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Genuine Christianity – Against Hypocrisy & For Real Faith

By November 8, 2021November 16th, 2021No Comments
In His sermon, which we call The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us on the Christian ethic, how believers are to behave and live. It’s important to realize that the Christian life must be understood as more than actions and words. Our walk with the Lord needs to penetrate our hearts where our minds and motives are brought under His lordship. In Matthew 6:1-8 & 16-18, He speaks against hypocrisy and for authentic faith. Jesus warns us to avoid self-promoting faith and challenges us to live out of God-honoring dedication.
In Matthew 6:1, Christ warns, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Believers are not to perform spiritual disciplines or exercises to be seen by others. We are to participate in practical acts of worship because we love God. When we do spiritual things to be seen, the applause of people is our only reward. When we do spiritual things because we love God, the resources of heaven are poured in and through our lives.
Jesus then walks us through three spiritual practices that Jews saw as the most important for God’s people to exercise: giving, prayer, and fasting. Jesus does not condemn these spiritual acts but rebukes the expectation of rewards and public recognition. He also instructs us on the proper way to engage in these spiritual disciplines.
He begins in Matthew 6:2-4 with giving. It’s evident that Jesus expected His disciples to be generous givers. Jesus teaches that generosity is not enough; He is concerned with our motivation and our heart’s hidden thoughts. Jesus shares the wrong way to give: It’s wrong to give to be honored by other people. Such giving’s reward is the recognition of others. Jesus warns against drawing attention to our generosity. Then, Jesus tells us the right way to give: We are to give in secret. When we give properly, our Father will reward us. As believers, our giving is not to be for the applause of others or even ourselves, but for God’s glory flowing from a heart of love toward Him, being on mission with Him.
Jesus moves onto our prayer life in Matthew 6:5-8. Jesus presents the wrong way to pray: We are not to pray to be seen by other people. When we pray this way, we have already received our full reward. Praying to be seen by others is not praying; it is seeking praise. Further, we are not to pray with meaningless repetition and empty phrases. Praying this way falsely assumes we will be heard by our many words. By saying the same things over and over, the Gentiles thought they could force their gods to help them. Jesus tells us the right way to pray: We are to pray in secret. When we pray in secret, our Father will reward us. The essence of Christian prayer is to seek God. It’s important to note that Jesus did not reject public prayers. If all praying were kept secret, we would have to give up gathering as a church and give up family prayers. But even public prayers are not to be a time to gain attention for the one who prays. He continues by sharing that we are to pray, making simple, direct petitions. There is peace in realizing that God knows what we need before we even ask. As believers, we ought to trust in God, who already knows our personal needs. He knows but invites us to talk with Him about our concerns.
Jesus concludes by looking at fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. Fasting, strictly speaking, is a total abstention from food. However, it can reasonably extend to mean going without food partially or totally, for short or long periods. This is where we get the name for the first meal of the day, breakfast since we ‘break our fast,’ of the night period which we ate nothing. Fasting has to do in various ways with self-denial. The Bible speaks of fasting for penitence, special prayer, and self-discipline. I have found fasting quite meaningful in my spiritual journey. Jesus took it for granted that fasting would have a place in our Christian life.
Jesus begins by sharing the wrong way to fast: We are not to fast to show other people, by looking the part for others to know we are fasting. When we fast improperly, we have already received our full reward through the recognition of others. When Jews fasted, they covered their heads with ashes to show their mourning, humility, and penitence. The purpose of fasting is not to advertise ourselves but to discipline ourselves, to express our humility and dependence on God. As with prayer, so with fasting, if done to get people’s attention, we lose God’s reward. Then, Jesus tells us the right way to fast: We are to fast in secret, taking care of our outward appearance. When we fast properly, our Father will reward us. Jesus called for fasting to be accompanied by actions of celebration, not sorrow. Jesus commanded privacy, not publicity. God rewards the believer who fasts appropriately.
In these verses and throughout Jesus’ teachings, He warns against hypocrisy and promotes genuine faith. He instructs us that self-promoting faith is without any real reward while living out of God honoring dedication releases the resources of heaven in a genuine believer’s life. As we look back over these verses, it becomes clear that Jesus has been contrasting two alternative kinds of spirituality, Pharisaic (insincere faith) and Christian (genuine faith). Christ used the word hypocrite as a picture of insincere faith. Hypocritical faith is perverse because it’s destructive. Jesus calls us to genuine faith. Praying, giving, and fasting are all authentic activities in their own right. To pray is to seek God. To give is to serve others. To fast is to discipline oneself. Hypocrisy destroys the integrity of these practices by turning each of them into an occasion for self-display. Our Lord calls us to be so conscious of Him that we cease to be self-conscious. This is the key to genuine faith. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

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