The word hypocrite means “a stage-actor.” Hypocrisy is play-acting, wearing a mask, or pretense. Hence, a hypocrite is one who pretends to be something that he is not. It does not mean one who makes mistakes, but one who gives outward impressions without inward commitment.
A Christian knows that he is not perfect and that he must depend upon God’s grace for salvation. He knows that he cannot deceive God with outward appearances, because God knows the heart. If Christians claimed perfection, while not being perfect, every Christian would be a hypocrite.
The Pharisees were condemned because they made a show of religion. Jesus said “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Lk. 12:1). In Luke 18, Jesus tells about two men who went to the temple to pray. “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (vs. 11,12). He thought that he was good enough but was not properly evaluating his own heart.
In the sermon on the mount Jesus severely condemned hypocrisy. “Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward...And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Mt. 6:2,5). He said those who make an exhibition of fasting ”with a sad countenance” have received their reward (v. 16). The expression “received their reward” means “paid in full.” The praise of men, which they seek, is all the reward they will get.
Some who point the finger at Christians and excuse their disobedience on hypocrites are really hypocritical. They are just like the Pharisee who said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men” (Lk. 18:11). They pretend to be more righteous than the hypocrite while making no effort to be righteous in God’s sight. They consider themselves more pious than the hypocrite because their sins are trifling compared to the one they consider hypocritical. Yes, they hypocritically elevate themselves by choosing a standard that will make them look good when they are not!
Remember, a hypocrite is not simply someone who makes mistakes—that would make everyone, except Jesus, a hypocrite. A hypocrite is one who professes one thing and practices another. A Christian does not profess to be perfect, but he does profess to be trying to do what God said. If he is not sincerely trying to live by what he professes to believe, that is hypocrisy.