Today’s guest post is by Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of two new books, including Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and our Union with Christ and Counting the Days, Lighting the Candles: A Christmas Advent Devotional—get both for 35% off! Fitzpatrick has authored a total of 18 books and has been a women’s counselor since 1989.
What motivates you to obey God? Why do you want to obey the Lord? For much of my Christian life (over 40 years now), my motive for obedience wasn’t what it should have been, and I’m sure still isn’t. Of course, the river that has run like an underground stream through my entire Christian life has been love for God, but sometimes that stream is so subterranean as to be nearly nonexistent.
Yes, by his grace, God has made me love him. But no, that hasn’t been the primary motivating factor in my life before him. Here are three desires that lead to superficial obedience and muddy the water of grateful love for him.
1. Approval from others
At the top of the list has to be my desire to approve of myself (and have others approve of me). Because I grew up in a home where I was alternately ignored and condemned, I entered into adulthood with a deep hunger to be seen and approved of, to know that I had value; so I set about proving it, all in the name of “holy living.” There was nothing more important to me than knowing that I was approved of by all the right people. Did I love God during those years of self-aggrandizing labor? Yes, but my love was terribly polluted and produced a noxious harvest. I know this because I can look back on the poisonous fruit growing on the banks of this river: the anger, self-indulgence, boasting, contention, pride, gossip, hatred, and fear. If I thought I wasn’t being seen or approved of, eventually there would be a price to pay . . . and my family usually ended up holding the bill.
2. Avoiding guilt
I wanted what I had never known growing up: I wanted to feel clean. Because guilt was a primary motivating factor for me, I would try to do the right thing, go the extra mile, and prove that I was good—not better than others, so that my overly accusing conscience would finally be silenced. I obeyed because I hated feeling guilty. Did I love God? Yes, I did. But my obedience had more to do with how I felt about me. I fear it’s the same for many others. Freedom from guilt is not a valid reason to obey God . . . because it’s not about God at all—it’s about you.
3. Personal glory
I also went through a time when my mantra for obedience changed and I said I wanted to glorify God. And again, while it is true that I did want to glorify him, I also wanted to glorify myself. I certainly was unaware of the ways that my trying desperately to glorify him was continuing to produce a harvest of the bitterest fruit for all those around me.
And then . . . the Spirit reminded me of Jesus and the work he had already accomplished for me. I learned that I am already approved of because he is the Beloved Son who pleased his Father, and I am in him. I am already clean and freed from guilt because all my guilt has been placed on his dear head, as he became sin for me that I might become the righteousness of God in him. I found myself glorifying God in surprisingly natural ways, being freed from anxiety and anger, thanking him in my thoughts and worshiping him rather than cursing my neighbor for getting in my way.
The freedom of loving obedience
Don’t be confused. I still struggle with sin and I still smell that polluted water, but even so my life really has changed. It has changed because the pressure to perform is gone and the incessant slave-driver has been muzzled, though perhaps not completely silenced quite yet.
Here’s some good news: it really is amazing the kinds of work God can use. Even though my motives were terribly polluted through all those years, he used my work to bring a blessing to others. Amazing grace.
All along I’ve wanted to know what loving obedience looked like, and I discovered that only the gospel can implant love and a sincere desire to obey, by freeing me from the needs that marked my past. Are my desires pure now? No, of course not. But the river continues to run in love toward him, hopefully a little cleaner, hopefully producing more sweet fruit, hopefully faith working through love which, as Paul wrote, is the only kind of obedience worth anything (Galatians 5:6).
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Learn to develop a genuine obedience to God and explore the glory of our union with Christ: get Elyse Fitzpatrick’s new book, Found in Him, and check out her new family Advent devotional, Counting the Days, Lighting the Candles.
Today’s guest post is by Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of two new books, including Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and our Union with Christ and Counting the Days, Lighting the Candles: A Christmas Advent Devotional—get both for 35% off! Fitzpatrick has authored a total of 18 books and has been a women’s counselor […]