Perhaps the most tiresome complaint about Christians is that they are hypocrites.
Just typing the word makes me yawn. Yes, some professed believers are sanctimonious. Yes, some are false. Yes, some are even manipulative. But most are like me; they are garden-variety moral losers. And how boring is that?
The majority of complaints about supposed hypocrisy are really complaints about moral weakness and failure, something that plagues everyone. Can it be any other way? Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 to be perfect. Ever succeed at that? Me neither.
One response to this is to define morality down, to lower the bar. If losing your temper, or taking God’s name in vain, or having lustful thoughts, or gossiping, or gorging yourself at the dinner table are suddenly acceptable behaviors, then one need not let them bedevil the conscience.
Our therapeutic, narcissistic, self-actualized culture has become quite adept at loosening the tolerances on our moral filters so that just about anything can get by. As the church lamentably drifts with the culture, the more significant concern is not a church full of strident but hypocritical moralists; it’s a church full of supposed Christians who don’t care that much about biblical morality.
Instead of defining morality down, we should try living up to the impossible standard. After all, “if a thing is worth doing,” as G.K. Chesterton said, “it is worth doing badly.” That includes living the Christian life. Nobody does it perfectly, and coming up short shouldn’t stop us from giving it our all—despite opening us up to charges of hypocrisy. Like St. Paul we press toward the mark even though we stumble. That’s what repentance is all about.
The point of the Christian life is to progress into greater union with God, to become more like Christ and enjoy ever more communion with the Father. It’s a transformation that comes in degrees—and since God is infinite, growing into his image is a job and a joy that never ends.
We don’t settle for badly, but we have to start someplace. Look back on the last ten years of your life. Has your walk deepened, your faith grown, your understanding increased? Take heart and keep pressing toward the mark. None of us are done yet, none has arrived, and none of that matters. We keep going anyway.
Living the Christian faith badly is the only way to do it. And it’s the only thing worth doing.