While driving through Iowa on Interstate 35, I got pulled over by a highway patrolman. I paid dearly to learn that I should not have been going 7 miles over the speed limit (crossing the state line the speed dropped from 70 to 65—oops, my bad). My friend, on the other hand, drove about 90 miles an hour on a two-lane highway once. The cops did not stop him, but blocked traffic along the way and escorted him through 45 and 55 M.P.H. zones! How come something unlawful for me became something the law endorsed for him?
I was going to see family and had no reason to hurry. My friend, however, was flooring the pedal because he was trying to get his wife to the hospital during an asthmatic attack. She had all but stopped breathing. My point is that we call the same behavior a crime or commendable depending on the motive.
Motives determine sin or innocence
Have you ever wondered what makes a certain thing a sin? Under the new covenant, we know we do not have to live by an itemized list of do’s and don’ts. However, we avoid certain words, thoughts, and activities because they are sinful. Why? Because of the motive behind the action.
Is it wrong to break the window of someone else’s house and crawl in without their permission? What if it is on fire and a child is trapped in that room? See what I mean? In your mind, the intruder just went from rogue to being a hero in one second because of a different set of motives. But wait, there’s more.
Rahab made the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. What did she do? Hid God’s spies and then lied to the godless soldiers about where they were. God commended her for what she did. Her motive was to do something for God and she did what she knew. Did she know it was wrong to lie? I don’t know. In her culture it might not have been—after all, she was a harlot.
On the other hand, what would you do in your situation if… your neighbor was chasing her husband down the street with a shotgun in her hand? He comes to your door and you hide him in the closet. Then she comes to the door, brandishing her weapon, and yells, “Is my old man in there?” What will you do? You could say, “Yes,” and let her come in and blow his brains all over your wall. Or you could say, “I think I just saw him run behind the garage, go check there!” while you call the police. What would you do?
While you grapple with that thought, I’ll move on to another.
Wrong motives make right actions sinful
The most religious things you do could also be the most sinful. By praying, you could be committing sins of hypocrisy and pride. If you pray to be seen, you are a stench to God and have already received your reward by being seen of others. If you fast, give, or go to church just to prove how good of a person you are, you sin because your motives are wrong.
King Saul confessed his sin and offered sacrifices just so the people would not think bad of him. He never really wanted to be right with God. He did everything right, by outward appearances, but God went off and left him. David spent time in worship and relationship building before God. Guess who God promoted.
Do you give your testimony to show how good God is or to brag on how spiritual you are? Do you help those in need because you care about the person or the kudos you’ll get when you tell someone what you did. Without changing what you do, examine why you do it. Are you trying to earn your way into heaven? Do you hope to pay God back for your salvation? What motivates you to do what you do?
Even the godliest person among us will be surprised to realize that many of our actions are motivated by the wrong desire.
Use the right intentions in everything
Believers do all things to bring glory to God. Rather than seek attention for yourself, wear modest clothing so you can draw attention to God instead. Rather than deck out with jewelry and flashy bling-bling, be discreet and help others shine. At the same time, do not be so holy you cannot help those in need. Our own rituals and traditions start out well enough, but can quickly get in the way of what God desires.
David had been hoofin’ it with his men to get away from King Saul. They came to the priests hungry and weary from the journey. The priests could only offer them the sacred bread, offered to God and only for the holy priests. David and his men ate it happily and were not struck dead. They were not seeking to defile God’s house, but to live another day. God valued human life over ceremonial customs (I Samuel 21:3-6; Matthew 12:3-5).
I had a friend tell me once that if I wanted to become a well-known Christian author (or at least one who made money), I would have to build a church that people would notice. Well, that’s not a bad idea, but it uses entirely the wrong motive. Building a big church sounds good, but our motives must be love for God and love for others. Anyway, see how easily a good thing (work for God) can be done for the wrong reasons (recognition, money, etc.).
What have you seen in your life that needs a motive overhaul? Leave a comment!