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“The Motivation for Godly Living”

It is one thing to know that our lives are to be characterized by holiness; it is another thing to actively pursue it as an ongoing pattern in one’s life. As with everything, in order to be successful in the pursuit of godly living, one needs the proper motivation.

I. Various motivating factors in life:

There are a variety of ways in which human beings seek to motivate their own behavior and choices as well as those of others. However, many of the methods that are employed in other spheres simply do not work in regard to motivating genuine godliness.

One common motivation in human life is that of a positive reward for fulfilling a responsibility, or fulfilling it well. Most people work every day and strive to do their job well, not only for the reward of their paycheck, but for the rewards of advancement, bonuses, and raises. And there are many other situations in which people are motivated to do certain things or do them in a certain way in order to gain some sort of reward.

Another motivating factor that is used in some spheres of life is the fear of punishment or unpleasant consequences. In almost every sphere of life there are rules that have been set forth regarding the behavior that is expected of us; in order to enforce these rules (whether at work, in school, or in society) those who establish the rules or laws, institute penalties that are to be suffered by those who break them. This too is an effective way of controlling or modifying behavior.

Still another way is through compulsion. An individual or group are made to behave in certain ways by force, coercion, or manipulation. Depending upon the methods used, and the circumstances this can also be effective at motivating someone to live according to one’s expectations. This approach to motivating behavior of course is often abusive and unethical.

A fourth way is through guilt; influencing oneself or others to behave in certain ways out of concern for how they will be perceived by others (including God).

Whatever motivation it is that will actually and successfully enable the believer to pursue godliness; it must be something that God has intended to be applied to us. This is because it is God who is in control of the process of sanctification, not us. He is the one who would be in the position to either reward, punish, manipulate, or force us to be godly. The reality is that the Scriptures make it plain that God does not motivate us by reward; because obedience and faithfulness do not always lead to blessing. God also does not seek to motivate us by fear of punishment; because again not all sin or failure is specifically punished in a cause and effect manner. God does not force or coerce godliness from us, and He certainly does not manipulate us into making godly choices. Part of the reason for this is that none of these approaches would address the core issue, which is the transformation of our hearts. So then what is meant to motivate the Christian to pursue godliness? As it is revealed in the promise of the New Covenant; God intends to bring us to the place where we want to do what is right:

  • “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD’, for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
  • Jeremiah 31:33-34

    God has said He will weave within our hearts His laws. This is accomplished partly by the new birth by which we are given new natures (Titus 3:5; II Cor.5:17), but it is also partly accomplished by our daily efforts to advance our sanctification by the power of God’s Spirit. God has determined that the catalyst for these efforts that will motivate us to continually pursue life change is our love for God. In the Scriptures this is always what motivates genuine godliness.

    II. What should arouse love for God? (Psalm 116)

    But love for anyone, including God, is not something we can simply choose to do; something must arouse this love within us. The Psalms are great resources for finding revelations regarding the nature of the saint’s relationship with God. In Psalm 116, the unnamed author writes:

    “I love the LORD, because He has heard

    My voice and my supplications.

    Because He has inclined His ear to me,

    Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.

    The pains of death surrounded me,

    And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me;

    I found trouble and sorrow.

    Then I called upon the name of the LORD:

    ‘O LORD, I implore You, deliver my soul!’

    Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;

    Yes, our God is merciful.

    The LORD preserves the simple;

    I was brought low, and He saved me.

    Return to your rest, O my soul,

    For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.

    For You have delivered my soul from death,

    My eyes from tears,

    And my feet from falling.

    I will walk before the LORD

    In the land of the living.

    I believed, therefore I spoke,

    ‘I am greatly afflicted’.

    I said in my haste,

    ‘All men are liars’.

    “What shall I render to the LORD

    For all His benefits toward me?

    I will take up the cup of salvation,

    And call upon the name of the LORD.

    I will pay my vows to the LORD

    Now in the presence of all His people.

