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Welcome to Part 3 of our Celebrate God with Your Obedience Series. I pray that, so far, the content has been helpful and challenging.
If up until now you could say, “I know all of that stuff about obedience, and I consistently do that in my life,” praise God! However, it’s very possible that today’s discussion will present some significantly more challenging hurdles.
Of course, my goal isn’t to present hurdles to obedience. My goal is to uncover the hidden hurdles that have always been there. My goal is for us to understand a truly biblical definition of obedience, which will — in turn — require that we scrutinize our obedience and mature in the areas where we’re missing the mark.
To that end, I pray today’s free episode notes, transcript, and worship resources on our blog at CelebrationOfGod.com will be a blessing.
So far, we’ve been reminded that obedience is doing what God decides is right within the time constraints required, exactly as He expects it to be done, and with an attitude of peace, contentment, joy, and gratitude.
And I’m sure that most of us would argue that if we obeyed like that, no one should have any room to criticize our obedience. And if you’re someone who has people under your authority, such obedience from them would be welcomed and celebrated.
But . . . there’s still one massively gigantic problem with this kind of obedience. Believe it or not, it’s superficial.
When I ask the average Christian what percentage of their week they do the right things, the number is pretty high. When I ask them what percentage of their week they do the right things in the right way, the number drops by at least 25%.
But after I’m done teaching them the content of today’s discussion, and I ask them what percentage of the week they obey as was described, the vast majority of their percentages fall below 10%.
How could that be? What could make biblical obedience so hard that the average Christian can honestly say they rarely obey that fully?
Well, at the end of our last show I asked, “What if you asked an employee or a child to do a task just the way you expected them to do it, and they do it perfectly . . . but the only reason they did exactly what you told them to do was so that they could manipulate you into giving them what they want?”
I want to explore this superficial form of obedience, but I’m going to change the illustration a little. Let’s say that you’re the shift supervisor for all the cashiers at your local grocery store, and you assign an employee to work one of the busiest registers. And the employee does the following:
1. They work the cash register instead of stocking shelves. Basically, they did the right thing.
2. They head to the register as soon as you assign them, and they spend their whole shift there. In fact, they stay 15 minutes longer than usual to help out with some last minute long lines. And the whole time they worked efficiently, getting people through the line at a good speed. The did the right thing quickly.
3. In addition, they worked the entire shift with a fantastic attitude. They were happy to be on the register, and they were friendly with the customers. They did the right thing sweetly.
4. Their execution of the job was flawless. They worked with precision and efficiency while fulfilling all company protocols. They did the right thing completely.
5. And let’s say that in the three months they’ve worked at your store, they’ve consistently worked to this level. Therefore, they consistently do the right thing in the right way.
I think we would all be very happy to have such an employee. In fact, we may wish all of our employees were like them.
That is, until you find out a week later you’re being demoted from your cashier supervisor role because the employee in question has been calculatedly doing her job with one goal in mind — to convince your boss that she can train and manage the cashiers far better than you can. Her excellence on the register was completely motivated by her desire to undercut you and get your job.
She wasn’t obeying you. She wasn’t submitting to you. She was using you.
We’re going to look at more examples of this today, but I’m sure you can see where we’re going with this illustration.
Christ-honoring obedience is not merely doing the right thing in the right way.
3. Obedience is doing the right thing in the right way . . . for the right reason.
In order for us to understand the depth and complexity of this issue, I want to cover 5 important points. Let’s start by looking at . . .
A. Wrong Reasons for Doing Right
Likely we’re all either in school or have been in school. And — no doubt — our parents and teachers would have been thrilled for us to get straight A’s. But let’s imagine some very bad reasons to get all A’s.
What if I’m doing it solely to escape the consequences of getting bad grades? How about if I’m doing it to prove my parent’s wrong about my abilities? What about fulfilling my overpowering urge to be the best at everything I do? What about if I get A’s because I love when my teachers fawn on me and praise me and everyone in my class is in awe of me? How about because I want nothing more in life than to get into a good college so I can get a good job so I can make enough money so I can live the rest of my life fulfilling my own pleasures?
My friends, there is an endless supply of bad reasons to do good things in good ways.
