I’ve been following a spirited discussion among several of my newspaper's anonymous "Sound Off" callers. If I’m following this correctly, it started with someone being appalled that people drink mimosas (champagne and orange juice) in a restaurant at 9 a.m. on a Sunday. Another caller is appalled that the first caller is appalled and says that caller should be in church and not in a restaurant anyway. The first caller calls back and says he or she is entitled to eat breakfast and says church has nothing to do with champagne being served at 9 a.m. on Sunday. Then one of them throws out the H-word: hypocrite.

Who doesn’t love to dump on hypocrites? “That’s why I don’t go to church — the churches are filled with hypocrites,” as people love to say. I agree, if by hypocrite you mean people pretending to be something they’re not.

I remember reading a blog post about a church that didn’t allow its members to go to the movies and also didn’t allow women to wear pants. One of the church members, who had later left the church, said he and his wife used to go to the movies a few towns over — with the wife wearing pants — just so they wouldn’t get caught. Then one time they were seen by a deacon from their church in the movie theater who was there with his wife — who was wearing pants. “Needless to say, the deacon didn’t tattle on us,” the man wrote on the blog. “This is one of the things that made us question what our church taught. We knew that they were hypocrites, but so were we. And we were very tired of it.”

Hypocrisy happens when people feel the need to hide their true selves from one another, especially in the church. If the unspoken — or spoken — message at a church is: “These are the rules — do them,” then you, wanting to be seen as a good Christian, strive to do them. But inside, you know you’re not, at least not every rule, and not consistently. However, you don’t want anyone else to know that, so you hide it. That’s the breeding ground for hypocrisy. It’s the fear of being caught or found out.

There’s no grace in that. Holiness is the standard, but it’s never attained by our following the rules. Any holiness we have comes solely as a gift of grace. The fancy theological term is “imputed righteousness.” You admit you stink at trying to be good and Jesus hugs you, gives you his record of keeping all the rules and sets you free from the penalty of your sin. It’s more detailed than that, but that’s the gist.

Once you’re set free and experience being accepted, forgiven and loved by God, a funny thing happens.You come out of hiding. Grace gives you the boldness to be honest about your struggle with sin, which is the opposite of hypocrisy. Once you understand that any holiness or goodness you have is not your own, but Christ’s, you stop being a hypocrite and start being free to be who you are, a Christian.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing” and “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927 or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.