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James Merritt - Aren't All Church People Hypocrites?

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    James Merritt - Aren't All Church People Hypocrites?
TOPICS: Hypocrisy

Well, I wanna say good morning. And first of all, I want you to be encouraged today. You know, there's a lot of discouraging news out there and you kind of get up every morning and you think to yourself, what's next? I just wanna remind you again that this world is not out of control. It may seem to be, but it's not. We have a God on the throne in heaven, he is in control. His hands on the throttle, he knows exactly what he's doing and that's what makes being a Christian in these days so wonderful, to know that we have a God that we can trust. And by the way, one of the advantages, even though you're not here today in person, you can't really interact when you're in person. You have to sit still and be still while I instill. But now you can interact and we want to hear from you.

If you'll just go to your screen, your computer screen, for example, to your right, there's a little chat box there and we want to hear from you. You can ask questions, you can make comments, you can agree, you can disagree, you can get mad, sad or glad, it doesn't matter. But we want you to interact. We would love to hear from you. Every church that I have ever pastored has had one thing in common, and it's never ever failed to happen. As a matter of fact, every Christian Church that's ever existed has had one common denominator. And that is every church has hypocrites. I tell young pastors all the time, you know, I would have a perfect job if I had no people. When you got people, you got problems. And one of the problems that people have is the problem of hypocrisy. And frankly, that really shouldn't be surprising.

The movement that Jesus started, called Christianity, to be honest, has probably produced more hypocrites than any other religious movement in the entire world. As a matter of fact, if you care about the church, that ought to bother you. If you care anything about the church, this is not a fact that just oughta, you know, make your shoulders shrug and say, well, yeah, we got hypocrites, but there's hypocrites everywhere. I get that. But I mean, in the church and the reason why I oughta bother you and the reason why it grieves me, it is a top reason why unchurched people don't come to church. Why they don't respect the church, why they laugh at the church, why they ridicule the church, why they yawn at the church. And why they find other things better to do than to go to church. Hypocrisy within the church has provided ammo to our biggest critics.

Listen, we've loaded the gun that people shoot at us every single day because we deal with hypocrisy. One skeptic wrote this and I thought it was perfect. He said, "A Christian is a person who feels repentance on Sunday for what he did on Saturday and is going to do again on Monday". And I wonder how many people look at Christians exactly that way? Now because it's always the church's job to reach the next generations. The reason why I started this church many, many years ago, because we started this church saying, "We wanna reach the next generation because we're always one generation away from going outta business". But that's becoming increasingly difficult to do because we now know that the younger generation, unfortunately, they associate the term hypocritical with Christianity. A poll several years ago indicated, listen to this, upwards of 85% of young people who do not go to church, unchurched young people, when they hear the term Christianity, they think hypocritical. Of the young people who do go to church, 50% of them say when they think of the term Christianity, they think of the term hypocritical.

Now we're in a series that we're calling from there to here. It's belief barriers. There are certain things about the Christian faith and certain things about what we see and what we believe that causes a lot of people who are not Christians to say, "You know what? I just can't get there from here. When I look at who I am and I look at what Christianity has to offer, and then I think about these barriers, I just can't get there. I just can't do it". For example, last week we looked at the very first belief barrier. One of the top barriers to people becoming a Christian is this question. If God is good, why do we have evil in the world? I mean, for a lot of people, that's a showstopper. For a lot of people, that's where they get off the bus. I can't reconcile a good loving God with evil.

Well, today we're going to deal with the next one. And it's this one. Since the church is full of hypocrites, why should I go to one or be a part of one? I wanna be honest, that's a hard question. Because if hypocrisy, especially among religious people, sets you off, if you are one of those people right now you're saying, "Yeah, that's why I don't go to church. That's why I don't go to your church. That's why I don't go to any church. I'm sick and tired of the hypocrisy". If that sets you off, can I just be honest? You're in good company. You know, we all have things that tick us off. Strike a nerve, hit our hot button. Let me tell you something. Jesus had one big hot button. If you wanted to set Jesus off, if you wanted to raise his blood pressure, if you wanted to see the veins pop out on his neck, just bring it to his presence, religious hypocrites, he railed against it repeatedly. He denounced the biggest religious hypocrites of his day.

