Hypocrisy is a charged often leveled against Christians. “How can you say you believe ‘x’ and still do ‘y’?”, the unbeliever asks. While the merits of this claim probably deserve an entire devotional on their own, the implication is that these hypocrites are unqualified - unqualified to be taken seriously, unqualified to speak the truth of the Bible, even unqualified to be a child of God. If someone hears this charge, particularly the latter one, with enough repetition, they may actually start to believe it. What exactly qualifies someone to become a Christian, or to at least claim that they are?
Believe it or not, the list of qualifications is quite short.
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Throughout the Bible, there are many, many examples of those who would likely be called hypocrites today. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife - twice! - (Genesis 12:11-20, Genesis 20:1-18) and is still the father of the nation of Israel. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:5-35), but was still the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. David committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5) and murder (2 Samuel 11:14-24), yet God used Bathsheba to give him Solomon, his successor as king. Paul persecuted and killed Christ’s followers (Acts 8:1-9:2), yet he was used to write nearly half of the New Testament.
Were these people hypocrites? Some may say “yes.” The thing is, while salvation is an instant change in state, learning to live in a way that pleases Christ takes a lifetime. As we work to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, and deepen our relationship with Him, we can see significant growth. Habits can be changed, thought patterns can be transformed, and we can experience peace and joy that are not possible in our own strength. We will get better, but we will never be perfect.
This is also a great example of God’s redemption. The more cynical person would look at the people above and think “If these are the founders of this religion, I want nothing to do with it!” When you look at each life, though, you see God working to bring about a changed heart, which results in a transformed life. These people weren’t used by God to do those sinful things; those people were used by God to do amazing things for Him in spite of those sinful things!
(A note on leaders - Paul sets out qualifications for deacons and pastors in two different places (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). James echoes this along with a warning.
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways.
These guidelines are good for all, but the church should hold their leaders to these standards as a condition of continued leadership. The Bible contains several examples of God removing people from leadership when they turned from Him.)
How, then, do we get qualified? That’s just it - God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. If you have accepted Christ, you are qualified! Don’t let your failures get you down; rather, use them as reminders of how much you (and we all) need Jesus. If you haven’t accepted Christ, the good news is that you’re only missing one qualification. There is no credit check, and no test for which you have to study. God is waiting with open arms to welcome you into His family! All you have to do is ask; God’s Simple Plan of Salvation can show you how.
This passage is short, sweet, and to the point. Before it, Paul is explaining to the Corinthian church that Jesus is the foundation of His church, no matter who actually brings the message (1 Corinthians 3:5-15); and he follows up these verses by instructing them on the folly of the world’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:18-23). So, let’s look at these two verses, and other Scriptures that support them.
Verse 16 declares that we are God’s sanctuary, and that His Spirit lives in us. This is one of those things that we’ve heard over and over again - so much that we may have lost the importance of it. The Holy Spirit was promised by Jesus when He was telling His disciples about things to come:
16And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. 17He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you.
Did you catch that at the end of John 14:17? He is in us! The Father wanted to send Him to the world, but the world could not receive Him. So, the only way the Holy Spirit could be here is if He came to reside in someone who knew the Father. We are the ones He chose as His sanctuary, His place to live among men! The end of 1 Corinthians 3:17 emphasizes the point - “God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.”
However, the first part of that same verse contains a strong warning - “If anyone ruins God’s sanctuary, God will ruin him.” Sure, this is a warning to those who would draw Christians aside from the faith, but notice that there is no exemption for the sanctuary coming to ruin on its own. We as the sanctuary are responsible for ensuring that our part of the sanctuary is clean; pure, free from sin, and a strong testimony to God’s grace.
I’ve told my sons this several times before - I don’t like anyone hurting my sons, even another one of my sons (their brothers). Just as this continues to come up (did I mention I’ve told them that several times?), often we are the biggest hurdle to overcome in keeping our sanctuary clean. It’s (comparatively) easy to rebuff Satan’s advances when he’s trying to get us to do something that we don’t want to do; it’s much harder to convince ourselves that we shouldn’t do something that we want to do, in spite of its being wrong. Paul explored this conundrum when writing to the church in Rome.
15For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me.
Notice verse 18 - “nothing good lives in me…” This is the same “in me” that Jesus referred to when He said that the Holy Spirit would be “in you.” Continuing in verse 18, “For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.” We know what is right; we want to do what is right; but yet we fail at doing what is right. What gives?
Herein lies the importance of surrendering to God’s grace. He knows we are flawed vessels, yet He has empowered us to be holy sanctuaries. He has provided Scriptures like the ones we’re looking at today to explain His expectations and His goals for us. In particular, this passage in Romans should alert us to a challenge; this is the battlefield upon which spiritual warfare is fought. The sanctuary will not stay clean on its own - only as we yield to Christ and let Him point out the dirty spots will it become and stay clean.
I’m sure you’ve heard about how bank tellers are trained to spot counterfeit money. They don’t take them into a room with a large table, sit them down, and educate them on all the tell-tale signs of fake money. They train them constantly in handling known-good currency. They are so intimately familiar with the real thing that they can instantly spot a fake when it passes through their hands. In the same way, this is how we can keep our sanctuary clean. By constantly seeking out and spending time with God (the real thing), we’ll be better able to spot other things when they try to creep into the sanctuary and defile it; and, with a holy sanctuary, the Holy Spirit can use us to the fullest for His work!
I pray that we will be able to keep the sanctuary clean, by maintaining a near-constant fellowship with God, and allowing Him to use us.
In the passage leading up to this verse, James had been telling us about controlling the tongue, and then he explained that the wisdom we need comes from above. The two problems in this verse are the source of many of our self-inflicted problems.
Envy is jealousy - wanting what someone else has, disliking someone else for the good things that they have in their life. Paul gives a pretty good comparison with envy and jealousy (emphasis mine)…
19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar, about which I tell you in advance - as I told you before - that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But, just as Paul followed up his list of negative things with one of the most famous passages in the Bible, James also does not stop with verse 16. He continues…
17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. 18And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
So, the remedy to “disorder and…evil” is the fruit of the Spirit. By setting aside our own selfish desires, we can allow the Holy Spirit to grow these other qualities in us. May we be able to say “no” to ourselves and “yes” to Him!
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.