“What Motivates You?”

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

(Romans 12:1)

Every New Year’s day, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses hosts the Rose Parade to mark the start of the Rose Bowl game. Each float is elaborately decorated and filled with the most exquisite and vibrant roses you’ve ever seen. Really, you should Google it! During the 1938 parade, as the floats were slowly cruising down Colorado Boulevard, one float ran out of gas. The theme that year was “Be Prepared.” If that weren’t ironic enough for you, the sponsor for the stranded float was Standard Oil Company.

What is fueling your life? What gets you started everyday and keeps you motivated to do the next right thing? We typically have two problems when it comes to spiritual motivation:

  1. There are times when we are unmotivated to do the good works we are called to do in Christ. We simply ‘run out of gas’ and become spiritually apathetic or give up altogether.
  2. Other times, we can be doing the right things but we’re doing them for the wrong reasons. Having wrong motives can be worse, in the long run, than running out of gas. If you’ve ever put diesel fuel in a petrol car you’ll know what I mean.

We may find ourselves, from time to time, in either situation. We know the changes we need to make in our lives but we lack the proper motivation to follow through. We know we should attempt to repair that broken relationship but we can’t bear to pick up the phone. We know certain behaviors are destructive but they have become so habitual we rationalize them. We lack the proper motivation to take the next step by faith.

Or we may be doing good things but for the wrong reasons. Here are some bad ways to fuel good behavior:

  1. Monetary rewards — Doing the right thing in pursuit of material gain is a deceptive motivation. Paul warned against thinking “godliness is a means of gain.” Those who “desire to be rich” will be ruined in the end. (1 Tim. 6:5-10)
  2. Recognition of others — Doing good to gain the approval of others is equally unhealthy. Jesus warned against “practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward” from God. (Mt. 6:1)
  3. Proof of superiority — Doing good to prove to ourselves or to others that we are better or more spiritual than them is also dangerous. Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mk. 9:35)
  4. Fear of punishment — Doing good simply because you want to escape the wrath of God is not a bad motivation to begin with but if that is your only fuel it will result in a very shallow, weak faith. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 Jn. 4:18)

So what is the right fuel to motivate our behavior? What will give us the power to live lives of faith? Paul would often write his letters in such a way to fill up our spiritual gas tank, so to speak, with all the wonderful things that God has done. And then, after expounding on all the “mercies of God,” he would call upon the reader to respond in view of God’s love and grace.

Romans is no exception. For eleven chapters, Paul elaborates on God’s eternal plan, fulfilled in Jesus, to justify sinners by faith as a gift (Rom. 1:16; 3:23-24). Based on God’s “mercies” (the visible expressions of God’s compassion and love toward us), Paul then voices his “appeal” to give ourselves fully to God (12:1). Though Paul has the authority to command such obedience, he would rather “appeal” to us so that our motivation for doing good is based on God’s grace. May God fill our lives and motivate us to faithfulness with his limitless love and mercies (Eph. 3:14-19).