“I know I should have done the right thing, but then it wouldn’t have been sincere.” Such an explanation is sometimes presented as an amusing rationale for wrong behavior, or for failing to take the correct course of action. But it highlights a serious point. No one wants to be a hypocrite. Even in our nonjudgmental culture, few character flaws are considered to rank lower than hypocrisy.
For the believer wanting to make spiritual progress, this seems to present a dilemma. Paul instructs us, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children” (Eph 5:1). We are called to do the right thing even when we do not feel like it. Imitating? Isn’t that hypocritical? The process of learning the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life involves doing things that don’t come naturally to us, often when we don’t feel like doing them. Isn’t that just pretending?
The short answer is no, it’s not. We are not just pretending. There is a world of difference between practicing righteousness and pretending to be righteous. Let me briefly list three differences:
1. Difference in intent: Practicing and pretending have two different motives along with two different purposes. We practice the spiritual disciplines in order to learn righteousness. By contrast, the motive for pretense in our Christian walk generally is to hide the fact that we don’t want to change. Pretending allows our unrighteous traits to continue. Practicing and pretending have two very different purposes.
2. Difference in approach: When we truly practice the Christian life there is transparency in the struggle. We candidly depend on others for help in the journey. The very fact we need the spiritual disciplines in our lives is an admission of our weakness. Pretending at the Christian life, by contrast, does the exact opposite. Instead of honesty, pretending is intended to hide one’s true spiritual condition.
3. Difference in outcome: Practicing the Christian life results in the slow, gradual, and difficult transformation of the believer into the image of Christ. Pretending stunts the professing Christian and results in the retrenchment of ungodly thinking, traits, and behaviors.
The New Testament repeatedly instructs us to “imitate” Christ and his Apostles (1 Cor 4:16; 1 Cor 11:1; Eph 5:1; 1 Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 2:14; Heb 6:12). Practice makes perfect (in the sense of full maturity)—as God continues his good and perfect work within us.