As a matter of fact, in just one conversation, no fewer than seven times, here's what he said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees", they were the ultra religious crowd. They were the big time church going crowd. They strutted their religious dub. "You hypocrites"! Oh, it just burned him up. It made him so angry. Now the question is, what was it about hypocrisy and hypocritical people that just set him off? What was it about religious hypocrisy that made Jesus so angry? He said there were two things that just drove him up the wall. First of all, he said, they do not practice what they preach. And then he said, everything they do is done for people to see. They don't practice what they preach and then what they do practice, they just do it to put on a show. In other words, here's what really got to Jesus, is when you publicly talk the talk, but you don't privately walk the walk.

And I'll be honest, I've been there. In fact, the word for hypocrisy or hypocrite is really a very interesting word because there was a time and a day when it really wasn't negative. The actual word that Jesus used for hypocrisy, is the Greek word for actor, is where we get the word for acting. Because back in the day, one of the major forms of entertainment was the theater. And so Greek enrollment actors, here's what they would do. They would wear a large mask or they would wear different costumes or they would wear shoes with platforms that would increase their size. Because what they were trying to do was they were trying to make themselves to appear to be something that they really weren't, they were just acting out. In other words, they would do everything they could to make themselves appear to be something that really wasn't true about them at all.

So they would wear a different mask to portray different emotions. And that's why they were called hypocrites. And they did that because they wanted to set off a certain emotion. They'd wanna make you angry, then they'd wanna make you happy, they'd wanna make you laugh, they'd wanna make you cry. So they put on a hypocritical appearance to make you feel certain things. And the amazing thing is, the word hypocrisy and hypocrite didn't even have a negative connotation until Jesus came along. Jesus is actually the person that gave this word 'hypocrisy' an aura and a stench about it that we absolutely hate. Hypocrites, the word hypocrites is used 17 times in the New Testament and every one of them is by Jesus. It was one of his, unfortunately, favorite words because nobody used it or talked about it as much as he did. And Jesus is who first used the word in a way that shapes the way we look at it today. He made it such a negative term and in the greatest sermon that's ever been preached, in my opinion as a preacher, of the Sermon on the Mount, he deals with this issue head on and he tells his disciples then, and his followers now, I want to tell you how to avoid what I'm gonna call holy hypocrisy.

I mean, it's one thing to be a hypocrite. It's another thing to try to be a holy hypocrite. And Jesus was sharing with them, let me tell you how to avoid hypocrisy. And I wanna tell all of us who love Jesus, who claim to be Christians, who are connected to the church, if we wanna reach the next generation, if we wanna build bridges and tear down barriers, we have got to do everything we can to avoid hypocrisy. And Jesus said to do that, there are three things that we need to do and they're hard, but we need to do them. He said, number one, be holy in your private life. Be holy in your private life. Now this is kind of interesting, it's gonna sound contradictory, but he said the only way to cure public hypocrisy is through private holiness.

Now that may sound contradictory. In other words, Jesus said, if you're going to preach what you practice, you're going to have to practice what you preach. Now, before we get too deep into this, I want you to understand what hypocrisy is not. Because what some people call hypocrisy is not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is not the difference between what you are and what you want to be. That is not hypocrisy. It is not the separation between what you want to do and what you actually do. Hypocrisy is simply the difference between your private character and your public conduct. When we preach publicly what we don't practice privately, it's because we don't practice privately what we preach publicly. And when you do that, then here's what you do. You pretend to be something you're not. You put on a show, you're just acting out.

