The Difference Between a Hypocrite and a Good Person Making a Mistake

By Clarence Johnson

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). This passage clearly shows that no one is sinlessly perfect, but it does not brand all as hypocrites. The word hypocrite comes from a Greek word meaning “play actor.” The word denotes one who either (1) pretends to be something he isn’t, or (2) pretends to believe something he does not really believe. The fact that a person sins, does not prove him to be a hypocrite devoid of conviction. Good people sin and make mistakes.

 We will illustrate our point from several incidents from the life of Simon Peter.

 1. Good people make mistakes in judgment. After being with Jesus day and night for three and a half years in prepa- ration to fish for men, Peter contemplated going back to fishing for fish (John 21:3-17). Choosing one’s occupation is a matter of judgment, but in this case, Peter was using extremely poor — perhaps sinful judgment.

 2. Good people sometimes make careless mistakes. Numbers 35:23 pictures a scene where a man brought harm to another in an unguarded moment, by not being care- ful. Many auto accidents and similar matters fall into this category. Even though such carelessness may be sinful, it seldom involves hypocrisy.

 3. Good people make mistakes through ignorance. No one has all knowledge, therefore we are subject to make mistakes that would be avoided if we were better informed. And sometimes our ignorance stems, not from being un- informed but by being misinformed. Sometimes we know things that aren’t true. Peter was there when Jesus gave the great commission “to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” But Peter (and evidently the other apostles as well) assumed that Jesus meant every Jewish creature. After all, they knew they were not to associate with Gentiles (Acts 10:28). And even though the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to preach that the gospel promises were to you (Jews) and to your children, and to all who are afar off (the Gentiles, Eph. 2:17), neither Peter nor the other apostles fully understood that until after the events of Acts 10 and 11. Had they know sooner, they would have preached to Gentiles sooner. Their failure to carry out that part of the commission was not due to hypocrisy, but to their failure to completely understand.

 The sins of Saul of Tarsus against the early church were prompted by a similar lack of understanding. He did it ignorantly in unbelief (1 Tim. 1:13).

 4. Good people sin through the weakness of the flesh. Peter’s denial of Jesus was such a sin. Peter succumbed to the fear and/or shame that attached itself to Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 26:65-74). What Peter did was a sin, but it was not a deliberate sham. He was a good man, making a mistake through weakness of the flesh (Matt. 26:41).

 These things are not said to excuse sin. Sin is still sin, and it must be confessed and forsaken. But let us take care that we do not brand one as a hypocrite simply because he has erred. Though the good person will make mistakes, he will also acknowledge his sins. And God is faithful and just to forgive” his sins. The blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse him from all sin and unrighteousness.

 The hypocrite will insist that he has not sinned, that he has been misunderstood, or that someone else is re- ally at fault. He thus relinquishes the benefit of having an Advocate with the Father, by denying his need for such (1 John 1:8-2:6).

 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).