Living By Faith Blog


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

Is Biblical Obedience Motivated By Gratitude?

Gas Can from everystockphoto by roundaboutGratitude Is Essential

After all, we who deserve God’s judgment have been born-again, forgiven, justified, adopted, and saved for an eternity of infinite joy in worshiping Jesus Christ.

The only appropriate response is gratitude — thanking God for His astonishing mercy.

That’s why we should give thanks in everything (1Th 5:18; Eph 5:20), pray with thanksgiving (Phil 4:6-7; Col 4:2), speak with thanksgiving (Eph 5:4), and sing in thanksgiving (Col 3:16).

But Is Gratitude Our Motivation For Obedience?

I often hear people say this.  But I have not seen it anywhere in God’s Word.

That might shock you, but here’s what I mean.

If we should be motivated by gratitude, then when we read the Bible we’d expect to find —

  • examples of people obeying from gratitude
  • calls to obey from gratitude
  • commands followed by appeals to gratitude

But that’s not what we find.

The motivation we find is not gratitude for God’s past blessings — it’s trust in God’s future promises.

Don’t get me wrong.  As we will see, gratitude has a crucial role in helping us trust God’s promises.  But the motivation we find in the Scriptures is not gratitude, but trust in God’s promises.

Here’s why I say that —

Some Examples of Obedience

Hebrews 11 describes Moses’ obedience.  So what motivated him?

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin … for he was looking to the reward. (Heb 11:24-26)

What motivated Moses’ obedience?  What we read is that he obeyed “by faith,” which means “he was looking to the reward.”

So the reason he turned from Egypt’s comforts to suffer with God’s people was because He trusted God’s promise of an infinitely greater reward.

Hebrews 10 gives another example —

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)

Believers were in prison for their faith, and prisons back then did not provide food, clothes, or bedding.  So would the other  believers help those in prison, which would publicly identify them as believers, and risk arrest or loss of property?

Yes.  They chose to help their fellow-believers.  And their property was plundered.  But they “joyfully accepted this” — because they trusted God’s promise of a better possession and an abiding one.

That’s just two examples.  But what they show is what I see throughout Scripture: people obey, not from gratitude for what God has done in the past, but from trust in what God will do in the future.

Calls To Obey

I see the same when the Bible calls us to obey.

An example is Romans 8:13 —

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

What motivates our battle against sin is the promise of life — life now and forever with One in whose presence is fulness of joy.  Why sin when I can have full joy in Christ now — and when battling sin will bring even more of that joy?

Another example is Matthew 13:44 —

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

What motivated this man to sell everything?  The promise of gaining the treasure.  Why not sell a hundred-thousand dollars of property if I’ll gain a million?

When Scripture calls us to obey, the motivation given is not gratitude for what God has done in the past, but faith in what God promises to do in the future.

Specific Commands

I have written before about how many commands are motivated by God’s promises.

But here’s one more example in 1 Peter 3:9 —

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

Peter calls us to bless those who hurt us.  And how does he motivate us?

By promising that we will obtain a blessing.  The security of our future blessing, and the promise of gaining even more blessing, is what motivates us to forgive and bless those who hurt us.

Not every command is explicitly connected to a promise.  And there are other motivations given in God’s Word besides God’s promises — like pleasing God (1Tim 5:4) and not making others stumble (1Cor 8:13).

But the motivation most often connected to commands is God’s promises.  And I have not found any commands explicitly motivated by gratitude.

What Motivates Us?

God wired us so everything we do is done to gain pleasure.  And the infinitely greatest pleasure is that of beholding God, knowing God, worshiping God as revealed in Christ.

That’s why the Bible’s main motivation is the promise of pleasure in God forever.

But if we hear that we should be motivated by gratitude, and gratitude points us not to future pleasure in God, but to the past faithfulness of God, we will struggle to be motivated.  Not because there’s anything wrong with gratitude.  But because we are trying to make gratitude do something God never meant it to do.

That’s why throughout the Bible we are motivated by God’s promises — and the focus of all the promises is God Himself.

But What About Gratitude?

What motivates obedience is not gratitude.  It’s trust in God’s promises.  But gratitude has a crucial role in helping us trust God’s promises (I learned this from John Piper).

When we look all God has done in saving us, providing for us, guiding us, helping us — we are full of gratitude.  And one result of this gratitude  is that we are convinced that God is flawlessly good, perfectly faithful, abounding in mercy, and infinitely powerful.

So gratitude preaches to us — God is faithful!  God will keep His promises!  Don’t doubt Him!  You can trust Him completely!

That’s how gratitude helps us obey — by helping us trust that God will fulfill His promises.

Out Of Gas

When you need motivation you are like a car that’s run out of gas.

God built your car to run on the gasoline of His promises.  And to help pour this gasoline into your car, God gives you the gas can of gratitude.

Without gasoline, the gas can won’t power your car.  It needs the gasoline of God’s promises.