Now let me just be honest, that's not a bad thing. Pretending to be someone that you're not is not a bad thing, if you are truly an actor. As a matter of fact, if you're good enough as an actor, you can win an Oscar, you can win an Academy Award, you can make millions and millions of dollars. We pay good money to go see people who are great at pretending to be something that they're not. You can be very successful doing that. But Jesus said it is a completely different situation when it comes to the way you live your life in real life. You should never pretend to be something in public, that you are not in private. And, oh, by the way, what you ought to be doing is simply playing out in public what you practice privately.

See, what causes Hollywood to give out awards and Oscars and fame and fortune gives Jesus a sickness in the pit of his stomach. What causes his Hollywood to break out in celebration causes heaven to break out in condemnation. You may, if you keep up with the news, a few months ago there was a congressman, I'm not gonna call his name. There was a congressman who was one of the, in fact, he was the strongest pro-life advocate in Congress. He had a 100% perfect pro-life voting record. He was the darling of everyone that was pro-life. He had to resign. You know why? Because it was discovered that he had a mistress on the side. He had gotten this woman pregnant and he was urging her and pressuring her to get an abortion.

See, his problem was not what he said in public. His problem was what he did in private, his private belief or what he said he believed did not match his public behavior. Some of you may know the name Lee Strobel, one of my favorite authors, Lee Strobel at one time was an atheist. Not only was he an atheist, he didn't, it's not that he just didn't believe in God. He hated Christianity, he despised Christianity. Well, he became a Christian and as he became a Christian, he listed the reasons why he absolutely despised Christianity. Here's what he said was the biggest reason that kept him so many years from even considering the Christian faith. Listen to his words. He said, "The folks who chased me away from the faith were cosmetic Christians".

Well, what a damning term that is. Cosmetic Christians. "They had a skin-deep spirituality that looked pretty good on the outside but didn't penetrate deep enough to change their behaviors and their attitudes. Frankly, I don't think anything repulses people like the hypocrisy of cosmetic Christians". I think he's right. If I were not a believer, that's the thing that would absolutely just turn me totally off. And you see, Jesus knew that the first place you have to start, if you wanna make up your mind today, I don't wanna be a hypocrite. I don't want people to see me one way when I'm really another way. If you don't wanna be infected with the disease of hypocrisy, Jesus said, here's where you've gotta start. You don't start by trying to change what you are in public. You've gotta change who you are in private. In fact, Jesus talked about the secret place, the secret part of our life three times in Matthew chapter six.

Listen to what he said. He said, "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is in secret, will reward you". Hear that word 'secret'? He's talking about the private part. Then he says this. "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, pray to your Father, who is unseen". The private part. Nobody sees. Shut the door. Only the Father is looking. And then he says this. "But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you".

So let me just ask yourself a question. When I was studying for this message, I wrote this down and I just gotta sit back and I had to ask myself this question. I wanna tell you I didn't like the answer, to be honest. If your heart was a glass window that people could look into and see what you really are, would you want it to be a stained glass with the curtains closed? Or would you want it to be clear so everybody can see it? In other words, are you really in private what you claim to be in public? If you don't hear anything else in this message, I want you to hear this. The most important part of your life will always be the part that nobody sees but you and God. The most important part of your life will always be the part that nobody sees but you and God. Because it's in that secret place, in that private place. There's no applause. Nobody's clapping for you. There's no acclaim. Nobody's telling you how great you are. There are no awards. Nobody's giving you a trophy to put in a case or a badge to wear.

When you're in that secret part of your life, it's for his eyes only. And that's where God wants to know that he has your heart. Be holy in your private life. Then Jesus said this, be humble in your public life. Be humble in your perfect life. Now listen, there's a sure fire test to know whether or not you are in private what you ought to be. It's real easy. If you are holy in your private life, you will be humble in your public life. In fact Jesus gives a stark warning to all of us who are religious, all of us who claim to be spiritual, all of us who claim to be Christians, all of us who claim to be a part of the church. He said, there is a temptation. Don't ever succumb to this temptation. Listen to what he says. "Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven".

