I knew I had got my congregation’s attention when I declared, “There is no motivation in grace!” The people gave me a look of disbelief. Knowing that grace is a major theme in my ministry, why would I make a statement like that? “There is far more motivation to serve God, pray, give, attend church, etc. under legalism than there is under grace,” I went on to say. The look on their faces changed from disbelief to confusion.
The Motivational Force Of Legalism
Was I having a re-think about grace? No, not at all. What I said is perfectly true. Whilst the grace of God empowers us to live righteously and to serve, it does not motivate us to do so. You think about it. Legalism teaches that in order to get God to do something for you, you have to do something for Him. For example, if you fast you’ll get an answer to your prayers; if you sow into a preacher’s ministry, you’ll reap his anointing; if you live a life of integrity then yo u can count on God to come through for you when you need Him; etc. These are the things taught by popular preachers today, and believed by the majority of Christians.
We are taught how to do deals with God. One well-known preacher gave a teaching on ‘giving and receiving’ and said that the Greek word for receiving actually means ‘receipting’. Every time you do some good deed you get a receipt from God for that act, and then when you want a blessing from God you can go and cash in all your receipts. The more receipts you have, the greater the blessing you can claim. (I still haven’t been able to find that in the Bible!)
You have to admit, there is great motivation in that kind of teaching. We have many believers who are working hard for God, getting up early to pray, attending meetings, fasting, giving, etc., all highly motivated by the carrot that has been dangled before them that they will receive from God on the basis of the sacrifices made for Him.
On the other hand, grace teache that Jesus Christ has already qualified us for every good thing on the basis of His finished work. We are already blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph.1:3). His divine power has already “given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet.1:3). All is of grace, i.e. not on the basis of what you do for Him, but on the basis of what He has done for you.
This logically leads to the question, “Then why do anything for God?” You see, there’s no motivation in grace! I remember preaching on God’s grace once and a preacher was in the meeting. He came up to me afterwards and said, “I agree with everything you have said. In fact, I preached these things to my people, but the response was that they slacked off in every area. They didn’t come to the prayer meeting so often. The financial giving went down. They weren’t so available to serve, etc.” Grace de-motivated them!
My answer was this, “This is not a reflection on the failure ofgrace, but on the true condition of their hearts. All the while they did those things they never really wanted to. They were bringing an unwilling sacrifice to God. I can tell you with certainty what God’s response to that kind of giving is – “Keep it!” If we only do those things for God because we want to get something from Him then our Christianity is at worst mercenary and at best is simply childish.
That’s the way we get our children to do things they don’t really want to do – we bribe them. “If you tidy your room, you’ll get to play your game on the computer.” “If you are not nice to your sister, you won’t be allowed to go to your friend’s house.” That sort of trade-off is OK for children (maybe?) but in no way does it represent the real basis for a relationship between a child of God and his/her heavenly Father. We need to progress from a servant-mentality to a son-mentality.
The Christian’s True Motivation
So, what is it that should motivate us to serve, pray, give, sacrifice, tc.? If we do those things without any thought of reward or return then we are left with only one possible cause or motivation – love. We are actually doing these things because we love God and for no other reason! And this is all that God has ever desired of us. First, that we consent to being loved by Him; then we respond to that love by loving Him in return. This is the authentic Christian life - a love relationship with God. If I am reading my New Testament correctly, all service to God which is rendered on any other basis or motivation than love will be burnt up in the final day. True Christianity begins with faith and is made perfect (complete, mature) through love (2 Pet.1:5-7; 1 Jn.4:18). I don’t know about you but I find that the privilege of responding to God’s amazing love by loving Him in return in practical, tangible ways is a very powerful motivating force!