All of us probably know co-workers or family members or neighbors who say they reject Jesus because some of His followers are hypocrites. How should we respond to this? First, I think we should acknowledge to our skeptical friends that there are indeed many hypocrites. (And if you are a hypocrite, then repent, ask forgiveness, and trust God to empower you to no longer be one. And if it happens again, repent again, and get help from those walking with Jesus who can help hold you accountable for your attitude, actions, and words.)
But we also need to explain to our unbelieving friends that it makes no sense at all to reject Jesus because some of His followers, including us, can sometimes be hypocritical!
What, after all, is the gospel all about? Is it about us? No! Consider what we’re told in Acts 16:29-31:
The jailer…fell trembling before Paul and Silas…and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
It’s notable that Paul and Silas were in jail and instead of complaining about it, were singing songs of praise to God. So yes, their example was important. The jailer wouldn’t have been drawn to their faith had they not been visibly different than the average prisoner. The same is true for us in our neighborhoods and workplaces and locker rooms. People should see Jesus in us.
However, note what Paul and Silas did not say to the jailer: “Believe in us—since we’re so great—and you will be saved.” No, they said, “Believe in Jesus and you’ll be saved.” The Good News is not about how great you and I are (thank God for that). It’s about how great Jesus is and the wonderful things He’s done for us.
Regarding the problem of hypocritical Christians keeping people from believing, we should point out that this is true of all groups, not just Christians. Many people of all sorts, including atheists and agnostics and Hindus, don’t live consistently with what they profess to believe. (For instance, some of the most intolerant people I know pride themselves on their tolerance, and are blind to their own intolerance, e.g. toward the sincere beliefs of Christ-followers.)
In other words, Christians don’t own the monopoly on hypocrisy. Furthermore, there are plenty of humble and lovable Christians. People need to open their eyes and see them. Unfortunately, the attention typically falls on false Christians or loudmouths or hypocrites.
This is all part of Satan’s diversionary tactics. But the gospel is all about Jesus. The Jesus that Christians believe in is good, even when His followers violate His teachings. The Bible never says you have to believe in Christians to be saved. It says you have to believe in Jesus, who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). He’s the One we’re invited to come and see (John 1:46). He’s the only One who can save and transform us.
As Tim Keller puts it, “Jesus himself is the main argument for why we should believe Christianity.” That’s the life-changing truth, and that should be the message we share.