You know what's very interesting? That word 'seen' is the same word in Greek that gives us the word for theater. It means something to be stared at. In other words, Jesus said, if you're going to be righteous, if you're going to be godly, don't put on a show. Don't turn your life into a Broadway performance. Don't just be what you are when the spotlight comes on. Don't be a religious hypocrite. See, that's what the Pharisees did. They made sure they were spiritual in prime time. They had to strut their stuff, spiritually. But now that raises a question. You say, wait a minute, I got a question. What is the difference between practicing righteousness the right way and practicing it the wrong way? Alright, well listen again now to what Jesus said about the Pharisees in another passage. Here's what he said, "For they loved human praise more than praise from God". They cared more about what other people thought of them than what God knew about them.

See, back in that day, if you were Jewish, there were three primary ways that you proved your righteousness before God. There were three primary ways that you would practice your religion or your righteousness. There's three ways, we've already looked at 'em, giving, fasting and praying. Now let me just make something plain. There's nothing wrong with giving. We ought to give. Certainly nothing wrong with praying. We ought to pray more. And there's nothing wrong with fasting. We ought to really, probably ought to, particularly in this day and age, we ought to be fasting more. Nothing wrong with those, Jesus expects us to do it. Even today, Jesus says, look, yes, you ought to give. You ought to fast, you ought to pray. But don't do it for show. So he says in verse two, "When you give to the needy, don't announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly, I tell you, they have received their reward in full".

In other words, Jesus said, you ought to give to the poor and you ought to give to the needy. But listen carefully, when you give to the poor and you give to the needy, only the poor and the needy should know about it. Only the poor and the needy should know about it, 'cause the only one who ought to get the honor and the glory is God. Because he's the one that gave you the money and the wherewithal to give to the poor to begin with. So he talks about giving, then he moves on to prayer. He says this, "when you praye, don't be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogue and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly, I tell you, they have received their reward in full".

See, back in the day, Pharisees had a reputation for doing two things great. They were known as great teachers and they were known as great prayers. And boy did they know how to put on a show. They would stretch out their hands with their palms upward like this. They'd have their heads bowed and they would give the speech of a lifetime. They would pray as loud as they could. And oh by the way, you know where they would pray, they would find the most crowded street corner down close to the market. So all the people walking by would hear them and see them and they would say, man, Dr. Pharisee, he is so close to God. Have you ever heard anybody pray like that in your life? That was when the lights were on. That was when it was in public. That's why I love what the great preacher, Charles Burgeon said. Charles Burgeon said, "Let your public prayers be brief. Let your private prayers be as long as you want". Then he goes on to fasting. "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full".

See the Jewish every week, there were two days to fast. Monday and Thursday. Guess what? They also happened to be the big market days. That's when people would go to the market and buy their food and things that they needed. So Pharisees would always make sure that on Monday and on Thursday, their hair would be outta place. Their clothes would be dirty and wrinkled. They would look haggard. As a matter of fact, they would kind of let people know, hey, you have to excuse the way I looked today, I'm fasting. They wanted people to know exactly what they were doing.

Now again, the problem with hypocrisy, now hear this, it's not what you do, that's not the problem with hypocrisy, it is how you do it and who you do it for. Jesus said on the one hand, don't hide your life under a bushel. Don't put your light under a jar. We are to practice our Christian faith publicly. We're to share our faith in Jesus publicly. You go to a restaurant, you ought to bow your head, you ought to pray. There's nothing wrong with that. But we're not to do it in such a way that we want people to notice us, brag on us, slap us on the back and tell us what great Christians we are. Because listen again to what Jesus said. He said, "Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full".

By the way, that word 'reward' literally means paid in full. In other words, here's what he said. If you do what you do for the praise of others, not for the glory of God, if you do what you do to get the trophy, to get the badge, to get your name in the paper, to get recognized, to let people know what a great person that you are. If you do it for human applause rather than for divine approval, he said, then that's all you're ever going to get.

