Imperfection Vs. Hypocrisy

Mike Focht 4/12/2024

Confusing imperfection with hypocrisy is easy but harmful. The two states are very different.

   The hypocrite is play-acting. Hypocrites claim righteous motives that they don’t possess. Hypocrites present a clean image, so they are viewed as something they are not. Hypocrisy must wear religious sincerity and goodness like a mask to cover its insincerity and wickedness of heart. Hypocrisy is hidden and unrepentant imperfection. 

   The imperfect person is simply a human in reality. Imperfections are our mistakes when we fall short because of human weakness. The imperfect person recognizes and confesses evil motives. The imperfect person has fleshly actions that are called and recognized as fleshly actions. The imperfect person has no mask, or cloak of false impression covering their imperfections. 

   We are all imperfect. We are not all hypocrites. The two get easily confused. Christians who fall short and confess their sin and their failings before God and men as sins and failings are not hypocrites. If I lose my temper and curse a coworker, I have sinned, but I am not yet a hypocrite. I am simply imperfect if I confess my lack of love in heart, confess my words as fleshly and unchristian, and ask my coworker for forgiveness. I am a sinner following Christ. I only become a hypocrite if I deny the coldness of my heart and act as if my language was justified or didn’t happen at all. I become a hypocrite when I fight to present myself in an image other than reality. 

   Why is this important to realize? Because we are all imperfect, but we don’t have to become hypocrites. Our imperfections will lead us to one of two places: humble confession and repentance from a sincere heart or self-defensive and self-justifying hypocrisy. The imperfect person can still be sincere before the Lord. The hypocrite is living a lie, and that idolatrous lie must first be recognized, broken, and cast down before true life with God can be known and enjoyed. 

   We see this reality in the differences in Jesus’ interactions with His imperfect disciples and the hypocritical religious leaders. We see Jesus correcting in love when His disciples argue over who was the greatest, seek to call down fire and destroy Samaritans, or don’t fully trust His care and provision for them. Jesus can see the sincerity of their good motives to be great in His kingdom, jealously defend Him as Messiah, or struggle with fear before storms and demons. The disciples never battled when Jesus corrected their motives as misplaced, misapplied, or mistaken. They didn’t deny their imperfections. Still, despite many flaws, they sincerely loved Christ and didn’t present as something other, so Jesus’ response was to redirect, instruct, and encourage them.

   In contrast, Jesus’ responses to the hypocrisy of the religious leaders were as stern as any we have in the Scripture. Why? It was not because Jesus was fed up and lost His temper or loved them less but because He knew that if their hypocrisy were not sincerely confessed and repented of, they would never be able to know Him or follow Him. Their hypocrisy defended their imperfections and left them as blind men, thinking they could see. In that state, Jesus could do nothing for them. Jesus’ divergent responses to the imperfections of His disciples and the hypocrisy of the religious leaders were what each needed. Praise God, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

   Our imperfections do not make us hypocrites. Covering our mistakes and presenting ourselves as people without them makes us hypocrites. We can walk with God as sincere but imperfect people. We cannot walk in agreement with God as hypocrites—presenting ourselves to people as something other than what God knows we are.