THE MEDICINE FOR OUR MOTIVATION
an excerpt from The Hole in our Holiness
One of the reasons why I think Christians get tired of hearing about the law is because they never hear why they should obey the law. The imperatives hit us like a ton of study Bibles because we aren’t given any motivation for keeping God’s commands. Everything boils down to, “God said it, so do it.” Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, some Christians make it sound like gratitude is the only legitimate motivation for obedience: “Look at everything Christ has done for you. Now be thankful and let the good works flow.” These are both true motivations for holiness, but they aren’t the only ones.
Jesus is the Great Physician, and like any good doctor he writes different prescriptions for different illnesses. The gospel is always the remedy for the guilt of sin, but when it comes to overcoming the presence of sin, Jesus has many doses at his disposal. He knows that personalities and sins and situations all vary. So what might be good motivation for holiness in a certain situation with a particular person facing a specific sin may not be the best prescription for someone else in different circumstances. Jesus has many medicines for our motivation. He is not like a high school athletic trainer who tells everyone to “ice it and take a couple ibuprofen.” He’s not some quack doctor who always prescribes bloodletting. “High cholesterol? Here’s a leach. Overactive bladder? I got a leach for that. Gout? A couple leaches will take the edge off.” The good news is that the Bible is a big, diverse, wise book, and in it you can find a variety of prescriptions to encourage obedience to God’s commands. Here are just some of the ways in which the Bible motivates us to pursue holiness:
- Duty. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles. 12:13).
- God knows all and sees all. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccles. 12:14).
- It’s right. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1).
- It’s for our good. “Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deut. 12:28).
- God’s example. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
- Christ’s example. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2).
- Assurance. “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Pet. 1:10).
- Being effective as a Christian. “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8).
- Jesus’ return. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Pet. 3:11-12).
- The world is not our home. “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).
- To win over our neighbors. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” a Pet. 2:12).
- To lift up a nation. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34).
- For the public good. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” (Matt. 5:13a).
- For the sake of our prayers. “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7).
- The futility of sin. “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:27).
- The folly of sin. “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:26-27).
- The promise of future grace. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
- The promise of future judgment. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'” (Rom. 12:19).
- The fear of future judgment. “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27).
- The surety of our inheritance. “For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34).
- The communion of the saints. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
- The good examples of others. ”Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7).
- The bad examples of others. “Now these things took place as examples for us that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6).
- We were created for good works. “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
- God is the master and we are his servants. “So you also when you have done all that you were commanded, say, We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).
- The fear of the Lord. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor 5:11).
- The love of the Lord. ”Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
- To make God manifest. “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12).
- In gratitude for grace. “I appeal to you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).
- For the glory of God. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20)
- The character of God. “For I am the Lord, your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44a).
- The work of God. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:2-3).
- To please God. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:16).
- To avoid the devil’s snares. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27).
- For an eternal reward. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:18–19).
- Because Christ has all authority. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matt. 28:18b-20a).
- Love for Christ. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
- Fullness of joy. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10-11).
- To experience Gods favor. ‘A good man obtains favor from the Lord, but a man of evil devices he condemns” (Prov. 12:2).
- Our union with Christ. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:5-6).
As exhausting as this list might be it could easily be doubled or tripled. God doesn’t command obedience “just cuz.” He gives us dozens of specific reasons to be holy. God can prescribe many different medicines for motivation. If you struggling with pornography, he might call to mind your identity in Christ or admonish you that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. If you are fighting pride, God might assure you that he gives grace to the humble or remind you that you follow a crucified Messiah. He can highlight your adoption, justification, reconciliation. or union with Christ. God can stir you up to love and good deeds with warnings and promises, with love and fear, with positive or negative examples. He can remind you of who you are or who you were or who you are becoming. God can appeal to your good, the good of others, or his own glory. You could probably find a hundred biblical reasons to be holy. And the sooner we explore and apply those reasons, the more equipped we’ll be to fight sin, the more eager to make every effort to be more like Christ, and the more ready to say with the apostle John, “his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).