The other day I was scrolling through one of the popular social media sites, and came across this post: “Yes I’m a Christian. Yes I can be the biggest hypocrite ever. I backslide. I stumble. I fall. I stray onto the wrong path. But God is working on me. I may be a mess, but I’m His mess….”
While I understand the sentiment of the statement, I fear that, for too many Christ-followers today, such an “understanding” is simply an excuse for bad behavior. It is a default excuse for not even trying to be different.
Paul, back in 60 A.D., told the new Christ followers of his day, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking” (Ephesians 4:17, NIV84).
If I can put that in modern English it would read something like this: “Straighten up. This is not a suggestion I’m giving you, it’s a command. Stop living like you used to live and stop using your past as an excuse for your present failures. If you go by the name Christian, there are family standards to keep and people are watching you.”
I do not know how true the story is, but an account is given of a battle fought by Alexander the Great which was particularly fierce. At the end of the battle, Alexander was holding court and passing sentence on soldiers who, in the heat of the battle, fled. Alexander had no pity for deserters, and one after the other heard the sentence of death.
As one young man was brought before the great leader, something in him caught the attention of Alexander, and, instead of a death sentence, Alexander counseled him to remain strong in the face of the enemy and, procuring the promise of the young man that he would not flee again, released him to go back to his company.
As the young man turned to leave, the great General called to him and inquired, “Young man, I never got your name!” Emboldened by the mercy he had just experienced, the young man turned, faced the commander of the Greek army and said with pride, “My name, sir, is Alexander.”
As the account goes, at this point Alexander the Great’s face clouded and turned crimson with rage. He leapt from his judgment chair sending it flying and jumped over the table separating him from those who stood before him on trial.
In a few quick strides, the General was upon the now suddenly fearful lad, who he grabbed by the throat, lifted him off his feet and shook like a rag doll. Then, bringing the boy’s face close to his, Alexander hissed, “If your name is Alexander, either change your conduct, or change your name!”
If you call yourself a Christian, you need to have a change in conduct. You cannot live as you once lived.
In fact, the Apostle Paul goes on in Ephesians 4 and after contrasting the Christian’s former life with their new life says, “But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything — and I do mean everything — connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life — a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you” (Ephesians 4:20–24, The Message).
It is high time those who claim to be Christian start living Christ-like lives. Stop using your past as an excuse for your present failures.
Indeed, it is impossible by the nature of the true definition of the words for one to claim, “I can be a Christian and still be the biggest hypocrite ever.” No, you can’t. You cannot be both a hypocrite (a person who pretends to be something they are not) and a true follower of Jesus Christ.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway Web site at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.