Not only does Jesus expect His followers to be holy, He expects them to be holy for the right reasons. It is quite possible to obey God’s commandments and still be very displeasing to Him if one’s obedience stems from a wrong motive. Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees because they did all their good deeds purely to impress others (see Matt. 23:5). He expects His disciples to be different.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets [Jesus’ audience knew of whom He was speaking], that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you (Matt. 6:1-4).
Jesus expected that His followers would give alms to the poor. The Law commanded it (see Ex. 23:11; Lev. 19:10; 23:22; 25:35; Deut. 15:7-11), but the scribes and Pharisees did it with the blowing of trumpets, ostensibly to call the poor to their generous public distributions. Yet how many professing Christians give nothing to the poor? They haven’t even made it to the point of needing to examine their motives for alms giving. If selfishness motivated the scribes and Pharisees to advertise their alms giving, what is it that motivates professing Christians to ignore the plight of the poor? In this regard, does their righteousness surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees?
As Paul would echo in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, we can do good things for the wrong reasons. If our motives are not pure, our good deeds will go unrewarded. Paul wrote that it is possible even to preach the gospel from impure motives (see Phil. 1:15-17). As Jesus prescribed, a good way to be sure our giving is purely motivated is to give as secretively as possible, not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing. The disciple-making minister teaches his disciples to give to the poor (providing they have the means), and he quietly practices what he preaches.