Spiritual Hypocrisy

Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
— Isaiah 58:3

Did you know that the word “hypocrite” occurs 18 times in the Bible (ESV) and that 17 of the 18 occurrences come from the mouth of Jesus referring to the spiritual leaders of His day? 

The word “hypocrite” comes to English directly from the same Greek word. In ancient Greek, “hypocrite” did not have a negative connotation. Rather, it was the word used for an actor who was playing the role of another character on stage.

Nothing seemed to disgust Jesus more than those who “played the part” of a God-seeker while actually being a completely different person. 

Here in Isaiah, the Lord (before the incarnate Christ) fumes with the same mocking indignation at His people when they act as if they are seeking God wholeheartedly but are not:

Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God. — Isaiah 58:1-2

In Isaiah’s time many of the Jews were spiritual hypocrites. They were praying, fasting, worshiping, offering appropriate sacrifices, and the rest. But God was not answering their prayers. Why? Because they were only concerned with pleasing God to His face. When they weren’t directly interacting with God, they “sought their own pleasure” and “oppressed all their workers.” 

Aren’t we as American Christians guilty of some of this same kind of hypocrisy? 

We may be involved in our local church, pray, tithe, worship, sing, read the Bible, and even fast. But when we’re no longer “in the presence of God,” do we do whatever is best in our own eyes? We think we’ve pleased God with our “spiritual” deeds and assume He won’t really mind if we cheat, lie, slander, gossip, hate, envy, lust, covet, and over-indulge in leisure, sex, alcohol, and material gain. But the Lord looks on this kind of double-life and sees right through it. He will withhold His blessing from us until we recognize our wicked hypocrisy and restore our full-hearted devotion to Him in all areas of life.

Praise God that He is so gracious to not leave us in our sin. He is eager to forgive our waywardness and unleash His blessings on us when we restore our relationship with Him. 

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ — Isaiah 58:8-9

The Church as a whole in America has been shrinking in number and weakening in its impact, and the society continues to fall into greater moral decadence and tribal division. Perhaps we as God’s people have quenched God’s blessing because we’ve been playing the part of “little Christs” instead of being the real thing. May the Lord restore the integrity of our lives, and then the power of the Church, and then His blessing on our land.

Holy Father, forgive us for trying to please You only when we think it really matters. Cleanse our lives completely. Flush out all of our waywardness. Take away our desire to sin. Renew our first love for You and for those in Your image. Let us be true disciples. In Jesus’ name we ask with a broken heart, Amen.

Chuck Hetzler, Ph.D.
Senior Associate, Christian Union Day and Night


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