The Pharisees created a bunch of additional laws to keep people from breaking God’s laws, but Jesus exposed their real reasons for doing so . . . they wanted control, they wanted prestige, they were hypocrites because it didn’t really have anything to do with God.
Consider Mark 7:6 (the same lesson is also covered in Matthew 15:8). Jesus said to the crowd, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.’”
The Jews — even those who weren’t Pharisees — had done many of the right things in the right ways, but God wasn’t glorified because they did it with the wrong motivation of the heart.
Another good example of bad motivation is King Saul in I Samuel 15. We keep coming back to Saul because this is such a wonderful, terrible example. Last time we talked about how he didn’t obey the right way. He was told to wipe out the Amalekites, but he kept the king alive and the best of the livestock. So he didn’t obey completely.
But later, when he was confronted by Samuel — and after a whole lot of excuses — Saul admitted in verse 24 that, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.”
Now, a simple but important observation is that if you’re not doing the right thing, or you don’t do it in the right way, you’re either disobeying out of ignorance or because you have the wrong motivation. And the more clearly the expectations have been communicated to you, the easier it is to admit that your sin wasn’t born out of ignorance, it was born out of improper purposes.
Of course, we know Saul didn’t have the right motivation, or he would have done exactly what God commanded the way He commanded it, because it was all communicated in a very thorough and straight forward manner.
And what about Judas who followed the Lord, preached, performed miracles, but who was motivated by money and the promise of power that he was certain would come from following the Messiah?
Honestly, some of these exact same criticisms could be lobbed at any number of the disciples.
Paul says something very interesting about this in Philippians 1:15-18. Referring to people who are confident to preach Christ, he says, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” This, again, clearly identifies that there are very bad reasons to do good things. What’s interesting about this is how Paul ends his thought. In verse 18 he says, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.”
Now, don’t misunderstand this. Paul is not putting an inspired stamp of approval of sharing the Gospel for selfish reasons. He’s not saying the motivation doesn’t matter. He’s simply making the point that it’s good that the truth of the Gospel is being shared, however, it’s very clear that selfish ambition in order to cause distress is not pleasing to God . . . ever.
James 4 cuts right to the heart of motivation when it says, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.”
Now, all of that had to do with doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons, but James then includes people who do ask as they should, and — presumably — they ask for the right things.
In verse 3 he says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives.” And what is that wrong motive? “So that you may spend it on your pleasures.” And then he uncovers the most basic bad motivation that anyone can ever have. “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
What’s all this about adultery? James is talking about spiritual infidelity. Instead of trusting God and living for Him, we’re leaning on our own understanding, doing what’s right in our own eyes, trusting our deceitful hearts, and worshipping self.
Let’s revisit I Samuel 15 where Samuel says to Saul, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 ‘For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.’”
As I briefly mentioned before, the verbiage here can be confusing because of the translator’s choice to employ the word “obeying” in verse 22. Offering burnt offerings and sacrifices as prescribed in the Old Testament Law was obedience as long as it was done in the right way and for the right reasons.
The Hebrew word translated “obeying” most often refers to hearing something. The obvious nuance is that the command is being heard and obeyed in its entirety. This is why Samuel pinpoints that rebellion and insubordination are identical to idolatry. If our actions are not motivated by worship of God, they’re not true obedience.
Regardless if we’re doing the right things in the right ways because it brings us selfish pleasure or it hurts those we want to hurt or it manipulates or any other bad reason we have to obey . . . it all boils down to the fact that we are doing what we want for our own glory.
That is spiritual adultery. It’s idolatry. It’s self-worship. That is the ultimate and most basic bad reason we do the right things in the right way.
And we all do this. Please, don’t think for a moment that you have never fallen into this trap. Even Paul and the other disciples did good things for very bad reasons. James and John wanted to sit on either side of Jesus’ throne. Peter bossed Jesus around because he thought it would protect the Lord.
We all do this.
So, if self-worship is a bad reason to do anything, then it shouldn’t be difficult to figure out . . .
B. Right Reasons for Doing Right
If self-worship is at the root of all bad motivations, then God-worship is at the root of all good motivations.
