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Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

My Shocking Discovery about Motivation

Some background

When I was a student at UC Santa Barbara I was on the leadership team of a church college group.

At one point we talked about how we could increase the students’ motivation for following Christ.

But as we talked, I knew this question was not just about the rest of the students — this question was also about me.

How could I be more motivated?

For example

What can I do when —

  • I am not motivated to pray?
  • I am not motivated to show hospitality to strangers?
  • I am not motivated to give sacrificially?
  • I have little desire to obey Jesus?

Should I just try harder?  Be more disciplined?  Be held accountable?

What can I do?

A life-changing weekend

One weekend I drove home from Santa Barbara to see my parents.

Since this question was on my mind, I thought I’d get my father’s opinion.

So I asked — “How can I increase my motivation?  What can I do?”

My father is a wise man.  So instead of answering the question directly — he let me discover it for myself.

Here’s what he said —

Why don’t you study the New Testament to see how Jesus and the apostles motivated people?  Look for commands, and search the surrounding verses for what motivates each command.

What I discovered

I’m not sure what I expected.  But what I found shocked me.

Command after command after command was motivated by the promise of reward.

For example — how does Jesus motivate prayer?

“Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mat 6:6).

How does Jesus motivate hospitality to strangers?

“You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14).

How does Jesus motivate financial giving?

“Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38).

How does Jesus motivate obedience?

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 15:10).

I saw this EVERYWHERE in the New Testament — over 350 places where commands are motivated by promises.

So Jesus does not want my motivation to be mostly trying harder, greater discipline, or accountability.

Jesus wants my motivation to be His promises of reward.

Some explanation —

Rewards can be misunderstood.  So here’s some details —

  • There are other motivations besides rewards.  But I emphasize rewards because they are mentioned so often (Heb 11:6), and because of how often they are neglected.
  • The reward is not health and wealth — it’s knowing God in the person of Jesus Christ now and forever (Mat 5:8; John 14:21,23).
  • It’s only by God’s grace that we obey (1Cor 15:10).  So even after we obey, and receive the reward, all the glory goes to Him (Rom 6:17).
  • Obedience is by faith alone (Heb 11:8).  As we look to Christ by faith, His Spirit will motivate our hearts with His promises, and obedience will result.
  • Since obedience is always imperfect, the rewards are never earned or deserved (Luke 17:10).  They are gifts given by grace alone through faith alone.
  • Since our obedience is always imperfect, the only reason God can reward us is because — through faith in Christ — we are cleansed by Jesus’ blood and clothed with His righteousness (Gen 15:6).

So here’s what I do

When I lack motivation —

  • I turn to Jesus, trusting His blood and righteousness as the only basis on which I am forgiven and accepted.
  • I ask the Father to work powerfully in my heart by the Holy Spirit.
  • I find promises in God’s Word that speak to those areas where I lack motivation.
  • I pray over those promises until my heart is changed and motivation grows.
  • I pray for God’s strength to enable my obedience.
  • I step out in obedience, relying on God’s grace to sustain and empower me.

What motivates YOU?

Are you motivated by the promise of rewards?  Why or why not?  What other biblical motivations help you?  Let me know in the “leave a reply” section below.  Thanks.

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Here’s more on obedience, motivation, and rewards —


(Picture by coolcaesar on Wikipedia.)

Category: Motivation for Obedience, Stories from My Life


17 Responses

  1. Paul Walton says:

    Hey Steve,
    I believe most Christians think they should be motivated by gratitude, for what God as done for them through the death and resurrection of His Son. And that’s true, obedience is a key motivator to obey, but the promises of God of even more of His grace in our lives is even a more powerful motivator. In Hebrews the author tells us that Christ despised the shame of the cross, but endured it, because He looked forward to the joy that it would eventually bring, the joy of glorifying His Father. And in turn the Father would glorify His Son, it was a glorifying conspiracy between the Father and Son, for our benefit. God’s grace is a constant river flowing towards us, He desires to gives us more of Himself, it’s only when we turn to other things to satisfy us that we stop the flow.

  2. Paul Walton says:

    I should have proof read better, should read “And it’s true is a key motivator.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Good thoughts as usual, Paul.

      And it’s so true that gratitude is crucial. My understanding is that we feel deep and strong gratitude for all Christ has done for us — this leads us to worship and adoration. It also strengthens our confidence that God will keep all His promises for the future, as Paul argues in Rom 8:32.

      I briefly commented on whether gratitude is to be our motivation here.

