When Christians Are So unlike Christ
“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” These famous words are attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. According to Gandhi, his way of life was inspired first and foremost by the life and teachings of Jesus. But he never seriously considered becoming a Christian. Not because of Christ, but because of Christians. While Gandhi was in
Europe, he saw racism and
self-righteousness instead of love among Christians. Once he was asked to leave
a church service because he was not white, and he was routinely denied rooms
and tables at Christian-owned hotels and restaurants because he was a Hindu.
Gandhi saw very little of Christ in the lives of Christians.
Unfortunately, Gandhi was not alone in his displeasure with Christians,
followers of Christ.
“You Are Hypocrites”
Today’s passage is one of the hardest sayings of Jesus in the Bible. Matthew 23 is called “Seven woes to the religious leaders,” or “A warning against hypocrisy.” As we read this passage, for many of us the first thing that comes to mind is the group of the self righteous people in the Church. There are so many self righteous people, particularly pastors and church leaders. The thing is they don’t think that they are self righteous. In v. 30 Jesus says, “And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’” In others words, many of the self righteous Christians don’t have acute self-awareness. They deny. In fact, they are deceived by themselves. They don’t know what they are doing. Even when Pharisees and religious leaders were crucifying Christ, the Son of God, they didn’t know what they were doing. So Jesus prayed for them, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke ISV). In today’s scripture Jesus uses a very familiar analogy for the people of
– “whitewashed tombs” analogy (vv. 27-28). At the time of Jesus it
was a custom to mark tombs with white chalk, so that pilgrims who were
traveling to Jerusalem, especially during Passover time, would not come in
contact with a tomb and be unclean for seven days (Num 19:16). On the outside whitewashed
tombs looked good, clean, and even beautiful. But on the inside they were
filled with dead men’s bones and all kinds of impurity. Jesus says, “In the
same way, outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts
are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness” (v. 28 NLT). This is Jesus’ verdict against
the religious leaders at his time. And I think probably there is a good chance
that today’s church will have the same verdict. Israel
In his article, “Can Your Church Handle the Truth?” Matt Russell shares inconvenient truth with us. Every day for nine months, Matt sat at a coffee shop in
, with a cell
phone and a list of people who had left the church. He called everyone on the
list, set up meetings, and listened to their stories. He recounted, “I’d ask
questions about their perceptions, their experiences, and their thoughts about
church. And what I heard broke my heart and changed my life.” He discovered
that most people had not left the church because of some doctrinal issue or
change in their beliefs. Rather, most of them were struggling with something
they could not hide—abuse, sex addictions, eating disorders, gambling, criminal
record, divorce, same-sex attraction—any number of chronic issues. The story he
heard was usually the same. They went to church, participated in the
activities, got involved in a group, even confessed their sins. But over time
they felt judged or unaccepted by others, especially by the inner circle of the
church, so they left.
With sorrow Jesus says to religious leaders, “You hypocrites! For you shut the
door of the Houston, Texas in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let
other enter either” (v. 13). Kingdom of Heaven
“I Am a Hypocrite”
Yes, there are so many self righteous people and hypocrites in Christ’s church today. But when we read today’s scripture, we need to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, saying, “You are a hypocrite. You are one of them” WE ARE HYPOCRITES. We all share self-righteousness, pride, and hypocrisy. But there is hope for us when we are deeply aware of how impure, how unrighteous, how sinful we are. The Scribes and Pharisees tried to prove how “pure” they were to others by doing things – tithing and giving alms to the poor. But the proof of spiritual maturity is not how pure we are, but our awareness of our impurity. That very awareness opens the door to God’s grace. When Isaiah saw the throne of God and encountered the living God, the first thing he said was, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). As the Apostle Paul almost completed his mission here on earth, he said to his beloved mentee, Timothy, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. And I am the worst of them all” (1 Tim ). He did mean it. The closer we come to Christ, the more we are aware of our impurity. So when we hear Jesus saying this warning today, we are blessed if we are aware of our impurity – “Lord, have mercy on me. I am a sinner. I am a Pharisee. I am a hypocrite.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ confronts us and speaks the truth, but always “in love.” Jesus did not just harshly rebuke the religious leaders and then run away. No! He never gave them up to the very end. In fact, after saying this, Jesus directly headed to
and laid down his life for them. Later in God’s time, many
of the religious leaders, including Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and Paul,
repented and turned to Christ. Still today many turn to the Lord (cf. Ps -28).
So here in today’s scripture Jesus is basically saying, “You hypocrites, I
love you! I love you brood of vipers!” This message is to be heard by all
of us in this room. Jesus loves “humbled” hypocrites. When we respond to Jesus’
warning with repentance and humility, he will save us from ourselves. Jerusalem
Being with Jesus
Now one important question remains: “How are we hypocrites actually changed?” How are we transformed from the inside out? We can find an answer in the Book of Revelation. In Revelation 3 Jesus speaks to Christians in Laodicean church, who weree filled with pride, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy, but didn’t have self-awareness. Jesus rebukes them in love as follows: “You say, 'I am rich. I have everything I want. I don't need a thing!' And you don't realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (v. 17 NLT). That’s spiritually where they were. What’s the cure for this? Jesus says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Look! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (vv. 19-20). This is the key – “being with Jesus.” This verse (Revelation ) is often used when we evangelize “unbelievers.” (Ex. “Invite Jesus to your hearts today!”) But in fact, in this context Jesus invites “Christians” who are so hypocrites. The more we hypocrites spend time with Jesus, the more we are transformed from the inside out and become more like him.
My sister and I had fought and argued a lot when we were young. In some sense we were like oil and water. And we are still very different in many ways. But I have grown to love the person she has become since the day she met my brother-in-law (at that time her boy friend). The more she was with him, the more I was drawn to her. The more she was with him, the more I wanted to be around her. The more she was with him, the more I saw in her the best version of herself. This is how Jesus changes his people. The more we are with Jesus, the more people around us start to smell a Christ-like fragrance. Are you tired of the self righteous people in the church? Don’t be discouraged. Hope in Christ. Look to Jesus and be with him. Are you tired of your own hypocrisy? Invite Jesus in every area of your life, be with him, and let him be with you 24/7. And as we do this, as we have continual communion with Jesus, the people around us will look at us and say, “You know I like your Christ, and I also like your Christians, because you are so like your Christ.” Amen.
 Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides (
Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers), 115-117.
 Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (
, Thomas Nelson), 148. Nashville
 “Whitewashed Tombs,” Our Daily Bread (
September 21, 2009) http://odb.org/2009/09/21/whitewashed-tombs/