I think the perfect example of this is the first and second greatest commandments. In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
If we aren’t worshipping God as we should, it will be impossible to truly keep any of the other commandments even if we go through the motions. I John 4:19 teaches that we can’t love if we’re not loved of God, and verse 20 makes it clear that we can’t love if we don’t love God.
Now, I want to go back — once again — to the lesson we just learned from I Samuel 15 because this idea of rightly motivated obedience being better than sinfully motivated obedience is actually found all throughout the Scriptures.
For example, Ecclesiastes 5:1 says, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.”
True obedience is motivated by a desire to be genuinely near to God. James commands us to draw near to God and says that the outcome will be that we cleanse our hands and purify our hearts and be grieved by our sin. And I John says that if we are living in the light as God is in the light, we have fellowship with Him. True nearness to God produces obedience.
Then Hosea 6:6 tells us, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
It’s possible to offer burnt sacrifices and not love God as we should. But He demands our love, and that love grows from an intimate knowledge of Him.
In Matthew 9:12, Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Righteousness motivated by self is self-righteousness; it’s faux righteousness,
And in Mark 12:33 a very insightful young man correctly identified that, “To love [God] with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Proverbs 21:3 teaches, “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” Why is that? True righteousness and justice is not mere externalism. Anyone can offer a sacrifice, but only someone motivated by God’s glory can honor Him in giving a sacrifice.
Listen carefully to Isaiah 1:11-17 “‘What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?’ says the Lord; ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.””
Now, again, God did delight in those things when they were correctly motivated. Continuing on, He says, “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? 13 Bring no more vain offerings.” Did you catch that — vain offerings, empty offerings?
“Incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” God hates when iniquity mingles with solemn assembly. That’s powerful.
Verse 14 continues, “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.”
No one can truly seek unselfish justice and correct oppression and plead for the needy in a God-honoring way if they are not fully devoted to Him — if they’re not consciously and intentionally seeking His glory.
And then what about Micah 6:6-8? “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Our obedience must be motivated by humble submission to God and His will. That is the only obedience that truly pleases Him.
And I think this is most perfectly illustrated in Christ. In John 5:30 He proclaims what could sound like an impotent passing-of-the-buck: “‘I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.’”
Of course, His humility was anything but weakness; it was all-powerful. Yes, it takes great strength to pick up a piano, but it takes even more strength to gently set it down. Jesus had the greatest strength because — as God — He still set down His own will and submitted to the Father.
His motivation was as pure and perfect as it could possibly be, and He sets the eternal example for us.
In John 14:21 He tells us, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Believe it or not, that’s the only motivation for true obedience.
You need to stay pure so that the world may know that you internally love the Father, not simply so that you can enter marriage as a virgin. Atheists can do that.
You need to eat healthily so that the world may know that you purposefully love the Father, not simply so you’ll look good in your clothes. Pagans can do that.
You need to keep your home tidy so that the world may know that you consciously love the Father, not merely because it’s valuable to be neat. Even agnostics can do that.
You need to do your best at work so that the world may know that you love the Father on purpose, not simply so you can get a promotion. Godless employees can do that.
You need to be loving to the unlovely so that the world may know that you premeditatedly love the Father, not so you can impress anyone. Unsaved people can do that.
Of course, worshipping God for His honor and glory is the main reason to obey; that’s the ultimate motivation for our behavior, but there are good secondary reasons as well.
Obviously, we are to love each other. We should delight in the good of others. We should want to serve people. But please note, that everything I just said can still be idolatrous if the intentional worship of God isn’t present.
For example, I can be nice to people and serve them because it’s expected of me — it’s a duty. I can do good for others to be seen of men like the Pharisees who put a lot of money into the coffer or prayed on street corners.
So, regardless of what other secondary motivations may be present, a determined desire to please the Lord must supersede it all. That is what it means to give God the preeminence. Nothing, no desire, no motivation is more important that pleasing Him.
Hebrews gives us a couple good examples of secondary Christ-honoring motivations for our behavior. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Here we see our obedience being motivated by love for our authorities as well as the spiritual benefit we will receive.
However, it’s important to recognize that these motivations can only glorify God when we already have the best motivation in place.
We should obey first because of Jesus Christ, second because we love our authority, and third because we know that submission to God will be the best thing for us.
Now, that’s all pretty straightforward, but there is one huge, complex, and very distressing reality we need to acknowledge.
