I joke that when I am buried under a giant pile of research, study guides, and clinic paperwork, I rethink: “What am I doing in grad school?” I recently asked myself the same question as I sat in a church pew. Why was I there? I wish I could write with satisfaction that every single time I walk through the church doors, my motives are 100% in the right place. But guys, I am human. Sometimes I passively sing the hymns and my mind is elsewhere. Sometimes I go to Bible studies and service projects out of obligation or pride (what would others think if I wasn’t there?). Sometimes I forget the foundational reasons for my choices and my motives need readjustment.
Motives are important.
Here is what I know: going through the motions of living a Christ-following life is not good enough. Jesus taught clearly that our motives are important. In Mat. 15:8, He chastised the scribes and Pharisees because they worshipped God with holy words on the surface and impure hearts underneath. They appeared spiritual—many of their actions even seemed to point to this conclusion (Mat. 23:2-28). But surface-level spirituality is not enough; Jesus continued, “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mat. 15:9). All the time and effort that the scribes and Pharisees put into following God—their worship, fasting, praying, tithing—was pointless because their motives were wrong.
What are your motives?
It’s easy to get stuck focusing on what we’re doing and forget to ask why we are doing it. Instead of simply checking things off our spiritual to-do lists, we need to look at our motives, which Christ clearly values. Think about how He defined true worship in Jn. 4:23-24: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
There are two components required for our worship to be accepted: worship according to the commandments of God (“truth”) and worship involving our whole selves (“spirit”). If we neglect to give our all to the God who gave us everything, are we truly worshipping in spirit? God does not seek the passive, surface-level worship that is so easy to give. He seeks an active worship—a worship that both aligns with His Word and is purely motivated. This does not end as we walk out the church doors; we should be considering our motives as we make choices at work, school, and home.
What should our motives be?
Of course, our motives for living a Christ-following life should not be the prideful, hypocritical ones of the Pharisees. We should also not be guided by complacency-induced “spiritual autopilot.” 1 Cor. 5:14-15 tells us what our motivation should be: “the love of Christ controls [or compels] us… he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Understanding the love of Christ should compel us to do more than go through the motions; it should motivate us to live for God’s service rather than our own self-service.
The primary motive for our actions should be deeper than our obligations and customs. It should be deeper than obeying God’s law in letter only. We should honestly rethink why we pray, why we go to worship services, why choose not to participate in the sins of our peers. We began our walks with Christ because we recognized His saving, self-sacrificial love. Let’s dig back to that foundation of our faith. At the deepest base of our motivation, we should find not our routines, our preferences, or our pride, but a reciprocal love for our Creator and our Savior (1 Jn. 4:19).
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscienceand a sincere faith.”
1 Tim. 1:5