The key, then, to putting hypocrisy to death and fanning sincerity into flame is to orient our hearts toward godly simplicity—toward a pure, undivided, and singular commitment to God. Such a heart has one leading aim; one deliberate, unreserved desire; one great devotion to which everything else is subordinate. A heart ruled by a simplicity of love for God is not tempted to insincerity. It will have no rivals. Such a Christian feels no need to be evasive or to disguise his actions. He does not need to conceal his character, because his motives are of one piece and one design—whether in public or in private. He is not afraid of being found out.4 He is what he appears to be.
“My heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.” —John Calvin
Hypocrisy and Sincerity
Of all the spiritual dangers to which Christ alerted His disciples, few of them outweigh His warnings concerning hypocrisy. And our Lord left little room for confusion about what He meant. One need only read the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ calls out the dangers of hypocrisy when it invades prayer, fasting, giving to the poor, or practices of righteousness (Matt. 6:1–6, 16). He is even more explicit in the Seven Woes, where He hammers the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who “preach, but do not practice”; do their religious deeds “to be seen”; love seats and titles of honor; are blind to worldlines, justice, and mercy; strain out gnats while swallowing camels; and appear clean without but are unclean within (Matt. 23:1–36). This is the spiritual hazard that Christ described as “leaven,” which spreads invisibly and thoroughly (Luke 12:1).
By talking about hypocrisy, Christ was invoking a familiar and graphic image to illustrate when you and I pretend to be something that we are not. The root of the word hypocrite refers to an actor. In ancient Greece, actors wore masks to indicate what parts they were playing. Those in the audience would see the facial shell, which hid the real person underneath. This illustrates the concept of hypocrisy—what others see makes a pleasant impression, but it is false. Our religious mask betrays what is truly underneath. The thin veneer of our religious hypocrisy hides the cheap material within. It is a lie.
The opposite of hypocrisy is sincerity. Sincerity has no mask, whether it is on stage or not. It is bona fide. What we see and hear is real, not feigned nor fake. This is the genius of John Calvin’s motto: “My heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.” This is what God wants us to offer Him—what we are and what we have without hesitating or pretending. He wants a sincere heart (Eph. 6:5), a sincere mind (2 Peter 3:1), a sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:5), a sincere brotherly love (Rom. 12:9–10), a sincere wisdom (James 3:17), and a sincere devotion (2 Cor. 11:3).
However, it is one thing to see the danger of hypocrisy and the appeal of sincerity. It is another thing to approach these things practically. How do we recognize our hypocrisy and then subdue it? How do we become more sincere? How do we avoid being fake or false and at the same time try to be more genuine? These seem like vague ideas. Perhaps a helpful way to get at such vital questions is to begin by asking, Where do hypocrisy and sincerity come from?
Duplicity and Simplicity
For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. (2 Cor.1:12)
In one of John Newton’s letters he discusses Paul’s phrase “with simplicity and godly sincerity” (2 Cor 1:12). Newton says sincerity primarily directs our conduct as it appears in the sight of men, while our simplicity primarily respects the frame of our spirit as it appears in the sight of God.1 Sincerity is what others see; simplicity is what God sees. Clearly Paul is not using simplicity—as we might—to refer to being ignorant or lacking sophistication. Instead, he is talking about what is uncomplicated or undivided. The simple man or woman has a singular focus. Their path is clear and they will not deviate from it. Their sincerity flows from the simplicity of their character.
The opposite of simplicity is duplicity. A person of duplicity is unsure of himself because his is vexed with conflicting motives and goals. He is caught between what he is trying to project and what he really is. He is two-faced because he is double-minded. The artificial persona on the outside reflects the duplicitous person on the inside. As Newton says, “They are not simple, and therefore they cannot be sincere.”2 Our task, then, is to apply ourselves to heart-work, and here is where our Lord’s teaching is so helpful.