Jeremiah 17:9 famously teaches that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The implication is that our hearts deceive us, and we can’t even understand the depth of our depravity.
You see, I believe that most people who do good things in good ways don’t realize they’re doing them for bad reasons. I believe many of them are convinced that they are doing it for Christ-honoring reasons. But how can they be convinced they’re doing the right things in the right ways for the right reasons . . . and be wrong?
This is why we need to talk about . . .
C. Unconscious Reasons for Doing Right
Matthew 7:21-24 reveals the deception of our own hearts. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Jesus considered their miracles and prophecies to be lawless, not because they were bad, but because they weren’t done for the glory of God. But the people themselves consciously believed it was the fruit of a genuine relationship with the Lord; enough so that they approach Him with confidence that He would accept them.
In Acts 8 we’re introduced to a man named Simon who the Bible says, “had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great.”
Then it goes on to say how Philip came to town and preached the gospel, and many people believed. In fact it says in verse 13 that “even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.”
But later, after watching the Apostles pray and seeing the believers have the Holy Spirit imparted to them, verse 18 tells us, “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, ‘Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’”
Now, how bad could that be? Wasn’t that a good thing to want to impart the Holy Spirit to new believers? Of course it was a good thing — the Apostles themselves had just done it! How bad could it be? But in verses 20-23 we read “Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.’”
I believe with all my heart that this surprised Simon. Consciously, Simon was convinced that Peter would be more than happy to grant Simon’s request because it would please the Lord to have more people to impart the Holy Spirit to new believers.
Thankfully, I think Simon knew not to doubt Peter’s words. Peter’s spirituality had been clearly proven by his miracles. So, Simon submitted to what Peter said — even if he had a hard time understanding it — and in verse 24 asked, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
So, here’s the thing. Our hearts are deceptive. Your heart is deceptive. It deceives you before it ever deceives anyone else. Because of this, we can often think that we have pure motives when we actually don’t.
So, I really hope you’re asking yourself, “If I can think I’m obeying because I want to please the Lord, but actually be obeying for selfish reasons, how can I know what my true motivations are?”
Isn’t that the point? The point is to obey for the right reasons, so if it’s possible that I may be deceiving myself, I need to be able to figure that out so I can change my motivation.
So, let’s consider . . .
D. Uncovering Unconscious Reasons for Doing Right
1. Start by recognizing that it’s possible to deceive yourself.
Up until a couple minutes ago, you may never have considered the fact that you could be self-deceived. In the 90’s, the G.I.Joe cartoon would always have a morality lesson at the end, and after helping a group of kids learn important truths, G.I.Joe would say, “And now you know, and knowing is half the battle.”
It’s truly a gracious gift of God to know that why we do what we do is more important than what we do and how we do it. It’s also a blessing to know that there is only one ultimate good reason to obey God. And it’s so incredibly valuable to recognize that we can think our motivation is God-focused when it’s all about me.
Thank that Lord that you know those three truths.
2. Assume the chances are very good that you’re deceiving yourself.
Maybe you’ve heard it said that you need to “Be easy on others and hard on yourself.” Considering that you are the chiefest of sinners that you know, it’s very important for us to deal with the tree swinging out of our own eye before handling the splinter in another’s eye.
Here’s the point, it is so incredibly valuable to walk into any situation recognizing that you could be wrong.
You see, we all do what we do because we believe it’s best. But everyone believes that. People who are clearly doing wicked things believe it’s best. But what if we were humble enough to approach the decision or conversation or action or project comfortable with the fact that our initial impression or decision or course of action may very well be wrong?
I’ll tell you what will happen. If you start by assuming you may wrong, you will diligently seek the answers from outside yourself. You’ll go to God’s Word, you’ll seek wise counselors, and — best case scenario — you realize that you were wrong, and — because you were humble enough to admit it — you can now have the right motivation. And — worst case scenario — you’ll find out your motivation was pure all along. And that’s great.
Humility recognizes our spiritual destitution and our need for God’s help. God draws near to the humble. Humility honestly looks at one’s self and doesn’t give themselves the benefit of the doubt that they’re always right.
This one point right here, my friends, has the potential of radically changing your whole life. I pray you will carefully consider it.
