“Christians are hypocrites.”
I’ve heard that phrase uttered many times, often as a stated reason why someone has no interest in attending church or examining Christianity for themselves.
To be sure, it is not difficult to find people who claim to be Christians (“professing Christians” to put it more succinctly) who engage in behavior and speech that is more befitting of a demon than of the Savior. They are easy to spot. They might have “Christian” in a descriptor on their social media profiles, they might even go to church and have spiritual bumper stickers on their vehicles. Yet, the way they live their lives gives no evidence of Christ’s redeeming work.
As one who loves and follows Christ, I want to facepalm hard enough to bruise my forehead when I see, for example, a professing Christian engage in an insult-loaded or obscenity-laced exchange with someone on Twitter with whom they disagree. I want to scream until my throat hurts, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU ARE PROFANING THE NAME OF CHRIST!” It is often that I have seethed with frustration at seeing something like that. I just can’t understand how a Christian could behave in such a way.
I recently heard a distinction in a few sermons from John MacArthur at Grace To You that helped clarify a couple things for me. They were so helpful that I thought they merited summarizing in a post.
The Visible and the Invisible Church
The first item is as stated in the heading above. The visible and the invisible church. MacArthur shared the concept in a sermon I listened to recently. To paraphrase, the visible church is what the world sees as the church: all the buildings where folks gather for church, and attendees and clergy of all those churches, professing to be in the faith. These people and buildings can be observed.
The invisible church, by contrast, is made up exclusively of the true believers. MacArthur states it best himself:
Now, we who love Jesus Christ are the church. We are the body of Christ. We are redeemed. We are invisible in the sense that the world cannot see us. And very often we can’t even see ourselves. Sometimes, you know, we struggle over whether somebody’s really a believer or not. But, we belong to the collective one body. Whether we’re alive or in glory, we’re still a part of the one body of Christ. We are Christ’s church because we love Him. We are His ekklesia, His called out ones. His assembly of beloved sons. The church basically is people called of God to be His children. We have become one, positionally, by being united by faith in Jesus Christ. And it was Jesus who said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” And when He said that, He meant He would gather together His body. He wasn’t talking about buildings. He was talking about people.
Internalizing that distinction was helpful for me because it brought to light the idea that there is a separation between the two: the visible and the invisible church. While there is overlap, often the visible church deviates wildly from the true body of Christ.
The visible church could include those people who you’d be shocked to find out they attend church.
The invisible church consists of people who are truly called, redeemed and living in the grace and power of God for His glory in the world. They hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6), and work actively to put to death their sinful habits.
The Reality of the Narrow and Wide Roads / False Christians
The second point that I learned, also from John MacArthur, is even more stunning. It is the reality, stated by Christ himself in Matthew 7, that there are many who consider themselves to be Christians, who in fact are not saved. They are deceived about their salvation and will be unpleasantly surprised when they face Christ in judgment.
These sentiments were both terrifying and clarifying.
So what is the takeaway of all this? It depends on the camp in which you identify yourself.
If you consider yourself a Christian, this information can provide some illumination as to why professing, yet false Christians act out the way they do. It can and should also give you pause to examine yourself:
“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-unless you indeed fail the test?” – 2 Corinthians 13:5
“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.”
– 2 Peter 1:10
If you’ve found yourself disgusted by the unholy behavior of people who call themselves Christians, I pray this will provide some enlightenment to you as well. Just because someone claims to be a Christian, does not mean that they are. You can spot a true Christian by:
- Their love for other believers (John 13:35)
- The fruit of the Spirit in their lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)
A word of caution, however. It should be stated that even if someone is a true Christian, they will still sin and disappoint. After all, Christians still struggle with the sin inherent to human nature. The process of sanctification, or becoming more like Christ, starts the moment one repents of their sins to trust in Christ for salvation and continues throughout the rest of their life. As one continually seeks Christ, they sin less often. This is truly the work of God.
I hope that these distinctions have provided some insight for you, as they did for me. Furthermore, I hope and pray that you will examine your own heart to see where you stand with God. It is the most valuable exercise you can do in this life, if it leads you to trust in the God of the Bible. The sermon resources I linked to above are most helpful, regardless of your spiritual status.
I welcome any comments and questions. Thank you for reading!