So if you try to motivate your obedience by gratitude, you’ll get nowhere.

Instead, use the gas can (gratitude) to pour gasoline (faith in God’s promises) into your car.

You’ll be back on the road in no time.

Comments?  Thoughts?

I’d love to hear them.  Leave a reply below — thanks.

If you know someone this would help, email it to them using the “share” button below.  Or use the other buttons to share it on your favorite social media.

If you would like to interact with others who are seeking to live by faith in Christ, visit our Forums page.

If you would like to receive a Saturday email summarizing the week’s posts — subscribe here.  (I will only use your email address for Living By Faith Blog communications, and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.)

And here are some related posts you might find helpful –


(Picture is from everystockphoto by roundabout.)

Category: Motivation for Obedience


9 Responses

  1. Jason Belk says:

    Very helpful, especially since our DNA group is going through the Future Grace book. The car analogy helps me visualize the dynamics easier. 🙂

  2. Vicki says:

    I can’t say for sure as time will need to pass for it to be tested, but if this week’s heart attitude results are any indicator, I have a feeling this is a life-changing post for me.

    Thank you

  3. Jeanie S says:

    I loved this reminder! God uses the past and the future for motivation. We are reminded in thankfulness of the past and the future promises. Another passage that reminds me of the future promises is how God wanted to reveal himself to Israel in the desert for 40 years. Moses told Pharaoh that God wanted his people to worship him there. Your insight reminded me of how the Lord wants us to know that He is God for our sake and his namesake.

  4. Paul Walton says:

    Obedience to trust God must be based on His promises to have any real power in our lives. Gratitude is necessary but it will only carry someone so far, Jesus endured the shame of the cross for the joy that was set before Him. He was trusting His obedience would glorify His father, and in return the Father would glorify the Son.

    Steve in your Saturday weekly update there was an article from Justin Taylor Blog concerning a open letter from a lesbian to the church. I found the letter to be quite eye opening, we do tend to accept some sins as more socially acceptable than others. But all sin is a lack of obedience in trusting God’s promises, we are trusting in something or someone to satisfy us more than trusting Christ alone.

    I don’t pretend to know if homosexuality is a preference or orientation, but regardless either way, it is a real temptation, just as real as pride or greed. Paul said that some of the born-again Christians in his flock were homosexuals, he didn’t deny their situation, they practiced homosexuality in their former lifestyle.

    “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you.”- 1Cor. 6:9-11

    I’m a prideful jerk sometimes, I used to be a prideful jerk all the time, but now I recognize that trusting in pride will not satisfy my heart like trusting in Christ alone does. Paul could say to me you were a prideful jerk, but now you have been set free from that, because you are trusting in Christ.

    So it’s a matter of what we are practicing in for our heart satisfaction, I obey God’s word because I know his promises are true. If we continue to practice in our sin, without fighting with faith against it, we are telling God I don’t trust your promise to satisfy my heart like my sinful bent can.

    • Paul Walton says:

      Just to finish up on my thought, verse 11 in the block of scripture I quoted,”And such were some of you.” I think we should extend grace to those who struggle with same sex attraction, when someone says they are oriented towards their same sex, Paul says the same thing basically. I think it’s semantics, but just the same, if a person says I was born this way, who am I to argue. Apart from Christ I was born into sin, so to tell a homosexual they are choosing their sin is pretty harsh, even unloving.

      In the same light I don’t prefer (choose) to be heterosexual, I am oriented to the opposite sex, so to tell a homosexual it’s their preference, is not actually true, they don’t prefer, because like me, they are oriented towards their choice.

      “And such were some of you” I think this says it all, like all the sins listed, we all were something other than God fearing, before Christ changed our heart. So I believe this is a great hope for someone who struggles with same sex attraction, our sinful nature doesn’t have to have the last word, trusting in Christ and His promises can change who we once were.

      • Steve Fuller says:

        Good thoughts, Paul. Thanks for a clear summary of the post, for sharing how it applies to you, and how it applies to other areas of temptation.

        You might want to consider posting your thoughts on homosexuality on the Forum page on battling sexual temptation. That would allow many others to easily find your thoughts, and read them.

        Thanks, brother!

Leave a Reply

Join 3,436 people who receive Living by Faith updates —

More Help for Your Faith

  • RSS Feed
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube


"I just found your blog recently, and I've NEVER found such clarity, understanding and comfort before." (Sarah)

"AWESOME. Going to mangle this sin tonight with the Promises of God." (Alec)

"If I could subscribe to only one blog, yours would be it." (Lyn)

"I think you are really on to something with this blog. I don’t know of anything else like it." (Doug)

"Excellent comment. Really well put and wisdom that is strangely lacking in much evangelical thinking." (John)

"Thank you -- I needed to hear this. So clear and concise yet captivating." (Stacey)

"Such a helpful post. I’ve bookmarked it and reread it two or three mornings just this week." (Doug)