Overcoming Sin through Christ: Hypocrisy

Overcoming Sin through Christ

A Comprehensive List of Sins

(Alphabetically Arranged)

Richard Hollerman

The plan of this study is simple.  We will look at a large number of sins, one by one, alphabetically.  We will define the sin, describe it, and comment on it, along with noticing Scripture references on the particular entry.  Some illustrations will be offered along with the description.


This is a term often used in our contemporary life. People seem to freely make the charge, “She is a real hypocrite!”  A man may be labeled as a “rank hypocrite.” Someone may disparage a church by saying, “They are all hypocrites!”  A militant unbeliever may refer to Christians as a whole, “All Christians are hypocrites!” Someone may speak of a president or other politician by calling him (or her) a hypocrite. Do we really understand the meaning of this term that people seem to use so freely?  Could it be that someone who calls others people hypocrites is himself (or herself) an even greater hypocrite?

This sin is often found in secular contexts and universally hypocrisy is condemned.  In English, hypocrisy means “the practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or profess; falseness.”[1][1]  It means “the false profession of desirable or publicly approved qualities, beliefs, or feelings, esp. a pretense of having virtues, moral principles, or religious beliefs that one does not really possess.”[2][2]  The Greek hupokrisis means “play-acting,” and “pretence, hypocrisy.”  Hupokrites means “a stage-actor.”  “It was a custom for Greek and Roman actors to speak in large masks with mechanical devices for augmenting the force of the voice; hence the word became used metaphorically of ‘a dissembler, a hypocrite.’”[3][3]  The term was applied to “someone who acted in real life or who pretended to be something that he was not, especially in the moral aspects of life.”[4][4]

A hypocrite is one who plays a religious part but inwardly he is different from what he portrays.  A hypocrite may be interested in external forms and religiosity but inwardly his heart is untouched—and his spirit cold.  Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites” and quoted Isaiah, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.  But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:7-9; cf. 6:1-3).  Jesus also charged the Pharisees with hypocrisy when they attempted to say fine things about Him but this hid their evil motives.  He said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?” (Matthew 22:18; cf. Mark 12:15).

Hypocrisy is pretending to be pious when we are really not.  It is an especially ugly type of deceitfulness, since piety is supposed to be a life with and for God, who is Light and Truth. . . . To live hypocritically means to think that we are committed Christians, to pray much, read the Bible, be active in a Christian fellowship, perhaps even do missionary work, yet not practice what we read in the Bible, pray about and tell others to do.[5][5]

Again and again, the Lord called the Pharisees “hypocrites” since they held to religious acts but they were based on human tradition rather than God’s revelation.  They emphasized externals but “neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).  He charged them with inner corruption, “You, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (v. 28; cf. vv. 13-33).  It was especially important that one avoid doing external religious acts with insincere motives and only to receive the approval of others.

Jesus declared, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them” (Matthew 6:1).  The Lord singled out certain sins that the hypocrite often fell into.  He must be careful of giving to the poor to be noticed by others “as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men” (v. 2).  They must also beware of their praying: “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites” who love to “be seen by men” (v. 5).  He then singles out fasting: “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do” (v. 16).  Christ’s followers were not to be “religious” for the sake of others. Instead, they were to relate to God in the privacy of their heart, without the applause of others.

The Pharisees broadened their phylacteries and lengthened the tassels of their robes, to be noticed by others (Matthew 23:5).  They loved the places of honor at banquets and the “chief seats” in synagogues—to be seen by others (Matthew 23:6). They enjoyed walking around in “long robes” and loved respectful greetings by others, and they loved to pray long prayers—all to be seen and heard by others (Luke 20:46-47).  They also loved to pray where others would see and praise them (Matthew 6:5).  Jesus said, “They do all their deeds to be noticed by men” (Matthew 23:5; cf. 6:1).  We should ask ourselves whether we act hypocritically—displaying ourselves as religious, holy, righteous, pure, and devoted, but our heart is far from God (Matthew 15:7-9).

Christ warned, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1).  An attitude of play acting and a lifestyle in which religious play acting is a part is like yeast that influences a whole loaf of bread.  It spreads with its deadening effects.  Even Peter fell into the sin of hypocrisy.  Before the Jews from Jerusalem came to Antioch, he ate with the Gentiles, but when the Judaizers arrive, the apostle separated from the Gentiles and kept himself aloof.  The rest of the Jews followed him in this false way.  Paul could see that this was hypocrisy and rebuked Peter “in the presence of all” (Galatians 2:11-14).  Later Peter wrote his first letter and said that “hypocrisy” is a sin that a Christian must “put aside” along with other sins (1 Peter 2:1).  Paul warned of the danger of following false teachers, “by means of the hypocrisy of liars,” who propagate their false ways (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

How serious was the sin of hypocrisy to Jesus?  So grave was their religious “play acting” that Jesus declared, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” (Matthew 23:33).  Hypocrites will be lost where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51). Today hypocrisy is a threat as in Jesus’ own day.  People pray to be heard by others.  They preach to receive the approval of men. They give money to receive the praise of the public.  They dress so as to receive the acceptance of others.  People want to impress others with their sanctimonious externals.

Another form of hypocrisy is that some people try to “prove” that they are saved whereas their hearts are far away from God.  They want others to think they are following Jesus but they don’t have a burning desire to know Him, to follow Him, to obey Him, and to share Him.  John exposes the falseness of this profession when he wrote, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.  By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him, ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:4-6; cf. 1:6-7).

Christ calls on the contemporary hypocrite to get real with Him! Such a person needs to confess his play-acting, his pretense, his hypocrisy, and begin afresh with a sincere devotion to God.  This sincerity must permeate all of his life and all of his dealings with others.  (Sincerity is the very opposite of hypocrisy.)  He needs to realize that his religious play-acting will drag him down to hell unless he repents and begins to live an authentic life of heart-devotion to Jesus and a life of reality before others.


[1][1] The American Heritage College Dictionary.

[2][2] The Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.

[3][3] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[4][4] Mounce, Expository Dictionary.

[5][5] Schlink, You Will Never be the Same, p. 90.


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