    Precious in the sight of the LORD

    Is the death of His saints.

    O LORD, truly I am Your servant;

    I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant;

    You have loosed my bonds.

    I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving,

    And will call upon the name of the LORD.

    “I will pay my vows to the LORD

    Now in the presence of all His people,

    In the courts of the LORD’s house,

    In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

    Praise the LORD!”

    The Psalm opens with an explanation of why the psalmist loves Yahweh (vs.1-4); thus giving us an inspired insight into what arouses one’s genuine love for God. The psalmist writes that God had heard his cries for help and had delivered him from death. In this man’s most dire need, God had responded to his plea for salvation. Although it is almost certain that the deliverance in the psalmist’s case was from physical death; the song sets forth a principle that is enlarged in light of the revelation of the New Testament. God in Christ saves His own from eternal damnation and death. Although He does this according to His own eternal plan, He also does this in response to our call to Him that He would save us. Therefore, the primary reason for our love for God is that He has literally saved our lives. Our destruction was certain, and the only reason we escaped it is because God intervened on our behalf.

    As the psalmist continues, he expresses that he also loves his God because He responded to him on basis of grace and mercy (vs.5). God does not save us because we merit that salvation, He saves us because He is inclined to do so because of His gracious nature and because of the love that He has for His people.

    The psalmist next reminds himself that God had greatly enriched his life with good things. In the immediate context the reference is to all the things that make a material life pleasant and rewarding. But for the NT saint reading this psalm it must be remembered that God’s expression of goodness has been revealed to be even greater than this; as Paul observed:

  • “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”
  • Ephesians 1:3

    God has enriched the believer with every genuinely good thing that we could possibly receive through our union with Christ, and it will all be ours when the new age dawns. Though in this life we may be relatively impoverished; in the life to come we will possess and enjoy an infinite wealth of God’s goodness.

    The psalmist then articulates a precious truth that lay behind God’s choice to save His people; he writes that “precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints” (vs.15). In the original context the idea is that God places a high value on the saints and at the moment of their greatest challenge (their physical death) God’s care is intensified for them.

    These expressions of the psalmist make it clear that it is God’s genuine and glorious love for him that aroused his love for God in return; an idea that is echoed in the New Testament:

  • “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love Him because He first loved us.”
  • I John 4:9-10, 19

    The principle then is that when the believer experiences the overwhelming beauty and grace of God’s love, the believer’s love for God is aroused in response. How could we not love one who so loves us and who is so good to us. That is why in the rest of the psalm, the author expresses that it is in response to God’s gracious demonstration of love and care that he commits himself to be faithful to align himself with God (vs.12-14), chooses to serve Him (vs.16-17), and is motivated to praise and worship Him (vs.19).

    III. How do we cultivate our love for God? (Psalm 103)

    Just because we deeply love someone at one time, does not mean that we will always love them, or at least that we will always love them with the same intensity. In Psalm 103 we can find insights into the sorts of things the believer should meditate upon that will stimulate an ongoing passionate love for God. Psalm 103 was written by David, and in the first portion of the psalm David writes:

    “Bless the LORD, O my soul;

    And all that is within me, bless His holy name!

    Bless the LORD, O my soul,

    And forget not all His benefits:

    Who forgives all your iniquities,

    Who heals all your diseases,

    Who redeems your life from destruction,

    Who crowns you with lovingkindness & tender mercies,

    Who satisfies your mouth with good things,

    So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

    The LORD executes righteousness

    And justice for all who are oppressed.

    He made known His ways to Moses,

    His acts to the children of Israel.

    The LORD is merciful and gracious,

    Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.

    He will not always strive with us,

    Nor will He keep His anger forever.

    He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

    Nor punished us according to our iniquities.

    For as the heavens are high above the earth,

    So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;

    As far as the east is from the west,

    So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

    As a father pities his children,

    So the LORD pities those who fear Him.

