Mar 20, 2013
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.
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.
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And here are some related posts you might find helpful –
- Jesus Gives Us Reasons To Obey
- How Faith in Christ Changes Us
- What About Other Approaches To The Christian Life?
- Is Your Obedience Firing On All Four Cylinders?
(Picture is from everystockphoto by roundabout.)