When I was in high school we used to call people “posers” when they tried too hard to fit in. If you wore Vans and dressed like a skater but couldn’t ride a skateboard, you were a “poser.” Now that I look back on it, I realize that “poser” is just a different word for “hypocrite” — someone who says one thing or looks one way, but in reality acts or thinks differently.
One of the biggest arguments non-Christians cite as a reason they do not want to attend a church is because it is full of “hypocrites.” In many ways, I feel their pain.
I have noticed a great deal of spiritual pretentiousness in “Christian” groups. There are usually spoken and unspoken expectations of what a Christian looks and acts like. These expectations involve the way you dress, the way you talk, the music you enjoy, the books you read, and your political affiliation (to name a few). People are continually shocked to learn that I despise listening to happy, shiny K-love and am not a Republican. I am tired of kitschy, sentimental Christianity. I want a Christianity that works in the “real world.” A Christian is not someone who “looks” a certain way on the outside but, rather, someone whose heart has been transformed by Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Hypocrisy is a result of focusing too much on externals rather than focusing on the heart.
In my ministry with young adults, there is a temptation to breed the hypocrisy I so despise. If I am concerned only with teaching them to behave well and not to love God I will teach them to ornately paint their coffins and never deal with the dead bones inside (Matt. 23:27). If I only emphasize character traits (e.g., modesty, abstinence, honesty, commitment, etc.) and never deal with motivations and intentions then I will only teach them to look good on the outside. If they love “good” more than they love God then they will go to hell “good” people.
For me this means that I need to model genuine Christian transformation (2 Cor. 5:17). First, I do not need to play the part of a “good” Christian. I must be honest about my struggles. I cannot just imitate Christian vocabulary but must mean what I say. If I say, “I’ll be praying for you,” then I need to actually pray for you! Second, as Tim Keller says, I need to “repent not only for the things I do wrong but for the reasons I do right.” Am I doing good out of a heart that loves God or am I just trying to justify myself (Luke 10:29). Do I love and obey God as a means or as an end?
“Religious people love God to get things, gospel people love God to get God.”
— Tim Keller