Responding to “All Christians are Hypocrites” in Evangelism
I clearly remember the moment when a friend of mine visiting from Europe interrupted our conversation to say, “The problem I have with Christians is that you’re all hypocrites.”
I was ready for this statement, but only because I knew what I’m about to share with you. Now, you’ll be ready, too. Let’s walk through a few questions.
Are Christians capable of hypocrisy?
We shouldn’t have to think about this question, because of course the answer is … “yes.” Hypocrisy (or pretending/proclaiming to be one way when you’re actually living a different way) is very much a sin (lying) that a Christian can be capable of committing. This may seem trivial or obvious, but it’s so important to start here because a temptation for well-meaning Christians is to respond to the hypocrisy accusation with denial. If someone says, “all Christians are hypocrites,” and we respond with “no we’re not!” We put ourselves in a tight bind. After all, Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 7:1-5 not to judge hypocritically. The clear indication is that followers of Christ are capable of this and are warned against it. But capability and culpability are two different things – so we need to continue on to our next question.
Are Christians ever guilty of hypocrisy?
It doesn’t take much digging around online before you find headlines lambasting disgraced church leaders, mega-church musicians, and others for hypocrisy. During their time in the limelight, they clearly proclaimed one way of living and then actually lived a very different way. A person may argue that some of these people were never Christians to begin with, but none of them were Christians? What about those who have admitted to hypocrisy, sought forgiveness, and were restored to the Church? More importantly, what about accounts we see in Scripture like the one below?
When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. – Galatians 2:11-13 (NIV – bolding mine)
In the passage above, we see the Apostle Paul confronting Peter (Cephas) for his hypocrisy. Peter was not only a follower of Christ, but one of the leaders of the early church at the time! Later, in his own letter to a church, Peter tells Christians to actively put away hypocrisy (1 Peter 2:1-3). The clear implication is that it was rearing its head among brothers and sisters in the faith.
How do we use these two truths to our advantage in an evangelistic conversation?
People so often want secrets to getting the upper hand in an evangelistic conversation – so I’ll give you two big success secrets when it comes to answering the hypocrisy accusation: honesty and authenticity. Nothing will catch the accuser off guard more than, “You’re right. Christians are not only capable of hypocrisy, but many have been guilty of being hypocrites. We even see examples of this in the Bible.”
If they’re anything like the friend I mentioned at the beginning of this article, you may have to help them pick their jaw up from the floor. Expecting an argument or series of denials, they’ll likely be stunned into silence. It will give you the opportunity to say something like, “the reason this is true is because all people are capable of hypocrisy and guilty of it at times.” This becomes so much more powerful if you can follow it up with an example of a time when you were guilty of being hypocritical in judgment or action. If they seem open to it, you may even ask if they can think of a time when they were hypocritical. This will get us ready for our last question.
What’s so special about Christianity if Christians are hypocrites?
Once we help them see that nothing special has been uncovered with the observation that Christians can be hypocrites, we are ready for the most critical part of the conversation.
Christians are imperfect sinners clinging to a perfect Savior.
Christianity isn’t special because of Christians. It is special because of Christ and what He has accomplished on our behalf. The fact that we, as Christians, can be found sinning in a variety of ways (not just hypocrisy) is evidence that we are in desperate need of a Savior. The good news we get to share with our nonbelieving friends is this: we know who that Savior is and have placed our trust in Him alone for salvation from all our sins (including hypocrisy).
Back to my friend.
If you recall, he had just delivered the hypocrisy accusation. In response, I didn’t shift into a series of denials. I didn’t try to deflect the question or change the subject. I didn’t get upset and level accusations toward him. Instead, I walked him through exactly what I’ve just walked through with you. The result?
I’d love to say he fell to his knees, trusted in Christ, and is now a highly successful missionary leading thousands to Christ every year. That’s not what happened. What did happen is he listened carefully as a Christian explained what’s true about Christians, what’s true about Christianity, and what’s true about Christ. And for perhaps the first time, he gave the truth of the gospel a fair hearing.
So often we are just one link in the chain that ends up connecting someone to Christ. I don’t know where he stands with Christ today, but it was my privilege to be a link on that evening by responding to his question with gentleness, respect, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
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