I have shamefully found myself committing acts of holiness as to please and impress others. It is a depraved artifice of the human soul to do good for the sake of worldly admiration – “worldly” in the sense of human praise. The study of the scriptures, prayer, generosity, and charitable acts are all great deeds, but the intentions of the carnal heart can pervert any practice (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-4). Further, there are much deeper misfortunes that lead to this fallacious frame of mind.
One must view God’s existence as either detached from humanity or completely imaginary. Is God’s observance not enough? Do I only feel satisfied when others see my acts of worship or obedience? The answer to those questions tell a great deal as to whether one truly sees God as real and involved. One should be fully capable of being satisfied with God’s observance, because this is the true aim and the observance of true reward. Matthew 6 gives the clearest insight into the needed alignment of intentions. Jesus mentions the practices of giving to the poor, prayer, and lastly fasting.
Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
All three practices that Jesus mentions in Matthew 6 end with that last phrase: “and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” This is the motive of the Christ follower: to be seen by God, rather than man; because true virtue subscribes first to God, and through God, and then can be virtuous to others.
A person who purposely enacts holiness for the approval of others will never live a holy live in private quarters, only public. And to live an apportioned holy life is not a holy life at all, rather it is a product of a compartmentalized Christianity. It is a selfish love. It is a practical atheism, an apathetic theology, which is no theology at all. Therefore, if one struggles to live a life of holiness in secret, they most certainly struggle with believing that God is real, observing them, and ready to reward their actions. Our applications evidence how much our theology has sincerely become real to us and moved our affections.