So if you give money to the church just for the tax write off, God writes down zero. If you pray, but you make sure your best praying and your longest praying is in public, so people will think you really have a great walk with God, God shuts his ears. When you fast, and I love, and I'm not trying to be cruel, just being honest, I love these people who go on a 40 day fast and tell you they're on a 40 day fast. When you fast, God says, if you're gonna let people know it and you're gonna let people think, oh, aren't you so spiritual because you fast, you may as well be eating the biggest steak in town. You be holy in your private life. You be humble in your public life. And then Jesus said this, be honorable in your personal life. Be honorable in your personal life.

See, we wanna do everything we can to be a stepping stone to Jesus, not a stumbling block. So there's something we gotta remember that Jesus repeats three times in this passage, said three times. And it's the firewall, it's a guaranteed firewall that will keep you from hypocrisy. Listen to what Jesus said. "Your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you". Your father who sees what is done, not in your public life, but in your personal life, he will reward you. I wanna say it one more time. The most important part of your life is the part that only God sees. The most important part of my life is the part that God sees.

Can I tell you something? If I'm what I ought to be, the James Merritt that you see standing on this stage will be the same James Merritt you see in his backyard. The same James Merritt you think I am when I'm up here preaching and teaching is the same James Merritt that he is at home with his wife and his family. That is the difference. I love the way somebody put it. The theology that really matters is not the theology we profess, it's the theology we practice. That's such a great statement. I don't just, I don't wanna know what you tell me you believe. I want you to show me how you behave. The only honor we ought to be seeking is God's honor. The only glory we ought to be after is God's glory. The only praise we ought to ever worry about is God's praise. And in order to do that, you cannot be a phony.

So what Jesus was basically saying was this, look, say what you mean, mean what you say. Whatever you are in public, be the same thing in private. Make up your mind. Listen, make up your mind what you truly believe. Not just what you say you believe and then behave what you believe. What blows my mind about so many people I've passed through the years is they say they believe one thing, but they believe something else. Be what you need to be in private and you'll be who you need to be in public. One of my favorite sayings, I don't know who said it, it was an old country preacher. It was terrible grammar, but it was great theology. He said, "Be who you is, because if you ain't who you is, you is who you ain't". "Be who you is, because if you ain't who you is, you is who you ain't".

I was reading the other day about Robert Redford. He was walking through a hotel lobby and a woman saw him and she recognized him, couldn't help herself. She ran up to him and he was about to get into the elevator and she was so excited and she said, "Excuse me, I just gotta ask you a question". She said, "Are you the real Robert Redford"? And without even a smile, Robert Redford looked at her and he said, "Only when I'm alone", he told more truth than he even realized. The real you, I'll tell you who the real you is. It's who you are when you are alone. The real you is who you are personally, what you do personally, what you believe personally.

So lemme just say a word to everyone out there right now and you're one of those people that, you know, you've seen this holy hypocrisy. It has turned you off. You have forsaken the church. You've said, forget it. I don't care what you say, what you do, I am not coming. I have totally rejected the church. Let me just be gut level honest. If you're looking for hypocrites, you won't find a better place to go than the church. My church, I'm just being honest. Yes, we absolutely have hypocrites. We are guilty as charged. But before you're too quick to reject, I want you to keep three things in mind. First of all, all human beings are sinners. You got problems. You may not be a hypocrite, but you're a sinner just like everybody else. All hypocrites are sinners, but not all sinners are hypocrites.

And I wanna say this, I pastored five churches. I have literally pastored thousands and thousands of people. And I can bear witness, most of the people I've pastored are not hypocrites. They're not perfect. They know they fall short. They do love Jesus. They do wanna live out their faith, but we all fail. Now, having said this, this may surprise you, I not only know that they are hypocrites in the church. You ready for this? I hope they are. And I hope they keep coming because church is exactly where hypocrites need to be. You know why? So this is where, so they can come here and meet the one that can deliver them from hypocrisy. Which leads me to the biggest point that I wanna make.

