Is the Church Full of Hypocrites? Part 2: What About the Log in our Eye?

You can read part 1 here

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Two texts that a person could point to–really the only two in the New Testament–to argue that Christians can be classified as hypocrites, are Matthew 7:1-5 and Luke 7:37-42. In both texts, Jesus, speaking to his disciples, appears at first glance to imply that a disciple who does not deal with his own sin before helping another disciple with their sin is not merely guilty of hypocrisy, but is, in fact, a hypocrite (Matt 7:4; Luke 7:42).

These passages are often used as proof texts for how Christians should conduct their ministry of confrontation and restoration. The pattern should be this: before you deal with the little sins in other brothers and sisters, first deal with the big sins in your life. Well and good. As a principle, this approach is certainly valid. But a closer look at these texts shows us that Jesus’ use of the word hypocrite in Matthew 7:1-5 and Luke 7:37-42 is consistent with how he uses it elsewhere. In other words, Jesus isn’t assuming the person with a log in their eye is a genuine believer who simply needs instruction on how to humbly interact with other believers. 

Characterized by Self-Righteousness
To what is Jesus referring, then? In both texts, but perhaps even more clearly in Luke 7:37-42, the log to which Jesus is referring is self-righteousness. And not just self-righteousness as a sin, but self-righteousness as a foundational character quality. Jesus is telling the disciple that before they can help others with their sin, they must first be delivered from their self-righteousness in a fundamental way. In other words, they must be born-again. You could say, then, that the log in this person’s eye is “un-conversion.”

Luke’s gospel clearly brings this out.

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:37-42 ESV)?

Like Matthew’s account, Jesus’ warning about judging others (v.37) precedes his rebuke of the “hypocrite” who is told to first remove the log from his own eye before he offers aid to the brother with the speck (v.42; see Matt 7:1-5). These two verses in Luke are tied together by a common theme: Jesus’ disciples are not to be characterized by self-righteous judgements among one another. In between these verses, however, we are given in Luke’s account some vital insight into whom Jesus is referring when he levels the classification of “hypocrite” in verse 42.

Jesus first asks, in verse 39, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Similarly, spiritually inept teachers will produce spiritually inept students: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” The key issue throughout verse 39-42 is spiritual sight. Blind men cannot lead blind men and those with logs in their eyes cannot see well enough to help others remove specks from their eyes.

Spiritual Blindness and Religious Hypocrisy
When Jesus refers here to blind leading the blind, it is likely that he has the spiritual state of the religious leaders in mind. Jesus calls the Pharisees “blind” five times and uses the phrase “blind guide” twice in his long rebuke of these religious leaders in Matthew 23 (vv. 16, 17, 23, 24). These accusations of blindness in Matthew are set along side the classification of hypocrite. In other words, to be a blind guide is to be a religious hypocrite (see also Romans 2:19). And to be a religious hypocrite is to be, as we’ve already noted, someone who is walking in unregenerate religiosity.

In other words, we must follow the New Testament by making a careful distinction between hypocrite as a theological-anthropological category, and hypocrisy as a sin. The former refers to a person who is walking in unregenerate religiosity for the praise of men and who is characterized by inconsistencies between his inward life and outward behavior; the latter is a sin of which believers can be guilty of, but from which Christians are able to repent (1 Pet 2:1; cf. Gal 2:13).

Christians are New Creatures…Really
Despite the slowness of our growth, our struggle with motives and authenticity, and the dullness we sometimes feel toward spiritual things, Christians are no longer characterized by hypocrisy. Why? Because salvation entails a genuine inward change so that a person’s outward religious life matches, to a significant degree, what is going on the inside. We are no longer dominated by a bent to appear righteous to others while we are “full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” on the inside (see Matt 23:27). Deliverance from pervasive religious hypocrisy is a benefit of the new birth. Praise God for his power to transform us and truly make us new creatures, not just those who pretend to be.

Photo: Garry Knight

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