Is There Only One Motivation for Obedience?

Michael J. Kruger

Posted on

July 18, 2013

For Christians who know they are saved by grace and not by works, there is always a fundamental question that arises: Why should I obey God?  This question is not about whether Christians should obey God (all agree on that), but about the proper motivation for obeying God.  What should drive our sanctification?

Some have answered this question by suggesting that there is only one proper motivation for our obedience, namely our justification.  We should look back at the finished work of Christ with gratitude and appreciation, and this will drive us to follow and obey him.

Now, there is much that is commendable about this motivation.  Indeed, I would argue that the finished work of Christ, and his great mercy and grace toward us, is the core motivation for our obedience.

But, what is interesting is that the Bible does not offer just this single motivation. God’s word offers a multiplicity of reasons for our obedience that touch different aspects of our life and that motivate us from a variety of angles.  In this way, God creates an argument for our obedience that is broader and wider and more difficult for us to escape or ignore.

For this reason, I really appreciate Richard Baxter’s explanation about the various kinds of motivations for our obedience:

This full subjection and obedience [to God] is difficult, but we should not hesitate to use every effort to attain it.  How? (1.) Consider God’s government. Should he not rule the creatures he has created?…(2) God is perfectly fit to govern you.  His interest is for your good…(3) Consider how unable and unfit you are to govern yourself. We are blind, ignorant, and biased by a corrupt will and turbulent passions…(4) Consider the rewards prepared for obedience and the punishment for disobedience…(5) Consider the joys of full obedience.  All is at ease within us…(6) Consider our endless rewards: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ (A Christian Directory, 1:75-77).

Baxter offers a full-range of reasons for why we obey God, but I particularly appreciate #4, #5, and #6.  In these, Baxter gives us future-oriented reasons for obedience.  Instead of asking us to look back (as we might expect him to do), he asks us to look forward to the rich blessings that God will provide.

And this motivation has a rich biblical history.  Why did Abraham obey?  We are told “He went to live in the land of promise…For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations” (Heb 11:9-10).   Why did Moses obey?  “He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter…for he was looking forward to the reward.”

And, most of all, why did Jesus obey?  “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb 12:2).

If we are looking for motives for obedience, there are many to choose from.  But, in the midst of looking back, we should not forget to look forward.  Our obedience is not just historically motivated, but eschatologically motivated.

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