Christianity is not a show, it’s not a performance lived out before men. If the way of the Pharisee is pompous, trumpet sounding ostentation, then what is the way of a Christian? It’s the way of secrecy.
This is the second litmus test. A Christian knows how to cultivate a secret faith before God.
3 times in this chapter, Jesus uses the word “secret.”
And he applies this principle of secrecy in 3 areas: in our giving to the poor, in prayer and in fasting.
v3 – instead of giving money with a trumpet blaring, we read–
3 …do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be IN SECRET. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
v6, instead of standing in the synagogue or the church or the street corner before men while in prayer, we read–
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done IN SECRET, will reward you.
Instead of looking all somber and disfiguring your face (do you know people like this? I think we all do), insteading of fasting like the Pharisees, we read in v17–
17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done IN SECRET, will reward you.
How do we reconcile acting in secret as we have read in this chapter and the previous chapter, Matt 5:16, where it reads–
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may SEE YOUR GOOD DEEDS and praise your Father in heaven.
Let’s turn there. This is the third litmus test–a Christian is one who lives out his faith publicly in the world. Acting in secret vs. showing good deeds–how do you do that? You can reconcile these apparently contradictory statements by the context. In Matthew 5:16, where we are encouraged to show our good deeds before men, the context is evangelism. We are called to be salt and light to an unbelieving world and by our good deeds before men, people will notice, people will be impacted, people will turn from their sins and move toward the Savior and eventually give praise to our Father in heaven.
Matthew 6, where we are called to live out our faith in secret, before God and not before men, the context is the religious community, other believers, church. Show the world how much Christ means to you through your good deeds, and when it comes to the church, prove that you are living before God and not before men through your secrecy. And in both cases, the goal is the same. God receives the glory. When you are living before non-believers and showing off who God is through your good deeds, God receives praise from men. When you are giving in secret, or praying in secret, or fasting in secret, you are doing these things before the only Person who matters, our Heavenly Father. He sees what you are doing in secret. He notices your private devotion. His applause is all that counts in the end.
I want to let this sink in a bit. How do you measure up to this truth? Living publicly before a non-believing world and living in secret before other believers. How does your life hold up in light of this very, practical truth? This was a very sobering truth for me to swallow. I find myself often doing the complete reverse. Before the world, I’m silent. I’m not speaking. I’m not showing through my deeds that I know Jesus. To the world, I’m like saltless salt. I’m like a lamp under a bowl. But in the church, I put my Christian hat on. And I’m vocal. I share the Word. I try to serve and show through my deeds. Obviously, I pray in public. I talk about serving the poor in sermons. Are we, you and I, doing the complete opposite of what the Scripture commands us to do?
When we are to show through our good deeds, we hide. When we are supposed to hide, we show off. Our good works must be public so that our light shines. Our religious devotions must be done in secret, why? So that we don’t boast. The end of both instructions of Jesus is the same, namely the glory of God. Why are we to keep our piety secret? It is in order that glory may be given to God, rather than ourselves. Why are we to let our light shine and do good works in the open? It is that men may glorify our heavenly Father.
I invite you to go to a prayer closet this week and examine your life. Dip your life into this truth and see what color comes out. Are you passing the litmus test? Are you living consistently with how a born again believer ought to live? Or does your life contradict the truth of God’s word?
When is the last time you acted like salt or light? When is the last time you showed good deeds to the non-believers around you? When you don’t get applauded by people within the church for your service, do you get bitter? Do you lose motivation to serve? When you get snubbed, or criticized, do you fall apart? Does the opinion of other believers matter to you more than what God thinks of you? These are important question to help us to examine our lives before this important truth. A Christian is one who through his good deeds, shines before men. But a Christian is also one who is able to cultivate a secret life before God.
Like a jewel held up to the light, Jesus is saying–this is what a Christian looks like, this is how a Christian relates with others, this is how a Christian has impact in the world, this is how a Christian ought to relate with other believers–and he is allowing us to see the fruit of salvation from various angles.
A fourth litmus test for salvation–a Christian is consistent no matter the circumstance you place him in. A Christian–put him in any situation and there is a consistency, there is integrity, there is wholeness. A Christian is like a peeled banana, not lasagna. You slice into lasagna, you might get beef or tomato sauce or a sheet of pasta. But a peeled banana, however you slice it, you get banana. You skim the surface layer, you get banana. If you slice it in a cross section, you get banana, whether you slice at the tip or the middle or the end. That’s how a Christian is. However you slice a Christian, you get a Christian.
There is a consistency between private life and public life. There is a consistency between personal morality and public religion. When you are home alone, there is love for God when no one is watching. When you’re out in the world, there is a love for the stranger. When you’re at church, there is a genuine love for a neighbor, even if your neighbor is an enemy. There is a love for the fellow brother or sister, even the ones you don’t naturally get along with. There is a wholeness. However you slice a Christian, you get a Christian. Jesus is trying to smoke out the hypocrite, the one who acts like he knows God but doesn’t have a saving faith.
Now we get to the Lord’s prayer. Jesus models for us how a Christian ought to pray. In these short verses, Jesus offers yet another series of litmus tests. A true Christian will pray like this, not because it’s a duty but because this is what he genuinely believes in his heart.