But assuming that our motivation probably isn’t as pure as we think it is, isn’t good enough.
3. Believe that God’s standard for obedience is perfect.
We mustn’t doubt God’s plan. We mustn’t lean on our own understanding. We have to acknowledge Him in all things if we want to have our ways please Him.
But God isn’t going to teach us to intentionally worship Him in all things via dreams and cloud formations. So . . .
4. Study the Word.
I hope — if nothing else — today’s discussion lights a fire in your soul to study this concept more deeply from the Scriptures.
Only in God’s absolute truth can we understand what to do, how to do it, and why to do it. This is why Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Then as you approach your study of the Bible . . .
5. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you.
In Psalm 119:18, the man after God’s own heart prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.”
Don’t arrogantly believe you have it all figured out or will learn it perfectly the first time through. Throw yourself on the providential grace of God and ask the Holy Spirit to help you truly know, understand, and live His Word.
And, while you’re praying . . .
6. Ask God to show you your sinful motivations.
Remember, we’re too often blind to our self-worshipping motivations. That’s why we need to pray like Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
In Psalm 26:2 we read, “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind.”
And I love how it’s put in Job 13:23, “How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin.”
Without the work of the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin, righteousness, and judgement, we’re blind to our sin. We literally cannot see it without His help.
So ask God to help you recognize when you’re doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
And then . . .
7. Compare your thoughts and words to the perfect standard of the Bible.
Jesus taught that a man’s words come from his heart. What we think and say (when we’re being honest) is the best revealer of the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. I lean heavily on this in counseling all the time. Unless the person is such a perfect liar that they always say just the right things, they will slip, and that slip will reveal what they truly believe.
Having a biblical counselor ask you heart-revealing questions can be very helpful in this process. In fact, having a biblical counselor help you through this time of maturation could be the best thing. God created us for community, so any mature believer who can disciple you to greater maturity in your obedience is a wonderful thing.
Okay, Lord willing, as you follow these steps, you’ll be able to more accurately judge your true heart motivation for doing what you do.
So, then the next question is “What the best way to deal with these previously unconscious motivations?” The obvious answer is to replace them with God-worship.
But some people will still rightly doubt that they’ve truly uncovered their self-worship. What are we to do when we’re still uncertain if our motives are truly pure?
E. Changing Unconscious Reasons for Doing Right
Whether you have successfully uncovered your unconscious reasons for doing right and know they need to change, or you’re still uncertain why you do what you do, this is how you can — over time — change your motivations.
1. Know God’s Word.
It’s always going to start here. You can’t believe what you don’t know, and you can’t have the right reasons until you know what they are and how to have them.
2. Understand God’s Word.
This is also incredibly important. I have been preaching and teaching and counseling and parenting these truths for decades, and every time I dig back into this study, I learn more and understand it better.
It’s just as wrong to pridefully assume that all of your motivations are Christ-honoring as it is to believe you have this all figured out after one podcast episode.
3. Admit your inability.
We mentioned this before, but this is so important. You and I absolutely cannot do anything right or in the right way or for the right reasons without God’s empowering. But just because we’re born again doesn’t mean that we become marionettes completely incapable of doing wrong.
Humbly admit your inability. I Corinthians 4:7 reminds us, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” God is the One Who works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure.
We bring nothing to this relationship except our spiritual destitution and inability.
And, as mentioned earlier, that should lead us to . . .
4. Humbly ask for help.
This step and the last step are the belief stage. As we learned in the Discipleship Spiral Series, we need to know God’s Word and understand God’s Word, but then we have to believe God’s Word.
Trusting what God says about the importance of our motivation and the deceptiveness of our own minds should lead us to believe that we are incapable of doing this on our own, and we desperately need His help.
And then . . .
5. Consciously strive to obey for the right reasons.
The key word there is “consciously.” Ephesians 5:15-17 commands, “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
All throughout Proverbs fools are said to be senseless. They’re like unthinking animals. We absolutely must not coast through life feeling our way from one experience to another.
The world has happily substituted true thinking for mere feeling. They don’t like logic, they like how they feel. This is why something can be so right that it’s worth fighting the world to attain, but later it doesn’t feel the same, and we hate it.
