What does it mean to be a hypocrite?

When asked to define hypocrite most people will respond with something along the lines with “someone who says one thing and does another.”  Or in other words they define a hypocrite as someone who is imperfect and teaches perfect doctrine.  If our understanding of the definition of the word hypocrite ends there we can see how countless people have left the church because they feel everyone within the church is a hypocrite.  We need to break it down a little more to understand where the sin lies.

It is not a sin to be imperfect

We all make mistakes, and even if we didn’t we need to understand there is a difference between being sinless and being perfect. There is absolutely no sin in not being perfect at this point in our lives.  Acting in ways contrary to the commandments, whether through omission or commission, is a sin, but not reaching perfection in this life is not.  Even Christ, though sinless, taught us the line upon line nature of perfection when He said “and on the third day I shall be perfected.”  Meaning He would not be perfected until after resurrection.  (See Luke 13:32)

We must teach perfect doctrine

Why do we teach perfect doctrines when it is impossible for us to be perfect in this life?  We always teach the ideal because that is what we are striving to, and capable of achieving eternally.  Our opportunities for learning and growth are not limited to mortality, and therefore perfection is a goal we can accomplish.  Perfect doctrine is our lighthouse on a dark and stormy night.  It gives us direction, it gives us goals, it shows us where safety lies even when we are unable to see the rocks.  We teach ideal doctrine because we are training ourselves to do the best we can at all times, and trusting on the ability of Jesus Christ and the atonement He suffered to bring us safely home.

What element are we missing that turns an imperfect person, who teaches perfect doctrine, into a hypocrite? 

The difference between an imperfect person who teaches perfect doctrine and a hypocrite is simple:  whether a person is willing to admit weaknesses.  A hypocrite is unwilling to admit, whether to themselves or publicly, that they have faults and weaknesses.  Being a hypocrite is prideful

Because it is a facet of pride being a hypocrite “is a sin that can readily be seen in others, but is rarely admitted in ourselves.”  (Beware of Pride, Benson, May 1989)  It is so easy to see the examples of the Pharisees in the New Testament and label them as hypocrites, or to judge our neighbor and label them, but it can be difficult to identify and admit our own weaknesses.  Does that mean we are required to admit our shortcomings to a specific doctrine or principle every time we are teaching or speaking on any given topic in order to avoid being a hypocrite?  No!  In fact, unless guided by the spirit, such a confession is often uncomfortable to for the listener and if confession is required is best discussed with your ecclesiastical leader privately.

But being able to see ourselves clearly is essential to our spiritual growth and well-being. If our weaknesses and shortcomings remain obscured in the shadows, then the redeeming power of the Savior cannot heal them and make them strengths. Ironically, our blindness toward our human weaknesses will also make us blind to the divine potential that our Father yearns to nurture within each of us.

(Lord, Is It I?; Uchdorf, October 2014)

Avoiding deception

As we grow in humility and take an honest stock of ourselves we may find ourselves gravitating towards one of two temptations:

  1. To begin feeling overwhelmed with the amount of weaknesses we see and want to stick our head back in the sand
  2. To feel the pressure of all our weaknesses and try to fix them all at once

It is never fun to have our weaknesses shown to us, but it is only after we identify weaknesses that we can begin to improve them.  It is appropriate to ask Heavenly Father to help you prioritize which weaknesses to work on first, and then pick one or two, as we can, to improve.  However, we also need to understand that not having the capacity to work on all of them at once does not mean that we will justify or be satisfied with our other weaknesses.

As my understanding of what a hypocrite truly is grows, I begin to see that trait in myself.  Although that can feel discouraging, I now have the opportunity to truly understand a greater number of scriptures and apply the wealth of help and knowledge those verses contain to help me overcome my hypocritical nature.


One thought on “What does it mean to be a hypocrite?

  1. The more I humbly (I hope) seek for my weaknesses, the more exciting it gets! It was overwhelming at first, but the more I seek and try to change, the more fun it becomes to find a new weakness and work on it. It probably sounds pretty weird, but that’s how I feel about it!

    I don’t remember thinking a person who teaches perfect doctrine was a hypocrite before. I’ve mostly seen it in a secular way. A friend once told me me that marijuana is not OK for me, but uses it herself. That feels like hypocrisy. (To clarify, I do not use drugs, nor have I ever intended to. This friend told me this out of the blue, it still puzzles me!)


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