Chapter 7: Observing the Great Commandment

I'm still reading Jerry Bridges' book, The Discipline of Grace. I haven't written on every chapter. But every once in a while he writes something that is so inspiring to me, I have to reach for my laptop. One of those moments just occurred.

I read yesterday afternoon until my eyes were so heavy I had to stop. Reading for a prolonged period of time always makes my eyes sleepy. And I am a pretty well-rested individual. It has nothing to do with being tired or bored because I love to read and was willing myself to stay awake and continue reading yesterday. It's hard for me to put a good book down. But I finally had to stop and get ready for church. This morning I picked up my book and began reading where I had left off. I began reading about the only acceptable motive for obedience: love.

I have learned this lesson well by listening to Tim Keller sermons. I have learned to recognize other motives for obedience; especially the motive of fear. And when our motive is fear, our motive is self-preservation and not love. This was a monumental spiritual discovery for me. This passage addresses our motives and illuminates further how our hearts can deceive us even when it comes to obedience. gives validity to my actions and makes them acceptable to God. I can seek the welfare of my enemies so they hopefully will be nice to me or not harm me again. That is not love; it is manipulation. It is looking out for my welfare under the guise of looking out for theirs.

Love for God, then, is the only acceptable motive for obedience to Him. This love may express itself in a reverence for Him and a desire to please Him, but those expressions must spring from love. Without the motive of love, my apparent obedience may be essentially self-serving. Negatively, I may fear God will punish me, or at least withhold His blessing from me, because of some disobedience. I may abstain from a particular sinful action out of fear I will be found out or because I don't want to feel guilty afterward.

Positively, I may be seeking to earn God's blessing through some pious actions. I may conform to a certain standard of conduct because I want to fit in with and be accepted by the Christian culture in which I live. I might even obey outwardly because I have a compliant temperament, and it is simply my "nature" to obey my parents, or my teacher, or civil authorities, or even God.

All of these motives--both negative and positive--may result in an outward form of obedience, but it is not obedience from the heart. Our behavior may appear outstanding to other people but not be acceptable to God because it does not spring from a motive of love to Him. Only conduct that arises from love is worthy of the name of obedience...

Our motive for obedience is just as important, probably more so, to God than the level of our performance. A person who struggles with some persistent sin but does so out of love for God is more pleasing to Him than the person who has no such struggle but is proud of his or her self-control. Of course, the person who obeys from a motive of love will be concerned about his or her performance. There will be a sincere desire and an earnest effort to please God in every area of life.

Other motives besides pride can taint our obedience. Probably next after pride is the motive of not wanting to feel guilty. This is especially true in areas of persistent sin. You have committed some particular sin many times before and you know well the guilt feelings that have followed the act. Your motive for struggling against that temptation is to avoid the guilt that follows, rather than to express love to God...

Still another frequent motive is the desire to get something from God. It could be as subtle and silly as thinking that if I kneel to pray about a message I am to give, God will grant greater blessing than if I sit in my chair to pray. In using that example, I am not disparaging the act of kneeling to pray. I'm simply trying to illustrate how our deceitful hearts can lead us to do something good from some motive other than to love God.

I once had a conversation with someone about doing the right thing and having the right motive. This person said, "Doing the right thing is more important than why you do it." And I said, "No, it's the opposite. It's better to have the right motive and make a mistake than to do the right thing with the wrong motive." She looked at me like I had spoken jibberish to her. At some point in my life, I probably would have had the same puzzled look on my face. But that was before I really understood the gospel and what it means to obey for no other reason than because I love God and want to show my gratitude for what He has already accomplished in my life -- not even for the hope of future blessings, although we all want God's blessing on our lives. And this is why I cringe whenever a book or a sermon encourages me to obey as a means to be blessed.

My focus has gone from trying to perfect my behavior to constantly examining my heart and all the many ways my heart has the ability to deceive me. I believe that one of the most significant ways God is transforming my actions and behavior is by revealing the hidden motives in my dark heart. Every time He shows me more, I have to run to Him, to the cross, and to repentance. I have to preach the gospel to myself. I have to trust in Christ's finished work on my behalf because the more I pursue godliness, the more I see how far short of that I constantly fall. I will never stop trying to please Him with my life, but I will always need the blood of Christ to cover my door post.

I love Him because He first loved me. There was no reason for Him to love me. He does not love me because He saw something good in me. He loved me because of Who He is and not because of who I am or even what I will become. My response to that kind of love needs to be the obedience that flows from a heart of gratitude and love.

*I wanted to add one thing as an after thought. The Old Testament is filled with examples of blessings following obedience. I'm not trying to contradict that. But when Messiah came, perfect obedience was fulfilled through Christ. Just as we were cursed through Adam's disobedience, we are now blessed through the obedience and sacrifice of Christ if we trust in Him. We are no longer trying to earn God's favor. We have it in Christ. But we cannot separate obedience from love; otherwise, our love is nothing more than a feeling. God put His love into action by the giving of His Son. How can we love Him and not try to obey?


DeeDee said…
Profound stuff or should I say that what all you have said here is really a definition of spiritual maturity?" When you speak of obedience for self serving reasons, it reminds me of a child to parent relationship. But when our motives are to please from a heart of love, our relationship is more like that of lovers. A love relationship of that kind is always founded in respect which naturally generates a profound heart's desire to please (which involves obedience since, after all, our lover is Jesus).