    For He knows our frame;

    He remembers that we are dust.

    As for man, his days are like grass;

    As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.

    For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

    And its place remembers it no more.

    But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting

    On those who fear Him,

    And His righteousness to children's children,

    To such as keep His covenant,

    And to those who remember His commandments to do them.

    David begins his psalm with a call to himself to worship and give praise to God; to ensure that He would never forget all that God had done for him (vs.1-2). Then in the following verses David lists the various ways that God had blessed him (vs.6-5). David recorded why he continued to love God, and so in this Psalm, God specifically provided a revelation regarding how to continue to cultivate our love for God throughout our lifetime.

    Next, David reviews the characteristics of God that should continue to inspire our love and adoration of Him (vs.6-10). We can count on God to always be just, to always do what is right, to always be gracious, to never deal with us according to our sins (i.e. give us the punishment we deserve), and to always make Himself and His ways known to us. David is setting before us the beauty and glory of God’s perfections that makes Him one that we will be drawn to in love if we will merely allow our hearts and minds to grasp that these are realities about who our God is.

    As David continues he focuses his song on just how good God is to those who are His people (vs.11-13). God’s mercy is infinite, the forgiveness He provides is absolute, and He cherishes us as His children treating us with compassion rather than judgment. All of this is in light of the fact that God knows us completely (vs.14). In writing that God knows our frame, and that we are dust, David expresses that God already knew our weaknesses, failures, short-comings, and sins before He ever established a relationship with us. Therefore in our relationship with Him we can be completely open with Him because there is nothing we need to hide, since He knows even the worst things about

    us already.

    David then expresses that by design, human beings are mortal, and we will only live so long. But in contrast, God’s mercy is eternal to those who are truly His (demonstrated by their fear of Him and their ongoing faithfulness to their covenant with God) (vs.15-18). Therefore though we may drift away or choose not to be faithful; God will never cease to be loyal and good to His people.

    David is demonstrating through this psalm that part of the way we maintain our love for God is through regular and genuine worship; actively praising God and expressing the love we have for Him. This practice reinforces our apprehension of His love for us, and

    it also reinforces our love for Him as we actively express it.

    Beyond this we read elsewhere that we cultivate our love relationship with God through prayer:

  • “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.”
  • Psalm 145:18

    The idea that this verse sets forth is that closeness to God is achieved through prayer. The qualifying phrase “who call upon Him in truth” means not only in sincerity, but more importantly, it is those who approach God in light of the theological truth He has revealed about Himself and our relationship with Him that experience His nearness. The principle is that God can be reached at any time through prayer and that in communing with Him we cultivate our relationship with Him. This is a principle that is also articulated in the New Testament:

  • “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
  • James 4:8a

    Another important principle is that obedience is an important part of cultivating our ongoing love for God:

  • “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 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.”
  • John 15:9-10

    In the passage above, the Apostle John is quoting Jesus. Jesus explains that He loves His followers in a way that is comparable to how God the Father loves Him. Jesus then exhorted His disciples to abide or remain in His love and tells them that the way they are to do this is by being obedient to His commandments. When Jesus goes on to point out that this is how He abides in the Father’s love, we know that His point is not that the Father only loved Christ as long as He was obedient; instead that living in obedience was an expression of the love He had for the Father, and those represented the bond He shared with His Father. It is the same for us; obedience does not cause God in Christ to love us, but it is the atmosphere of the love relationship we share with God.

    We read in one of Paul’s letter about the last principle for cultivating our ongoing love for God. Paul exhorted his readers to:

  • “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
  • Colossians 3:16

    In this verse nothing is said about loving God; simply that we are to teach and admonish one another. The New Testament has a number of admonitions regarding what we are to render to one another (Rom.12:10, 16; 15:5, 7, 14; I Cor.12:25; Gal.5:13; Eph.4:2, 32; 5:21; I Thess.4:18; 5:11; Heb.3:13; 10:24; Jas.5:16; I Pet.4:9). All of these are rooted in the reality that God has created us to be social creatures. There is a dynamic in life that when people share common ideas, beliefs, and goals it reinforces those things in them. This is how fellowship relates to cultivating love for God. If believers share with one another the reasons for loving and worshipping God, that dynamic of fellowship strengthens our sense of the reality of the truths about God that arouse our love for Him.