      And I love your idea of a “glorifying conspiracy between the Father and Son for our benefit.” Thanks for your thoughts, brother.

  3. David Fedor says:

    Very interesting, particularly the aspect of Heb 11:6 where it says that we must believe that he rewards those who seek him, in order to draw near. Thanks, Steve!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi David! Great to hear from you.
      After reading your comment, maybe I should have made the Hebrews 11:6 Scripture more prominent — as it powerfully illustrates that faith is all about coming to God for rewards. Thanks for highlighting that! And may the Father richly bless you today.

  4. Bill Schuler says:

    I really appreciate the link between command and promise. I’ve never really heard it put quite like that. One great motivator for me has been praying for God to “break the power of sin over me” I got that from you over the years, and it REALLY works!Like magic fairy dust or something! One minute my heart is as cold as a stone and -0 affection for Jesus. Then I pray….Break the power of sin over me…..change my heart….(sometimes I have to wait a bit) He seems to love that prayer! What was impossible for me to do (manufacture genuine love) God does within me. Its a beautiful experience to see the power of sin broken the moment it is happening. Scary thought…The unbeliever cannot experience this nor can he change his own heart any more than I can. I am just soooo thankful for the grace and love of God. He has always been so faithful to answer that prayer! Seriously, Magic fairy dust!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Love your thoughts, Bill!

      And it encourages me to hear about how — when you pray — God changes your heart. Like you said — it’s the grace and love of God.

      The way I’ve experienced it is that when I pray, God changes my heart so I want His promised reward (more of Him) more than the pleasures of sin.

      Sometimes this change comes quickly, sometimes not. But when I pray over the promises — He always, in time, changes my heart.

      What a great God!

  5. Willie Easley says:

    I seldom do anything for one reason so understanding motive is elusive. Fortunately I’ve had a very free life. So many things have simply come my way by God’s providence – money, health, children, parents and a supportive wife. The key to our success in the Rif is due to an earthquake. Something I had nothing to do with. For me motive has centered around the great challenges I have found in scripture. Who else says to love my neighbor, turn the other cheek or simply “GO” without telling me where to go? Life would be boring without the idea of “fishing for men”.

    I love thinking about why I do what i do – thanks for the blog


    • Steve Fuller says:

      You are so welcome, Willie. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      And I resonate with your statement that life would be boring without fishing for men. Maybe that’s part of what Jesus means when He said that if we lose our lives for the Gospel’s sake — we will find them.

      May the Lord bless you, brother!

  6. Leonard Smith says:

    Thanks, Steve. I needed some motivation, today…well, actually I’ve been struggling with it a lot lately. I needed to read this post. You are a blessing, my friend.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Thank you for this very insightful article. My son always feels distressed about his salvation in that He feels He’s only a Christian because he really wants to go to heaven instead of hell. I’ve told him there isn’t anything wrong with wanting to go to heaven as long as there is more to his conversion than that. And there is, he’s distressed about not being more distressed about his sin & other examples too but I plan to share this article with him because this clearly articulates that God has created us in such a way that we’re motivated by reward, not nothingness. The law of reciprocation was God’s idea, not mans.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Kathleen,

      You are so welcome. And thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and your story.

      It sounds like your son has a wise mother who is giving him sound biblical counsel.

      If it would help any — I did do a blog post a month or two ago on the topic of assurance of salvation — he might also find that helpful.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  8. Kathleen says:

    Hello Mr. Fuller,
    I shared this article with both of my sons & husband. My husband got excited & says he wants to go through the new testament & do what you did, finding the promises & their promised rewards.

    Also, I did look at the articles you spoke of on Assurance of Salvation (parts 1 & 2) I suggested to my husband that we take the various points you make & discuss one of them each night during family devotions. Perhaps if we give this topic more concentrated attention, it will help get to the root of why my 11 yr old son is lacking in assurance.

    I’m optimistic your materials will help us zero in on the essentials of the issue.
    Thanks again Mr. Fuller for telling me about the additional materials you’ve written on this topic!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Kathleen,

      That is SO encouraging to hear — thank you for letting me know.

      May the Father strengthen you and your husband and your boys with His Word.

      Keep me posted —

      Steve Fuller

  9. Joebar says:

    If you’re motivated by reward, then aren’t you on a path that will lead you to greed?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      That’s a good question. But since the reward is God himself, not money or earthly things, that’s the kind of greed we should have (see Matthew 13:44).

      I hope that makes sense —

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

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