A Facade or Authentic Faith
A Façade or Authentic Faith
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise, you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” (vs. 1)
It is easy to reduce the Christian faith to a façade. We can follow the rules, talk the talk, be involved in the church and be active, but we still lack authenticity in our faith. Our faith becomes merely an external show rather than a continual inward transformation of our life. Throughout the sermon, Christ continually confronts us with the necessity of continual and inward change. But in this verse, he identifies the danger we face in our spiritual lives.
Godly living involves the acceptance and obedience of rules of conduct. It is estimated that there are 613 commands in the Old Testament and another 1000 commands in the New Testament. Many commands focus on external acts and deal with either behavior we are to avoid or acts of righteousness we are to perform. As a result, we measure our obedience by conformity to these outward activities—however, the Bible points to the interplay between the inward attitude and the external behavior. To have one without the other is to embrace false righteousness. Consequently, claiming to be a follower of Christ without outward obedience reveals that one does not possess genuine faith. James writes that “Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17). If our confession of faith does not translate into a change of outward conduct, then our faith is no better than the demons, who believe in God but refuse to obey him (James 2:19). Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ also points to the importance of outward behavior by stating that you can discern the genuineness of our faith by the outer life we live (Matthew 7:17-21).
On the other hand, outward actions without inward transformation can also provide a false expression of faith. Merely following the rules and obeying external commands is insufficient. One can abide by all the orders and still lack genuine confidence. Instead of our actions demonstrating our submission to Christ, they can be external performances that conceal an internal heart of rebellion. To press his point home, Christ gives two illustrations. In 5:16, He emphasized the importance of our outward acts of caring for others. In Matthew 25:34-36 he commands us to give to those hungry and care for those in need. However, our acts of caring for those in need can also be conducted for the wrong reason. Instead of being a response of faith, it can gain recognition before God and man. Instead of being an outgrowth of our salvation, it can be the means by which we seek to attain it.
Even prayer, which is at the heart of our relationship with God, can become an act of self-righteousness rather than an expression of surrender to God. We can be eloquent in prayer but destitute in spirit. In these verses, Christ challenges us to delve deep into our souls and examine our attitudes and motives. Are our outward actions consistent with our inward character? Are we living in obedience to Christ as an expression of love for Christ or as a means of affirming our self-righteousness? Are we living a life of transformation or a life of presentation? Genuine faith is a life of surrender to God, leading to a desire to be like Christ.