Thursday, June 10, 2010

Does Motivation Matter?

I've had a couple questions on my mind lately.

First, the personal one: Do you follow God out of fear (and I don't mean respect; I mean actual fear of what will happen if you don't), or because you want to receive the blessings that come from following him, or do you follow him out of love? Or is there some other reason?

Second, the theoretical/theological one: Does a person's motivation for following God matter? To put it another way, does God care why we follow him, or does he just want us to follow him regardless of why we do it?

As a parent, I want my children to obey me because of the love and trust in our relationship, not because they are scared of what I'll do to them if they don't or because they want a reward for obedience. I know some may disagree with this and say that even if a child is obeying because of punishments or rewards, at least they're being obedient. So how does that translate to a person's relationship with God, especially in light of the fact that a child's rudimentary concept of God is formed through the parent-child relationship? I think the "why" really matters, and obeying out of fear or in pursuit of a reward isn't what I want for my children-- not in our relationship, and not in their relationship with God either.

But this isn't a post about parenting, per se; that's just an illustration of the bigger point, which is: do the reasons we follow and obey God matter to him, or is the point to just follow?

My gut tells me that the "why" does matter. When we say the "why" isn't important, I think it can open the doors to tactics like terrifying people with fire-and-brimstone messages or convincing people that following God means they'll receive lots of material blessings. But I also think that regardless of motivation, he will meet us where we are. And then, if we are motivated by fear (or anything other than love, really), maybe through the relationship, God's love will change our motivation. I am reminded of 1 John 4:18: "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."

What do you think?


  1. I follow HIM out of love and gratitude for what HE has done for me - - - saved me for eternity with HIM through HIS death. And HE created me for HIS pleasure and wants to be with me - - the God of the universe wants to be with me!!!! HE saved me from a life of despair to a future of direction, contentment, and joy. I can never repay HIM for it all - - - but take delight in being HIS hands, feet, and heart while here on earth.

  2. I think I'm at a point where I am following God mostly out of love and gratitude, but I started out being motivated by fear. That will probably be for another post, though. ;-)

  3. (nak)I love this post! I tried o comment on it last week but my computer messed up.

    This is so much of the things God is working in my heart...I initially started following God out of fear. And then it moved to what he could offer me (at the base of it). But then my "worst nightmare" came true and it shattered every thing. All my misconceptions.

    6 years later I'm still picking up the pieces and starting to move out of the fear all the trauma brought out. And into love and gratitude and rest. I'm really enjoying your posts on this train of thought.