God has blessed me in my ministry to young adults. They ask such searching questions, and really want answers. I just received this one from a young man I’m proud to call a friend.
Should we do the right thing, whether or not our heart is in it?
There are cases where you’d obviously try to do what’s right (don’t
punch people in the face), but there are also times when doing what’s
right would mean living a lie (pretending to be good when I’m actually not).
Although I can imagine sets of circumstances which would make the answer to this question really thorny, in most cases, and with the example my friend gave, it’s not that difficult. I didn’t say it wasn’t difficult at all, only that it’s not that difficult.
But then, I must confess, it was C.S. Lewis who gave me the answer to that question. It sounds like my friend may be conflating hypocrisy with “living a lie.” And Lewis tells us there are two types of hypocrisy, which is, after all, “acting.”
We engage in both types of acting because we want people to believe us to be different than we really are. But there the similarity ends. Because what Jesus condemned as hypocrisy was people who wanted people to believe they were righteous, while they continued to be anything but. Or as someone said, that kind of hypocrite doesn’t intend to be what he pretends to be.
The other kind of hypocrisy is like the little kid mimickin hockey great Wayne Gretzky, or football’s Peyton Manning, or basketball’s Le Bron James. He’s copying their behavior because he aspires to be like they are, to perform with the skill they exhibit.
That’s precisely what we’re told to do as Christians. We follow Christ, we do what we think He would do, because we seek to be like Him. That’s not living a lie, that’s imitating Christ.
So yes, we often need to do the right thing, even though our heart isn’t in it, because our behavior affects our emotions. Psychologists know this to be true. Many ordinary Germans did not hate the Jews. But those who got in the habit of mistreating Jews came to hate them. Similarly, I have seen husbands and wives who have lost their first love regain it by making a concerted effort to treat their spouse with loving acts.
It’s when we put up a front so that we will be thought good, rather than because we aspire to become good, that hypocrisy becomes such a deadly sin. Why is this?
There’s a great scene in the movie “Patton,” where the General (played to perfection by George C. Scott) does something outrageous to motivate his troops. One of his staff officers says, “General, sometimes the men don’t know when you’re acting.”
Patton replies, “It’s not important for them to know. It’s only important for me to know.”
When it comes to acting righteous, that is, doing the right thing even though we don’t want to, the same thing holds true. It’s not important for others to know what’s really in our hearts. It’s only important that we know. Because when hypocrisy becomes ingrained, the hypocrite no longer realizes that he is an imposter, hoping to reap some personal benefit from the deception, and comes to believe he really is righteous.
Jesus himself told us that he could not help such a person. Only the ill seek a physician. The ultimate victim of hypocrisy is the hypocrite, who thinks he has no need of the Physician.