Is God honored by our worship when we don’t mean it? Is he glorified when we go through the motions of devotion to Him simply because we know others are watching and we don’t want to be embarrassed?
The obvious answer is No. Scripture does not mince words when it comes to God’s hatred of hypocritical worship. Through the prophet Amos, He unequivocally condemned Israel’s phony piety:
I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24)
Christ echoed His Father’s condemnation of spiritual hypocrisy during His ministry: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
The Lord has no interest in insincere worship. It’s a worthless abomination, with no explanation or excuse that mitigates its offense to God. And whether it’s performed out of thoughtless habit, or pantomimed for the sake of the watching world, your hypocritical piety invites God’s wrath and judgment.
In his book The Power of Integrity, John MacArthur explains the dangerous deception of spiritual hypocrisy:
Augustine, the early church father, said, “The love of honor is the deadly bane of true piety. Other vices bring forth evil works, but this brings forth good works in an evil way.” Hypocrisy is dangerous because it is so deceptive. It often uses good things for evil purposes and thus becomes one of Satan’s most common but insidiously effective tools for undermining the church and the reputation of Christians. The threat of hypocrisy should therefore motivate us to have an even greater resolve to live our lives with complete integrity, in a way that honors and glorifies God.  John MacArthur, The Power of Integrity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1997), 105.
So what can believers do to combat hypocrisy and cultivate integrity? Through the pen of the apostle Paul, God gives us instructions on how to guard ourselves and the church from becoming a spiritual sham.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
Those two simple verses highlight the balance every believer needs to strike in their lives to avoid hypocrisy and live a life of integrity. Godly living is our responsibility, but it’s one we cannot fulfill through our own strength alone. The Holy Spirit must be at work in us if we’re going to achieve anything more than pharisaical external piety.
To begin with, Paul explains to the Philippians that their godliness is just as important in his absence—if not more so. By definition, your integrity cannot be dependent on the presence of your pastor, discipleship leader, spouse, or some other accountability partner. Who and what you are in their absence reflects the true nature of your heart and character. It’s easy to be on your best behavior when your pastor is watching. The measure of your integrity is how you act once he’s gone away.
Paul knew that the Philippians understood how they should act—it was simply a matter of reminding them to stay faithful to the task. His charge to “work out your salvation” was not some new instruction to manufacture or manipulate his readers’ spiritual growth. Rather, it’s a call to “work out” that which God has already worked in us when He transformed us into new creations. Here’s how John MacArthur explains it:
In Greek the verb translated “work out” means “to continually work to bring something to fulfillment or completion.” The Roman scholar Strabo (who wrote in Greek and lived about sixty years before Christ) gives us insight into the word’s meaning. Strabo uses the same verb when he refers to the Romans extracting silver from mines. By analogy, believers are to mine out of their lives all the richness of salvation God has so graciously deposited there. By sustained effort and diligence we are to work out and perfect in daily conduct those virtues God has placed within us.  The Power of Integrity, 108.
The spiritual “work” Paul describes is the pursuit of sanctification throughout the believer’s life, all the way to his or her future glorification beyond the grave. It’s the process of throwing off the old man and cultivating the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 4:22-24). It’s faithfully, energetically running the race for the imperishable prize Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. It’s the process of setting “your mind on things above, not on things that are on earth” because “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3). It’s cleansing yourself “from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
The “fear of God” was a powerful motivator for Paul. In Philippians 2:12, the work of spiritual discipline he exhorts us to pursue is animated by “fear and trembling.”
But the apostle is not calling us to a life of holy terror or panicked horror at the thought of our Lord. Instead, he’s describing the awe and respect we must have for God if we truly appreciate His holiness and the offense our sin is to Him. In his commentary on Philippians, John MacArthur describes it this way:
Such fear protects against temptation and sin and gives motivation for obedient, righteous living. . . . [It] involves self-distrust, a sensitive conscience, and being on guard against temptation. It necessitates . . . being constantly aware of the deceitfulness of one’s heart, as well as of the subtlety and strength of one’s inner corruption. It is a dread that seeks to avoid anything that would offend and dishonor God.
Believers should have a serious dread of sin and yearning for what is right before God. Aware of their weakness and the power of temptation, they should fear falling into sin and thereby grieving the Lord. Godly fear protects them from wrongfully influencing fellow believers, compromising their ministry and testimony to the unbelieving world, enduring the Lord’s chastening, and from sacrificing joy.
To have such godly “fear and trembling” involves more than merely acknowledging one’s sinfulness and spiritual weakness. It is the solemn, reverential fear that springs from deep adoration and love. It acknowledges that every sin is an offense against holy God and produces a sincere desire not to offend and grieve Him, but to obey, honor, please, and glorify Him in all things.  John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 160-161.
Paul says that mindset must undergird our pursuit of godliness. And you can see how such “fear and trembling” would be a safeguard against hypocrisy, as you discipline yourself to live with integrity before a God who “looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
But the apostle makes it clear that even with a proper, biblical fear of God, you and I cannot live with integrity apart from the Spirit’s work in us. Next time we’ll pick up Paul’s thoughts in Philippians 2:13, and consider what role God plays in our integrity.
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