If you want to see a revolving door of polite teenagers, pull up a chair at the local DMV road test parking lot. Watch them come, one after the other, hat in hand, behind their mothers or fathers, looking a little nervous, endearingly shy, and scraping up ever bit of Emily Post manners they can recall from their upbringing. They’re adorable!
Yesterday, I wrote about my daughter taking her driving test last week, which was when I had occasion to witness this inspiring parade. She noticed it, too. So did (I’m sure) the man with the clipboard conducting the tests, the mothers, and the fathers. All involved were aware they were beholding a rare sighting, an aspect of the on-deck teenager’s behavior that is not always on display at home or in the schoolyard. All involved were grateful for the behavior, whether it was put on or not.
I pondered the phenomenon before me, trying to decide whether the teens’ display of conduct was “hypocritical” or praiseworthy. I decided on the latter, and the reason is biblical: God endorses the studied and deliberate exercise of godly behaviors. He exhorts us to “put off” certain conduct and to “put on” other behavior. If we call it hypocritical to try hard to be honoring toward another human being, we are saying God endorses hypocrisy.
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you … you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another … (Colossians 3:5-9).
Jesus gives instructions for fasting, for example, that include making sure we go out in public with a face that does not look like we’re fasting or suffering. That is, Jesus wants us to consciously put on a happy face, rather than a glum one that extracts attention and sympathy. Is Jesus recommending hypocrisy? No. He is merely saying it is possible—and right!—for us to go out of our way to carefully conduct ourselves in a respectful, polite, and honoring way, even if it “isn’t me.”
The command also sets our conscience at peace against the charge or self-incrimination of phoniness. It is never phony to obey God. The phoniness comes into play when we do good things for devious motives. But the solution to that is not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Rather, keep the good behavior and repent of the motive. And remember that the fact that you can “put on” godly behavior for the 15 minutes at the DMV means you can put it on all day long by the grace of God.