    IV. What can cool our love for God?

    Just as there are things that arouse or stimulate our love for God, there are things that erode our devotion to Him. It is not enough to practice those things that stimulate our love for God; we must also remove from our lives those things that will result in a diminishing of our love for Him.

    The first thing we need to distance ourselves from is sin, because God has revealed that:

  • “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear.”
  • Psalm 66:18

    The simple principle here is that when we entertain sin in our hearts we are embracing the antithesis of all that God is. God is holy and He will not tolerate sin in His presence (Hab.1:13a); therefore, to indulge in sin is to choose to distance oneself from God.

    The believer should also be careful to watch regarding where they invest their affections:

  • “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
  • I John 2:15

    The term “world” does not refer to the planet, but to the organized system of human life that fills the planet. This term is used almost universally by John to refer to humanity in opposition and rebellion to God; to humanity as fallen. Therefore to love the world means to love an orientation to life (perspectives, values, etc.) that is contrary to that of God. To love the things in the world; is to be drawn to those things that God has forbidden. The “love of the Father” is not our love for God, but His love for us. The idea is that if our hearts are drawn toward the things of the world, they will by definition be drawn away from God. Therefore, the believer is to resist the allures of worldliness.

    Whereas the world represents those things that might tempt us to engage in what is objectively evil; there is a similar temptation that can cause us to grow distant in our relationship with God. That is when good things become a distraction:

  • “Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' ‘So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’”
  • Luke 12:16-21

    There is nothing wrong with farming, and nothing wrong with building new barns because God has blessed a person with success and a large harvest. There is also nothing wrong with planning for the future (in fact the principles in the Book of Proverbs encourage one to do this). The problem with the individual in Jesus’ parable is that he was distracted by his success. He was only aware of the material things before him and gave no thought to spiritual realities. Therefore as Jesus’ conclusion to the story demonstrates the farmer had not invested anything in eternal and spiritual things; only in material things. Believers must guard themselves from becoming so preoccupied with the things of this life that they lose their focus upon spiritual realities and thus slowly erode their devotion for God.

    Finally, the Christian needs to make sure that in general they do not allow their faith in God and His Word to be undermined; for the Scriptures warn us that:

  • “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”
  • Hebrews 11:6

    Paul elsewhere described in general terms the nature of what it means to be a Christian:

  • “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’.”
  • Romans1:17

    The Christian life is characterized as a continual walk of faith in which we grow from more shallow expressions of faith into deeper expressions of faith. Faith is crucial because we relate to God exclusively through it. Our senses do not perceive God; we know He is there, that He is good, and that we want to know Him through faith. Therefore if we want to grow in our love for God, we must make sure that we do not allow unbelief in Him and His Word to take hold in our hearts.


    To the church of Ephesus Jesus said:

  • “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent.”
  • Revelation 2:4-5

    In His address to that church Jesus does not suggest that there were any other failings among them; in fact Jesus praises them for their discerning and their faithfulness to what is true. But the loss of their “first love” (the love they had at the first – when they were initially converted) was a serious concern. It meant that they were distant from God and eventually it would result in the erosion of all their obedience and faithfulness. Orthodoxy and ethical living are not enough. The root that is meant to sustain a real and vibrant relationship with God is a genuine love for Him in response to His love for us. That sort of relationship with God in turn results in salvation and life change. The reality is that the degree of our love for God will determine our success in our quest for godliness (that is because we really only pursue those things we love).

    In the Bonds of Christ,

    Pastor Michael Huard

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