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I was reading John Shore’s conversion story the other day on The Huffington Post, and as I was glancing through some of the comments, I saw one that read:
“It seems as if this is virtually the same conversion story that I’ve heard from so many Christians. It is primarily based on fear. What a sad reason to change your life as there are so many other ways. Fear, as a motivator, doesn’t seem like a very nice reason to embrace a religion, but it seems as if it is the main reason that so many people do. Just because you are filled with fear about death or your own failings as a person, that doesn’t validate a religion or God…”
While I can’t say that I saw fear as the primary motivator in Shore’s conversion story, the commenter’s point was worthy of reflection, because it reflects the way many people view religious people – their motivation to believe in God is fear, or guilt, or pride, something other than love and attraction to the beauty of God and the gospel. The argument goes that people believe because they fear the unknown, or are afraid of death, or need to believe that there is a reason for life, that we are not just cosmic accidents, suffering until we die.
Is this true of you? If you believe, is it because of fear, or guilt, or something ignoble? Are you just too weak to face reality? And what about your day to day discipleship? What motivates you to read the Bible, to go to church, to love your enemies, to serve others, to try to live a pure life? Are you afraid of judgment? Do you feel guilty if you don’t do what you know you are supposed to do? Are you following God out of pride? What is your motivation?
This past Sunday, I talked about how the gospel, the good news that Jesus died for our sins in order to save us and restore our relationship with God, affects our attitude towards money. In 2 Corinthians 8:7-9, Paul encourages the Corinthian church to be generous. But notice how he speaks to them:
“But just as you excel in everything– in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us–see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich”
Paul is very clear with them: I am not commanding you to be generous. I am not telling you to give so that you will feel guilty if you do not, or laying down a new law that you must follow or else you will be punished. No – instead he appeals to the gospel, to the grace of Jesus, who gave up heaven and all he had to become poor, so that in return we might become heirs of God, rich in every way. Paul’s clear desire is that the Corinthians would be so captivated by the grace and generosity and goodness of God that the desire of their hearts would be to be full of grace and generosity and goodness with others. He refuses to use guilt, fear, the law, or pride to motivate the church to obedience, but appeals to the gospel. He goes on in verse 7 of the next chapter to say “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Once again, he will not let them give reluctantly or under compulsion; his desire is that the gospel would captivate them until they became cheerful givers, generously giving because of the joy that comes from giving to others. He wants them to believe, as Jesus said, that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) And if they are not generous, if they are not cheerful givers, it reveals that they have not yet grasped the wonder and grace and generosity of God.
What is your motivation? Why do you believe, and why do you follow God? Consider why you call yourself a Christian, if you do; why you go to church, why you give to others, and so on. God’s desire is that you would be motivated by the gospel, that you would love others because He first loved you, that you would serve others because He serves you, be generous because He is generous with you, give your best in everything you do because He gave His best for you. If you find yourself in a church or ministry that uses guilt and fear or pride to manipulate you into faith and obedience, run away, for they do not share our Lord’s heart. Meditate on the gospel, on the amazing grace and love of our Lord Jesus, until you are transformed into a person whose sole motivation is to be like Him, so that He might be glorified in everything you say and do.
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