How to evangelize when you feel like a massive hypocrite

“Oh, I just love how inclusive you are!”

It felt like a punch to the gut. It was Christmas and I had been given a chance to say something about Jesus. And instead of asking the Lord what he wanted me to say, I said what people wanted to hear. I had an opportunity to evangelize, but instead I stayed silent.

There’s something about big holidays like Christmas and Easter that can throw us for a loop. There are often more opportunities to evangelize than at any other time of the year. And yet, if you’re anything like me, you find yourself biting your tongue and holding back your thoughts more than you’d like.

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Why do we do this? What holds us back from witnessing to Christ? What makes us think, “Oh I won’t mention Jesus to my friends right now. I won’t bring him up around my unbelieving family. I’ll just forget to mention that I went to Mass and I loved it (even when someone asks what I did today!).”

Some of it is out of fear. It’s a bit scary to bring up Jesus or tell people what he really means to you. You don’t know how they will react. What if they hate it? What if they hate you? Some of it is out of habit. We all get so used to talking about the weather, we forget other topics are allowed.

It’s OK to recognize your hypocrisy

But when I sit quietly with the Lord, I realize the reason I so often stay quiet is because I feel like a hypocrite. Witnessing him to others just makes me remember how far I feel from him — and how much I let him down. And that’s not a nice feeling. Who wants to feel like a hypocrite?

I say, “God gives me every good thing” … but I haven’t thanked him in a week.

I say, “Jesus died for our sins” … but I haven’t been to confession in months to receive the mercy he died for.

I say, “God knows me better than I know myself” … but I don’t ask him for guidance and wisdom.

I say, “the Holy Spirit is within me, the Spirit of love, patience and kindness” … but I snap at my children, grumble to my husband, complain about my home and spend the day feeling exquisitely sorry for myself over some imagined slight.

It hurts to feel the gulf between what I believe and the reality of my spiritual life. It’s not that I’ve done anything spectacularly wrong. The reality is I’d rather have everything in my life sorted out — all shiny and holy — and then start telling people about Jesus. It’s even easy to convince myself that it would be better that way. I mean, actions speak louder than words, and the best sermon is a life well lived, right?

Except that’s not how God works. That’s not how he has ever worked.

Look at who he entrusted the Gospel message of the Resurrection to. He called cowards like Peter, doubters like Thomas, persecutors like Paul, social outcasts like Matthew, flakers like Mark, and even women who had been possessed by demons like Mary Magdalene.

When we are quiet about Jesus because we’re embarrassed about our own hypocrisy, that might just be the devil in our ear. He loves to dredge our sins up and convince us we shouldn’t speak about our savior because we’re still sinners.

But maybe that’s the point.

God chose you

When we preach the Gospel even though we feel like hypocrites, we allow God to do three powerful things in our lives and the lives of others.

Firstly, we embrace humility. St. Paul said God gave us the light of the knowledge of his glory: “But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us” (2 Cor 4:7).

The treasure is the Gospel and our weak and hypocritical lives are the earthen vessels. Our weaknesses keep us from thinking we’re the powerful ones here. Rather, it is the power of God — and not our persuasive words, carefully edited reels or even exemplary conduct — that convicts hearts. Only God does that.

Secondly, we set a powerful example to others that they also don’t have to be perfect to be witnesses to Christ. Imagine if everyone thought it was only the sinless who could share about Jesus. The message of Christ would be dead in the water.

I don’t know much about you, but I know if you’re reading this and believe in Jesus, then the person who shared the Gospel with you was also a hypocritical sinner who didn’t always live what they preached. But thank the Lord they shared his good news with you!

And thirdly, we let Jesus convict us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been telling someone about who Jesus is and how much he loves us — and then I realize how much I, too, need to hear that message. I need to be reminded of Christ’s love for me.

And maybe, as uncomfortable as it is, we need to feel that gulf between our words and our actions — not so that we would stop speaking, but so that we would redouble our efforts to live a life worthy of the Gospel. Strange as it sounds, maybe at that moment, the person who needs to hear the Gospel most when you’re sharing it … is you.

If Christ had wanted perfect evangelists, he could have got them. But he chose us. He chose you.

When we feel like hypocrites in sharing the Gospel because we know we don’t live up to it very well, that’s good. Embrace that. Be honest with anyone you’re talking to that you need Jesus more than anyone. But, as the Lord said to St. Paul — the biggest flip-flopper murderer-turned-missionary who ever lived — “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you” (Acts 18:9-10).

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