Do you remember the old gag about actors and actresses and their motivation?
The scene would go something like this: The actor would be preparing for the reading of his lines, and then all of a sudden he would throw down his script and yell out to the director, “What’s my motivation?” The actor was trying to understand his character better, and I think if we asked ourselves the same question, we might understand our character better as well.
What is our motivation in anything and everything that we do?
I think we can narrow the response to this question to one of three categories:
1) What’s done for me.
2) What’s done for others.
3) What’s done for God.
Before any of us were Christians, everything we did, every motivation we had, fell squarely into the first category. Everything was about us. Everything we did had a selfish and ulterior motive. We may not have recognized it, and we may have even thought that we were being selfless to others, or that we were even pleasing God, but we weren’t. Everything done before confessing Christ was sin.
Romans 14:23 tells us that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” The question then arises as to whether this is a general statement for all or a specific statement for the recipients of Paul’s letter. When looking at this verse in tandem with others like Hebrews 11:6, which states that “without faith it is impossible to please him” and Isaiah 64:6 that states that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”, we can conceive that when we try to please God on our own merits, and with our own selfish motivations, we are guilty of sin.
Apart from the saving work of Christ, our motives are all still deeply rooted in our own love of self, because we have yet to exchange our lordship for Christ’s Lordship. We are still living in the land of sin and a slave to our former master.
Even when we do wonderful works of charity, or great acts of kindness for our neighbors, are we really doing these things because we love them? Are we able to love anyone but ourselves while we are still yet clothed in the old man? Some would say that there are many philanthropic atheists who give millions of dollars each year to this charity or that, but what does that give them other than a sense of self-purpose and gratification? Is a man capable of buying his way into heaven? Absolutely not, and therefore, even the most charitable person is not able to stand on his or her own merits on Judgment Day and be found righteous.
What about those who attend church who always give into the offering plate, volunteers for every committee, leads prayer every Sunday, and/or feeds the homeless and takes care of the orphans? Surely this person is saved? It’s a great misconception that even good deeds done in the service of God are saving deeds. Is it likely that many people who thought they were people of God will be told, “depart from me” (Matt. 7:23)?
Who best defines your nature: Adam or Christ? One of these natures will represent you when you stand before a holy and righteous God. Are we motivated to please Adam (ourselves), or are we motivated to please Christ? The answer to that question bears eternal implications.