Pastor's Pondering


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Right Motivation - Love

by Duane Mabee on December 23, 2020

I’ve been reading a book on prayer by Tim Keller – Prayer; Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.  It’s an excellent book and you will be hearing a lot from it over the coming weeks.  I finished reading the book and began reading it again immediately.  I rarely ever read a book twice, and this is the first time I’ve ever done it back-to-back. 


Today, I want to focus our attention on the reasons we walk in holiness before God.  Far too often, our reason for trying to do what is right is more about our desire to avoid punishment or loss of reputation than anything else.  Those are OK motives, but they are inadequate because they make our performance and actions primarily about us. 


Keller talks about our motivations for “being good” and summarizes some of John Calvin’s teaching in the process. 


John Calvin argues that you may know a lot about God, but you don’t truly know God until the knowledge of what He has done for you in Jesus Christ has changed the fundamental structure of your heart.  “For the Word of God is not received by faith if it flits about in the top of the brain, but when it takes root in the depth of the heart… the heart’s distrust is greater than the mind’s blindness.  It is harder for the heart to be furnished with assurance [of God’s love] than for the mind to be endowed with thought.”  When the gospel does take root in the heart, the sign of it is that Christians are led to “establish their complete happiness in Him.”  Unless people experience this, “they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to Him.”  You don’t have true saving knowledge of God until you long to know and serve Him.  Such a soul “restrains itself from sinning, not out of dread of punishment alone; but because it loves and reveres God as Father… Even if there were no hell, it would still shudder at offending Him.


There are so many parts of that quote that I would like to process but let me focus on that last line.  The emphasis above, by the way, is Keller’s, not mine.  If you truly love God and long to know Him, you soul will “restrain itself from sinning, not out of dread of punishment alone; but because it loves and reveres God as Father… Even if there were no hell, it would still shudder at offending Him.


We have developed a true relationship with God as our Father when we get to the point that our obedience is driven by our love for Him and His love for us, not by a desire to follow the rules or avoid being punished.  When we truly love our Heavenly Father, the idea of offending Him in any way will become detestable to us even when we know we will never be caught.  We can’t imagine offending Him, even though we know He will forgive us.  Our motivation is no longer about us and what we do or do not have to experience.  It is about Him and how our thoughts, words and actions impact the God we love.


Far too many Christians live with an “I can do anything I want; God will forgive me” attitude.  That is a complete misunderstanding of and abuse of God’s grace.  In Romans 6, Paul condemns that line of thinking in some of the strongest language at his disposal. 


Following the rules and avoiding punishment has never been a strong enough motivation to keep people from doing what they know they shouldn’t do.  I can personally testify to that.  It is also a terrible foundation for a relationship.  But I have found that knowing how much God loves me and loving Him in return is a powerful motivation for doing what I know God wants.  The strength of that love relationship makes it unthinkable to do what I know would grieve Him. 


Where are you in this regard?  Do you obey God because you must?  Are your thoughts, words and actions motivated primarily by the impact they may have on you?  Or, do you love God to the point that you can’t imagine thinking, saying or doing anything that would break His heart?