My wife and I have been house-hunting for several months now and one of the things we have noticed is how different the inside of a house can be from the outside. We have driven up to a house that looked so worn down on the outside that we questioned whether we should even go in, only to be impressed by the condition inside. One house seemed so beautiful from the outside that we couldn’t wait to look through it. It had new siding, a pretty yard and a general appearance that could only be described as impressive. Yet, when we walked through the inside we were overcome with disappointment because there was no comparison to the lovely exterior.
In thinking about that experience, the thought came to me that I know Christians that are like that. In fact, I have been that way myself from time to time. We put on the “good little Christian” face and go to church week after week. We look the part and sound the part and perhaps we are even a little impressive with our beautiful outward spirituality, but we know the truth. The truth is that the inside doesn’t match up. The inside is filled with bitterness, anger, hatred, fear, doubt, lust, pride, envy and a host of other hidden sins. We’ve worked so hard to cover them up, but they’re still there.
Though our image obsessed culture has certainly contributed to this phenomenon, it is not a new one. Jesus spoke to this problem even in His day. In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus made this declaration: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Now if we want to learn from Jesus’ warning, we must understand the target of his condemnation.
He is not condemning the pursuit of holiness as Scripture is clear that we must walk in righteousness and strive for holiness. Likewise, He is not condemning the fight against sin and He certainly isn’t promoting a sinful lifestyle instead of their outward righteousness. He’s also not condemning the mere existence of sin. Make sure you understand me here. Yes, Jesus hates sin and condemns it. But, his harsh condemnation here is not because of their sinful condition. Jesus understood that men were innately sinful and he approached the sinful condition of man with forgiveness, compassion and general sadness.
Instead, His intense condemnation is directed at those who deny their sinfulness and claim a false righteousness that is merely superficial. These people have elevated outward morality and ritual righteousness above genuine godliness. They want everyone to see how good they are and they condemn all who don’t live up to their standards. This manifests a pride, arrogance, and self-reliance that is in direct opposition to the filling of the Spirit.
Though we all likely know someone who lives this way on a regular basis (a pharisee), we also all know that we each have a capacity for this that we must resist. The solution for the true pharisee is a genuine salvation experience, but every believer should be on guard against this temptation and take steps to combat it. These steps begin with admitting our sinfulness to God and confessing it to Him with true repentance. Additionally, James 5:16 says “confess your sins to one another.” A certain cure for phoniness (or Pharisaism) is regular confession to other believers. Also, intentionally develop spiritual friendships. Rather than encouraging mere outward conformity, these close spiritual relationships can lead to genuine spiritual growth that manifests itself in outward behavior.
Churches can help with this problem as well by intentionally creating an atmosphere of acceptance – not of sin, but of sinners. It should be well understood that church is a messy place filled with forgiven sinners who are struggling at varying levels of their Christian walk. Too many churches communicate (most likely unintentionally) that anyone with problems is unwelcome. Instead, the church should be communicating that we understand that genuine Christians struggle with sin and we want to help.
These are just a few ways that we can combat this temptation, but combat it we must. True vulnerability is a scary thing to consider, but it is absolutely necessary for a healthy spiritual life. Despite the initial discomfort, I would challenge you to take immediate action to be more honest about your sinfulness while also working to overcome it. Though we cannot hide our sin or fake a righteousness we don’t have, we do want to diligently pursue a genuine holiness that will produce an outward righteousness. This is a goal we must never lose sight of and should never give up pursuing in this life.