The Difference Between a Hypocrite and a Good Person Making a Mistake
By Clarence Johnson
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:8-9). This passage clearly shows that no one is sinlessly perfect, but it does not brand all as hypocrites. The word hypocrite comes from a Greek word meaning “play actor.” The word denotes one who either 1) pretends to be something he is not, or 2) pretends to believe something he does not really believe. The fact that a person sins does not prove him to be a hypocrite devoid of conviction. Good people sin and make mistakes. We illustrate our point from several incidents from the life of Simon Peter.
1) Good people make mistakes in judgment. After being with Jesus day and night for three and a half years in preparation to fish for men, Peter contemplated going back to fishing for fish (John 21:3-17). Choosing one’s occupation is a matter of judgment, but in this case, Peter was using extremely poor — perhaps sinful judgment.
2) Good people sometimes make careless mistakes. Numbers 35:23 pictures a scene where a man brought harm another in an unguarded moment, by not being careful. Many auto accidents and similar matters fall into this category. Even though such carelessness may be sinful, it seldom involves hypocrisy.
3) Good people make mistakes through ignorance. No one has all knowledge; therefore, we are subject to make mistakes that would be avoided if we were better informed. And sometimes our ignorance stems, not from being uninformed but by being misinformed. Sometimes we know things that aren’t true. Peter was there when Jesus gave the great com- mission “to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” But Peter (and evidently the other apostles as well) assumed that Jesus meant every Jewish creature. After all, they knew they were not to associate with Gentiles (Acts 10:28). And even though the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to preach that the gospel promises were to you (Jews) and to your children, and to all who are afar off (the Gentiles, Eph. 2:17), neither Peter nor the other apostles fully understood that until after the events of Acts 10 and 11. Had they known sooner, they would have preached to Gentiles sooner. Their failure to carry out that part of the commission was not due to hyp0crisy, but to their failure to completely understand. The sins of Saul of Tarsus against the early church were prompted by a similar lack of understanding. He did it ignorantly in unbelief (1Tim. 1:13).
4) Good people sin through the weakness of the flesh. Peter’s denial of Jesus was such a sin. Peter succumbed to the fear and/or shame that attached itself to Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 26:65-74). What Peter did was a sin, but it was not a deliberate sham. He was a good man, making a mistake through weakness of the flesh (Matt. 26:41).
These things are not said to excuse sin. Sin is still sin, and it must be confessed and forsaken. But let us take care that we do not brand one as a hypocrite simply because he has erred. Though the good person will make mistakes, he will also acknowledge his sins, and God is “faithful and just to forgive” his sins. The blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse him from all sin and unrighteousness. The hypocrite will insist that he has not sinned, that he has been misunderstood, or that someone else is really at fault. He thus relinquishes the benefit of having an Advocate with the Father, by denying his need for such (1John 1:8 – 2:6). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1John 1:8-10).
You Haven’t Asked for Help
“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). “The prayer of the upright is His delight” (Prov. 15:8). “For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers” (1Peter 3:12).
A young boy was doing his best to lift a rock that was too large for someone his size. He grunted and puffed as he tried various methods for lifting the rock. But, in spite of all his efforts, the rock wouldn’t budge. He father walked by and, after watching his son’s struggle, asked if he was having trouble. The boy answered, “Yes, I’ve tried everything, and it won’t move.” The father replied, “Are you sure you have tried every possibility – that you have used every resource at your disposal?” The boy looked up with frustration and exhaustion and grunted out, “Yes!” With kindness, the father bent over and softly said, “No, my son, you haven’t. You haven’t asked for my help.”
How often are we like the little boy, struggling with our problems but unable to solve them – because we have not asked our heavenly Father’s help. (From 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, p. 55)
If You Miss Heaven
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
It matters not what else you do in life, if you miss heaven you have been a complete failure. You might gather about you great riches and fame and leave thousands of friends to mourn your departing, but if you are not ready for heaven, you have been a miserable failure. On the other hand, you may die in a charity home for the poor and be buried in a potter’s field without a single friend to mourn, but if you receive heaven, your life was a marvelous success.
You can’t afford to miss heaven; for, if you miss it, you miss all. It is the place of eternal rest (Heb. 4:9-11). Sickness, pain and death will not be known there (Rev. 21:4). It is an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, that does not fade away (1Peter 1:4). It is that city built by the living God (Heb. 11:10).
You don’t need to miss heaven. Humbly submit yourself to the will of God (Matt. 7:21). Let His word guide you in all things (2 Tim. 3:15). Let no man beguile you of your reward (Col. 2:18). Overcome temptations (James 1:12). Suffer for His cause with rejoicing (Matt. 5:11-12). If you do these things, heaven will be yours someday for the God of heaven who cannot lie has promised it.