Please hear me. Christianity is not based on how a Christian lives. In fact, Christianity's not based on how someone who says they are a Christian lives. Christianity is based on who Jesus is. If you reject Christianity because there are hypocrites in the church, that would be like rejecting your football team because a quarterback throws an interception. That'd be like rejecting the football team because a running back fumbles the ball. Let me tell you a true story. The great evangelist Billy Graham's wife, Ruth, told a story one time. She was in India and she met this young college student from India, his name was Pashi. Pashi was not a believer. But here's what he said to Ruth Graham. He said, you know, he said, "Mrs. Graham, in India", he said, "There are a lot of us that would like to believe in Christ, but we've just never met a Christian who was like Christ".

Well, Ruth Graham said she didn't really know how to answer that 'cause she knew what he was saying was true. So she went to an Indian Christian scholar, his name was Dr. Akbar Abdul-Haqq. He was a former Hindu, became a believer. And she said to him, here's what this student said and I'm not quite sure how to answer the question. And here's what he said. He said, that's very simple. Tell him this. "I am not offering you Christians. I am offering you Christ". "I am not offering you Christians. I am offering you Christ".

I'm sorry the church has failed some of you. I'm sorry there've been public figures like me who have failed some of you. There are hypocrites in the church. There's hypocrisy, by the way, there's hypocrisy in the grocery store. There's hypocrisy in the schools, there's certainly hypocrisy in the government. We don't have a monopoly on it. But this is what I wanna leave you with. Don't you ever put your faith in a pastor. Don't you ever put your faith in a church. Don't you ever put your faith in a denomination. Don't you even put your faith in a religion. You put your faith in Jesus. 'Cause I'll tell you what I found and I put my faith in him a long time ago. You won't find one scintilla, of one iota, of one fraction, of one ounce of hypocrisy in Jesus. You put your faith in him. And guess what? You'll not only find in him someone who has never been, never will be, and never can be hypocritical at all. You'll find in him the one that can deliver you from your hypocrisy as well.

Would you pray with me right now? If you'll just bow your heads right where you are, I'm gonna make a very hard statement, but it's absolutely true. The greatest hypocrisy in the world and the greatest hypocrite in the world is the person who thinks they can be good enough for God on their own. It's the person who thinks they can work their way to God. They can earn their way to God. Let me tell you something, no, every hypocrite is a sinner, but not all sinners are hypocrites, but all people are sinners. And there's one thing you and I have in common. We're sinners and we need a savior. We need a hypocrite-less savior. His name is Jesus. He died on the cross, came back from the grave. You have never trusted in that Jesus.

And that's why maybe you've never become a believer because you trusted Christians and they let you down. You trusted a church, it let you down. You trusted a religion, it let you down. I get it. But you put your faith in Jesus, he will never let you down. If you've never trusted in that Jesus, today, I want just to invite you to do it.

Can I tell you this and then we're gonna pray. I've been a part of the church since I was born. My mom took me to church when I was a baby. I love the church. Church didn't change my life. I'm a Christian. Christianity's not a religion, but if it were, the Christian religion didn't change my life. I'm a member of a convention, Great Commission Baptists is what we love to call ourselves. They didn't change my life. Jesus changed my life. And if you would like for that Jesus to change your life today and deliver you once and for all from the greatest hypocrisy, just tell him right now.

Lord Jesus, I want you to become my savior. I want you to become my Lord. I'm not gonna be the kind of hypocrite anymore that thinks I'm good enough for you and I don't need you. I do need you. So today I repented my sins. I turn away from my sins. I ask you right now to become my Lord. I ask you right now to become my savior. And I ask you right now to save me. Forgive me of all of my sins. Give me your gift of eternal life and now give me the power not to be a hypocrite, but to be the holy person that you called me to be.

I want to tell you, Jesus is worth knowing. Jesus is worth loving. And yes, the church is worth being a part of with all of our faults, flaws, and failures and affordables, yes, there are many, but what makes it so wonderful is that Jesus lives in us and resides over us.
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