False Appearance of Virtue


Hypocrite. There are many ugly words in the English language, but that one ranks as one of the worst. Why? Because it literally characterizes a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings. It’s one thing to say you don’t break traffic laws but tend to roll through your neighborhood stop sign when no one is looking. However, it is quite another thing to proclaim the unconditional love of Christ and then never show it to a homeless person on the street. In today’s passage, Paul comes down very hard on those who are not practicing what they preach.

  • How would you feel if someone called you a hypocrite? Could your actions be used to clear your name?


17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


  1. What word did Paul repeat most in these eight verses? How many times is it used?
  2. How was Paul characterizing members of the Jewish community who were concerned only with preaching the law but not following it themselves?
  3. What words did Paul use in verses 23 and 24 to describe what people who boast in the law are really doing to God?
  4. Paul said to his audience that “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Is there currently any area of your life—your speech, your relationships, your choices—where your profession to be a Christian is making God look bad among unbelievers?


The number one reason unchurched people give when asked why they do not attend church is that the people there are hypocrites. What most people really mean is that people in church are sinners, which, of course, is true. We are all sinners; Christians simply trust in the power of the blood of Jesus as the only way to be made right with God and with others. However, Paul is brutally clear in these verses about the harm that is done by someone whose authentic self is opposite from what he or she proclaims. All of us fall into the shadow of hypocrisy. It’s often in claiming to be something more than we are, but in all cases, it is damaging.

  • Ask God to convict you and guide you toward authenticity rather than hypocrisy.
  • Spend some time thanking him for his redeeming love.