If people only knew how relationship oriented our Jesus is and how much He loves us! If we could comprehend it even in the smallest way, we'd be checking in with Him about everything, talking to Him, communing with Him. He has a sense of humor. We could play and laugh together!

I'm afraid religion has put our Lord in a box with pre-concived notions about who He is and how He is. religion rarely translates Him out to be a relationship oriented DIETY. That feels like a contradiction in terms, really, but it's not. Yes, He is God and yes, He wants a very personal, loving, affectionate, playful and respectful with mortal ME! His good thougts for me in any given day are more than the grains of sand in the sea. I can't even comprehend that on any level, but I try.

When a relationship goes to that level, no need to wonder what are your heart's motives. One will please and obey from a heart of love. There's your MapQuest on how to get there, me thinks. ;-)
Shari said…
Yes, but our relationship to the Father IS a parental relationship.

You said: "When a relationship goes to that level, no need to wonder what are your heart's motives."

I would disagree with that statement. I think we must never stop examining our hearts and our motives. We are fallen, sinful creatures by nature and will never be completely free from all selfish motives. There's great danger in believing that we will just naturally be so in love with Jesus that we won't even have to examine our hearts anymore. That sounds to me like this new-agey type of Christianity I have such a problem with. (Sorry!) I don't relate to God or Jesus in this way -- as a playmate so to speak. I have to admit, I kind of cringed at some of those comments. But maybe I just didn't understand. I would need a scripture for the playing part.

I don't believe the depth of our relationship with God is about feelings and playfulness and laughter. He is God, not a teddy bear.

I don't see examples of Jesus playing in the New Testament. What I do see is that He was constantly doing the will of His Father in heaven. That is the relationship I want. Whether I think of it as an obedient child or an obedient wife, the point I was trying to share from the book is that the only acceptable motive for obedience is love for God instead of love for myself and how I might benefit from obedience. I feel like we are on different pages -- or maybe even in completely different books.

Dee Dee, I say this in love and I hope I don't offend you. But be careful with this kind of thinking. It has already led you to the thought that you might never even need to be concerned about having a sinful motive. That's just not biblical.
Shari said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shari said…
Dee Dee, I deleted my second comment because I think I may have misunderstood what you were trying to say and possibly over-reacted. I'll leave the first one and just say that it was the comment about not having to even wonder about our heart's motives that gave me pause. I don't think we'll reach that level of perfect relationship (or perfect heart) in our flesh. But we have glimpses of it in our every day lives. And that may have been what you were trying to express.

Please forgive me if I sounded like I was extreme in my comments. You know me well enough to know the passion that resides in me! Sometimes I have to apologize for coming on a little strong. Okay, lots of times. Ha Ha.
Janette said…
I love this blog. The book you're reading is covering subject matter that Bruce and I have been talking about lately because we have such different relationships with God. He's a doer and and a man of action, whereas I'm more quiet, still, and reflective in my time with Him. Bruce fasts regularly (which I wish I could be more disciplined at), he prays certain prayers of deliverance, and gets down on his knees or even his face at times when he prays. I'm one to talk to God, sing, and worship in the park while I'm walking as if he's walking beside me. I'm not into all the fanfair and formalities and sometimes Bruce and I have discussions about what we need to do to get a "breakthrough" or to get His attention in a matter. Do I pray a little longer? Do I add a fast to my prayer? What if I'd gotten down on my knees when I asked, instead of having been walking in the park - then would he have heard and answered? What if we pray together, rather than separately - is that the magic formula?

It never dawned on me that some of these formalities may be self-serving and manipulative. Do you think they are or can be or did I completely miss the point? It's late and I'm cross-eyed so I know I may have... :)
Shari said…
You got the point, Janette. All of those thoughts are performance driven notions. He is trying to show us how we ALL struggle with "other" motives. And most motives are in some way self-serving. We just are not in tune with our hearts so much of the time. We fool ourselves into believing we have pure hearts. But none of us have totally pure hearts. If we did, we'd be perfect. Nothing selfish could ever come out of a perfectly pure heart. Look around and see if you see that displayed anywheren--even by the best people you know.

If we are growing in Christ, our hearts are becoming more pure over time as we are transformed into His likeness. But we are never as close as we might like to think we are in purity even on our best day. We have self-serving motives that we are blind to. It takes a lot of introspection and effort and DESIRE for God to show us the hidden things in our hearts. And then when He does reveal our hearts and the motives we didn't know were intermingled with our best intentions, we better be able to preach the gospel to ourselves and know about grace or we would crumble under the weight of our sin. We need to be able to acknowledge our sin and repent daily so we can receive His grace. We better know how much we need our Savior.

Knowing the gospel is what sets us free from guilt and self-condemnation. It sets you free to obey because you realize it is not your perfect performance that pleases God but obedience from a heart of love and gratitude.

You will love this book. I'll give it to you when I finish.
Danny Bryant said…
sometimes the best way to avoid intimacy is to just obey. the older brother in the prodigal parable "slaved" for the father because he wanted the inheritance. he wasn't interested in the father. the younger brother was weong, but at least honest about what he wanted.

i have seen this in my relationship with the boys. when i'm tired and don't feel like really giving them attention, i'll put in a movie i know they want to watch. by giving them what they want, i avoid real intimacy. this is the heart of legalism.

flannery o'connor has this great line from 'wise blood'

"There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin."