Disclaimer: the following is merely my own musing, based on my experience. Read it if you please.
It is no wonder that people sometimes perceive Christians as hypocritical.
Haven’t you met people in church who are just, well, ‘too good to be true’. How shall I put it? People who flinch at vices of every sort, and who are eager to please, to the extent that they appear contrived. Maybe they are genuinely nice, and that’s great. But if you catch a misanthrope like me behaving like that, it is most likely because I’m acting in a manner I see other Christians behave. The world calls it ‘peer pressure’, we call it ‘church tradition’.
In defense of this behavior, I would say that this isn’t done with the intention to deceive or impress. Rather, we are obeying our idea of what a Christian should do. The bible tells us to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, and so we try to do what we know to be right. Yet it isn’t us. It isn’t human nature to be nice. We are sinful, our fallen nature chafes against the angelic behavior we put on. If there is such inconsistency between the heart and the behavior, naturally, we would look like we are trying too hard. We are trying too hard.
How does a Christian behave like a Christian? We go to church and sing hymns, and turn our noses at vices. These are the easiest and most obvious duties of a Christian. There is nothing easier than being a goody-two-shoes if one sets his mind to it, but these are merely superficial actions, if one is not filled with the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. An unregenerated professing Christian doesn’t lie but doesn’t forgive lies too; he has no debt, and no love for his neighbour either. One can thus become a narrow minded zealot on the straight and narrow path.
This happens because transformation actually isn’t a matter of doing, but being. Righteous behavior comes across as insincere if there is no renewing work of the Holy Spirit, which makes us more like Christ. It is a transformation that takes place first on the inside, in our spirit, before it is seen in our behavior. It isn’t wrong to try to do the right thing, but how much easier it would be if our heart is in the right place. Then it isn’t a matter of effort anymore. It is behavior that comes about because of our new nature.
This transformation only happens when one is willing to die to himself. This is the hardest part of godly living – to recognize one’s inability to do anything good, and to allow God to have His way. This means giving up what we protect with all of our might, the deepest desires of our heart, and what we fear to confess even to God. How much easier it is to simply fob God off by carrying out a manageable set of Christian duties! But then, such a person will not know what it is like to find joy in pleasing God.
I am not there yet, but I am beginning to understand how it works. I think I’m beginning to know what Jesus means when he says that his ‘yoke is light and easy’. Imitating Christ isn’t about imitating what other Christians do, but being free to do what is right because we are no longer hobbled by our feet of clay.