Jonathan Edwards says in his book Religious Affections that the chief of all signs of true and saving grace is Christian practice. He makes his argument on numerous texts, beginning with “by their fruits you will know them” (Mat. 7:16). He goes on to say that Jesus gives others the right to judge us on our Christian practice based on Matthew 5:16 (“Let your light shine before others that they see your good works . . .”). What I find fascinating about this is what Jesus sandwiched between the two statements about good works and bearing fruit.
Half of Matthew 6 is focused on “beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” The three big areas of this practice is giving, prayer, and fasting–some of the foundational practices of biblical spirituality. He tells them not to do them before other people but before the Father who sees and rewards in secret.
It seems on the surface that Jesus could be taken as contradicting himself here. In Matthew 5, good works are do be done before men. In Matthew 7, the fruit of our Christian lives ought be seen and verifiable by others. But in Matthew 6, Jesus is warning his followers to not let their practices be seen before men to be seen by them.
How would you respond to someone who is confused over this matter? How do you let your light shine before others in such a way that the good works seen by men at the same time do not violate the commands to practice righteousness before men and lose your reward from the Father in heaven? If by the fruit of our Christian practice people will be able to judge we genuine professors, how do we do that without a kind of practice before others that judges us as hypocrites (as seen in Matt. 6)?