There’s something intriguing about watching a good actor, right? They just seem to embody the role so well that we forget they are acting and get lost in the narrative. We applaud great actors and then send them home with an Oscar.
But acting to receive the applause of men isn’t anything new. In fact, its origin is found in ancient Greek drama. Greek actors would mask their faces while using boisterous tones of voice for the purposes of bringing to life the writer’s story. These Greek theaters were popular means of entertainment for people during Jesus’ day.
In fact, the formal name given to Greek actors was “hypocrite,” which literally means mask-wearer. The word hypocrite was a term of honor, welcomed by stage performers. However, Jesus uses the word hypocrite in Scripture as a jab at religious individuals known as the Pharisees. In Matthew 23, Jesus pierces through the mask of their religiosity.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matt. 23:27–28)
Jesus labels the Pharisees as hypocrites because they wear masks of religion and deceive many into thinking they live a higher level of obedience—all in order to receive the applause of men. His challenge to them is a challenge for us, too.
Stop Putting on a Show
Are there areas in our lives where we have unconsciously begun to put on a good show? How easy can it be to portray a higher level of obedience than what we know to be true? Scripture tells us that “nothing is hidden from the Lord’s sight—all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13).
So how can you and I stay on guard against hypocrisy?
1. Be Real With God
It seems obvious that we would be real with God, right? After all, He knows all things at all times. But the reality is the reason why so many of us struggle with being real with ourselves and others is because we are not real with God about our own sins, fears and hurts. So, where exactly does the desire to hide come from? Our sin nature inherited from our original parents (Gen. 3:6–7). Adam and Eve were tempted in this very same way after they sinned—to hide from God by wearing a covering.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Gen. 3:7–8)
Like Adam and Eve in the garden, wearing a mask is an attempt to provide fig leaves for ourselves—a self-made covering of deception (1 Pet. 2:1). But the true and perfect covering has come, brethren, through Jesus Christ—His righteousness covers all our past, present and future sins (2 Cor. 5:21). Not only has God provided for us a better covering as sons and daughters, but a better nature in Christ—our better Adam (2 Cor. 5:17, Col. 1:15-21) and a better hiding place (Gen. 3:8, Ps. 32:7).
2. Be Real With Others
Our attempts to wear a mask are not only attempts to hide from God, but to hide from one another. Adam and Eve hid not only from the presence of God but from each other.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Gen. 3:7)
Their ability to live uncovered with one another once represented freedom and beauty but became the epitome of bondage to self-protection and shame.
Do you ever feel shame at the thought of the Lord and/or those closest to you knowing the real you, unmasked? What coverings (religiosity, people-pleasing, accomplishments, knowledge) have you sewn together in place of the true and better covering (Eph 2:8–9)?
When we are real with God and others, we are trusting in the better covering that God has given us—not our own (Eph. 4:23–34). Furthermore, we offer others the potential to truly love us for who we really are, not the fictional person behind a mask (1 Pet. 2:1).
God is calling you and I to remove our masks, put away our scripts and live for an audience of One (Matt. 25:23). Let’s be real.