Hypocrisy, Humility and the Applause of God
“Straight outta Compton,” are lyrics that will forever be engrained in the gray matter of my brain. It’s stuck. I’ve tried to forget them. I can’t. I listened to a lot of bad music before I came to know Christ as Savior and Lord.
Following my conversion I was introduced to music that was categorized not by its style but by the content of its message. I still remember the sound byte on one particular album. An excerpt from a sermon was used to intro to a particular song, “The greatest single cause for atheism in the world today is Christians who confess to know Jesus with their lips yet walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyles. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
In the Roman theatre, during the time of the writing of the New Testament, the actors were all men. To play the part of a woman an actor would wear a mask. Such an actor would be considered to be “playing the hypocrite.”
The origin of the word hypocrisy makes perfect sense as to its common day usage. Hypocrisy can mean pretending to be someone we are not. However, because no one is perfect this definition breaks down. Because no one perfectly upholds their ideals – everyone is a hypocrite. Thus, a more nuanced definition is necessary. I submit a simple working definition of hypocrisy, “Preaching a standard you don’t strive to live by.”
In the second chapter of Romans Paul hits the heart of the issue for his audience. In the second chapter of Romans (verses 17-20) Paul delineates the spiritual goals they were setting for others. He lowers the blow in verse 23 by asking, “But do you teach yourself?” This is the core problem in hypocrisy. We teach others principles that we ourselves are not striving to live by. He informs them that their actions are not without consequence.
Paul quotes the Prophet Isaiah to illustrate the far reaching effects of their hypocrisy, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” He is showing them that the Gentiles are breaking the Ten Commandments because of the Jews. Ouch. They are blaspheming the name of God, a practice orthodox Jews avoided like the plague. Their hypocrisy didn’t lead to the holiness of others. It contributed to their depravity and it robbed God of his proper glory among the nations.
In the midst of this dark scene Paul shows that there is a ray of hope. Some of the Gentiles were actually following the law which God had written on their hearts (see Romans 1). They were actually following this internal compass to the Creator. In what must have been extremely offensive, Paul tells the Jews that such Gentiles would serve in judgement of God’s chosen people. Double ouch.
Here we see a theme of Scripture parading before us in living metaphor. God resists the proud and exalts the humble. The Jews who possessed the oracles of God were guilty of expecting others to do what they were unwilling to do themselves. The Gentiles were, in their weakness, responding to God’s internal revelation and finding forgiveness in return. Pride, as the Old Testament states, comes before the fall. It is the righteous who live by faith. Such a life is marked by humility.
THE APPLAUSE OF GOD
Those who in humility respond to God through faith are rewarded with the applause of Heaven. Paul says of the one who believes, “His praise is not from man but from God (Romans2:29).” The hypocrites play the part. With the world as their stage, they are content to receive the applause of men. The problem with men is that they can be easily fooled. The problem with God is that he is never fooled. This is, of course, only a problem for those who are seeking to fool God, which would serve as a fitting description of the life of the hypocrite.
I’ve thought a lot about the fact that we cannot make our main goal to be accepted by the broader culture. Because of my position at Southern I have the wonderful privilege of getting to be around some amazing leaders. A recent comment from Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, will remain with me for the rest of my life. Without going into great detail, he simply stated that all Christians will at some point have to face the ridicule of the broader society. He spoke of the inevitability of the offense of the gospel. He, in just a few brief sentences, reminded me that it is God’s applause alone which really matters.
I recently spoke to a group of college students in Vancourver, British Columbia, Canada. During one talk I made the comment that the more specific one is in their Christian beliefs, the less respect they will receive from their secular colleagues. One young lady who had been a Christian for only a few months approached me afterwords. She asked, in essence, “Will my faith in Christ cost me my career?”
This is a good question worthy of consideration. Perhaps recent headlines will provide commentary on her inquiry. I first considered this scenario by reading an article on AlbertMohler.com discussing Francis Collins.
FRANCIS COLLINS: A Scandalous Scientist
If you haven’t heard of him, he was the head of Human Genome Project. President Obama recently appointed him as the national director of the Institutes of Health. Sufficient to say, he is a highly accomplished scientist.
Sam Harris, a leader among the new atheists, takes issue with Obama’s appointment of Collins in his New York Times article:
“Francis Collins is an accomplished scientist and a man who is sincere in his beliefs. And that is precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about his nomination. Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?”
A more loaded evaluation can be found on an extended version of this piece which Harris posted on his blog. The following paragraph, which he added to the New York Times piece, is telling:
“In fact, to read The Language of God (Written by Francis Collins) is to witness nothing less than an intellectual suicide. It is, however, a suicide that has gone almost entirely unacknowledged: The body yielded to the rope; the neck snapped; the breath subsided; and the corpse dangles in ghastly discomposure even now—and yet, polite people everywhere continue to celebrate the great man’s health.”
If you are seeking the applause of men as a follower of Christ you will likely be disappointed. While Collins’ belief has not kept him from a fruitful career, it has made his scientific work ‘suspect.’
Whose applause are you seeking? Who do you want to please?
Christians should not be suprised by the scandal of the gospel. This is, in fact, exactly what Christ and the Apostles have told us to expect. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul states, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” This doesn’t mean Christians are to be lazy in the field of science. This is of course not the case with Francis Collins. It simply means our greater interpretations of the data, our metanarrative, will forever make our academic standing ’suspect.’
PLAY THE FOOL NOT THE HYPOCRITE
I’ll play the fool if that is how the world wishes to see me. I’ll study like a mad hatter, seek to investigate the data, rejoice in the progress of scientific discoveries, yet all the while – recognize that I hold to a very different interpretation of the world. My conclusions shape and are shaped by a specific metanarrative. This is not unique to Christians.
Everyone posses a worldview which informs how they look at “the facts.” Perhaps the best example of this can be found in the 1997 New York Times book review of a Carl Sagan work written by Richard Lewontin. Lewontin serves as Harvard’s Professor of Biology Emeritus, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Emeritus. His surprisingly honest confession is illustrative of how one’s worldview affects research priorities:
“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
My view of the universe forms a worldview that is as simple as it is complex.
God created the world, which speaks of our origins.
We have rebelled against the creator, which speaks to the problem of evil both theoretical and practical.
He has written himself into human history in the person of Christ whose life was perfect, his substitutionary death is our atonement, and his resurrection is our hope. Because these events took place in time and space they can be investigated historically. I believe Christ alone is our hope for peace with the Creator God, and our basis for meaning, morality and purpose.
God will restore all things through Christ: The earth is moving from something towards someone.
In short, I could summarize the metanarrative I hold with six simple words; God loves, Sin separates and Jesus saves.
That is foolishness. That is the gospel.
“Will the gospel ruin your career?”
I don’t know.
A far more important question is, “Whose applause are you living for?”
The answer to the latter question will reveal the significance of the first.
We can either play the hypocrite and seek the applause of men or we can play the fool by attempting to live transparent lives which are broken yet are being made whole by Christ.
That’s the gospel.
Of this, Paul says we need not be ashamed.