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Why do some Christians fail the “practice what you preach” standard?

Christians have often heard the accusation “practice what you preach,” because they say people should be living life one way but then they turn around and do the exact opposite. The churchy term for a someone not following what they profess to believe is "hypocrite," which comes from a Greek word that relates to an actor on a stage or a "pretender." There are several reasons why Christians do not practice what they preach or at least appear to others to not be practicing what they preach.

Not all who profess to be Christians really belong to Christ.

Jesus warned in His parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:36-43) that there would be false believers in the world. These false believers are planted by the enemy Satan, whose aim is to cripple the testimony of Christians so that our witness to the world will be compromised. Satan tries to destroy Christ’s work by placing false believers and teachers in the world to tarnish Christianity and, ultimately, Jesus.

It isn’t difficult to find ugliness caused by those who call themselves Christians—just look at your own social media feeds. You're bound to find a “Christian” spreading hate, casting judgments that aren’t theirs to judge, and making Christianity (and Christians) look dreadful. In Matthew 7:22, Jesus warned that many would profess faith who do not actually know Him.

He also told us we would recognize false believers by their "fruit" (or lack thereof). "For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit" (Luke 6:43). Part of having "bad fruit" can be a failure to practice what you preach. (Also see: What is the fruit of the Spirit?)

Christians are not perfect.

Christians are expected to “practice what you preach,” but we preach a message that is, ultimately, impossible to live up to. And actually, that’s the whole point! Nobody is perfect, and on our own, we cannot hope to live up to God’s standards. We need a Savior to redeem us and the Holy Spirit to guide us. Imperfection is a part of life, but it doesn't have to be our ONLY way of life.

Sinlessness may be the goal, but it's not achievable this side of Heaven. However, purposefully TRYING to live a godly life IS achievable. The fact that we fail to live up to God's perfect standard does not change the fact that it is to be our goal AND our message. When we fall, we get back up, confess, repent, and move on. God does not want us to wallow in our failures; He wants us to keep striving for the prize (Philippians 3:14-15).

When Good Christians are Bad

Even true Christians may behave in an un-Christlike manner due to old sinful habits, an immaturity in their faith, or a lack of understanding of exactly what the Christian life entails. New believers may get very excited about their newfound faith and eager to share it with others—which is great! But when, because of immaturity, their words and actions do not measure up to their testimony, they may be accused of not practicing what they preach.

New believers should not be discouraged though. Following Christ is a journey with many triumphs but lots of stumbling too. As we grow and mature in our faith, our lives should increasingly reflect the truths that we profess to believe. When we mess up, it's OK. Get back up, confess, repent, and move on. Slowly but surely.

Breaking the Stereotype

Christians can serve God’s kingdom by striving to grow in their own faith. Ever-increasing faith wisdom, spiritual maturity, and love of the Lord will spawn true obedience and good, good fruit. Christians should be mindful that their actions, words, and social media presence are watched by believers and non-believers alike and can shape what others believe about God’s Word, His promises, His offer of salvation through grace, and ultimately God Himself.

Of course, every choice that anyone makes about following or not following Christ is ultimately a personal one for whom no one is responsible but that individual.

Fortunately, people are not saved by whether or not they practice what they preach. Salvation is a gift from God, who grants His forgiveness on faith alone, and none of those whom God has given to Christ will be snatched out of His hand (John 10:28-29). Christ has conquered sin and death, and no amount of human deceit, mistakes, or failures can ever thwart God’s victory.

TL;DR

The accusation to "practice what you preach" refers to the hypocritical lifestyle of one who professes faith in Christ yet lives completely differently from their claims. Not all who profess to be Christians really belong to Christ, as Jesus taught in the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:36-43). Some true Christians may behave in an un-Christlike manner due to old sinful habits, an immaturity in their faith, or a lack of understanding of what the Christian life entails. Fortunately, people are not saved by whether or not they practice what they preach. Salvation is a gift from God who grants His forgiveness on faith alone (John 10:28-29).

By: Rhonda Maydwell

Rhonda is an author, wife, mother, and mentor. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in English and Religious studies. She loves studying God’s Word for truth and wisdom and uses it as a compass and roadmap for her own spiritual journey. Rhonda believes in sharing the Good News and the hope found in Biblical truths with others. She uses her writing and mentoring opportunities (often with a pinch of humor) to do just that.

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