The one that hates his sin, but stumbles and falls and gets back up again, repents and continues the race. You know, someone like the apostle Paul, whose battle with his sin caused him to refer to himself as a “wretched man” and the “chief of sinners”. He doesn’t seem quite up to your “hero” or the “whitewashed tomb” of your hypocrite. Probably most Christians, like Paul, fall somewhere between your two examples.

    Like Paul all we can say is, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I serve the law of God with my mind, but with flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)

    Evangelicals will only be inoculated to the charge of hypocrisy when they stop playing the “holier then thou card” and admit they are sinners redeemed only by the precious blood of Jesus.

    “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

    Appears that way to many Christians want to get the credit for their good works even when their veneer is cracked and peeling. Yes the world sees and cries “hypocrite”! The Accuser does the same and we should answer, yes I’m a sinner, saved by the blood Christ! SDG.

  15. cherylTryer says:

    Ungodly council from christain
    friends is hurtful, as intended

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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