Feelings don’t require thought. They’re physical experiences; that’s all they are. We need to actually, cognitively think about what and how and why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Have you ever stopped to consider what it would take to intentionally brush your teeth to the glory of God?
Doing it the the right way wouldn’t be enough. Unsaved people don’t please the Lord no matter how well they brush their teeth. And the fact that I’m a Christian doesn’t automatically mean that I have the best motivation for what I do.
So, how do I consciously glorify God when I brush my teeth? Well, it has to be conscious.
I’ve been working on this for years now, and I still stink at it because I’ve been brushing my teeth well my whole life. I’ve never had a cavity, and my oral health has made me a rockstar at every dentist I’ve ever seen.
So, when I recognized that brushing my teeth really was a godless exercise which I did solely out of mindless habit, and — if I did think about it — was motivated by not wanting to get a cavity, I realized how self-focused that was. I wasn’t brushing my teeth as an act of worship to God. I wasn’t doing it to consciously steward my health for His honor and glory. I wasn’t striving to give God first place in my oral hygiene.
And so I’ve been striving to be more intentional with the mundane habits of my day. For example, I try to consciously dedicate my tooth brushing to the Lord. I’ll pray something like, “God, you gave me these teeth, and I want to please you in the way I care for them.” Or I may pray, “Thank you for not letting me get any cavities. Ultimately, that your grace more than it’s my good brushing, and I don’t deserve your grace in my life.”
Whatever my focus for that tooth-cleaning-session that day, I keep it 100% consciously focused on God.
And — let me tell you — this has started to revolutionize my life. I’m far more God-conscious and intentional, and I have seen real growth in my life since I started truly trying to obey God for the right reasons.
And, I’ll tell you this, trying to change your motivation in the areas where you’ve already been doing the right things in the right ways (but you have bad reasons) . . . that’s really hard. It’s so easy to be unconscious and go into auto-pilot.
That why this step is supremely important. Make it conscious. Pray out loud if you have too . . . well, maybe not while you’re brushing your teeth. But pray out loud as you shower and wash dishes and dress and mow the lawn and while you work.
It will definitely help you see how self-focused you used to be, and you will start to experience the amazing maturity and growth that comes from worshipping God in all things.
And then, finally . . .
6. Intentionally trust God and verify yourself.
A lot of people get saved, and they view faith as a one and done. I trusted God, therefore I’ll always trust God.
If you think this way, please listen to our Grow Your Worship Series. There you will learn that there are different kinds of faith. Yes, by the grace of God, you will never lose your saving faith, but every sin in our lives is a direct result of not having sanctifying faith in God the way we should.
Telling my wife that I love her on the day we got married doesn’t keep me from having to continually love her every day thereafter, and putting your trust in Christ for salvation doesn’t mean that you will perfectly trust Him for the rest of your life.
Therefore, in order to continue maturing in your obedience, you’re going to need to daily, moment-by-moment intentionally and consciously seek the Lord.
I Chronicles 16:8-11 implores us, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. 9 Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders. 10 Glory in His holy name; Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad. 11 Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face continually.”
Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
Jesus said something very similar in Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
Isaiah 55:6-7 explains, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”
This idea of seeking — found all throughout the Scriptures — is not passive, it’s not feelings-oriented, and it’s not merely reading the Scriptures. The multiple times we’re commanded to seek God show that it’s a conscious, intentional, God-focus motivated by worship and love.
I know that we covered a lot today. I know that much of what we discussed was complex, deep, counterintuitive, and potentially unnerving.
Now do you understand why it’s hard to say with full confidence before God that I truly obey more than I don’t? How many times this week did I do the wrong things? How many times did I do the right things in the wrong ways?
And even when I did the right things in the right ways — like recording this episode and counseling and parenting and interacting with my wife and eating and exercising and playing games and watching movies . . . how much of that was truly motivated by God’s glory over my one purposes and enjoyment.
Am I really bold enough to proclaim that every time I did the right thing in the right way, I know for certain, open and bare before the eyes of the Lord that my motivation was the preeminence of Christ?
No, I cannot. I must not. It’s not true. In addition to the times I know I did the right things in the right ways for my own pleasure, to cause someone to like me more, or manipulate the situation, I know there were so many times I was on self-seeking auto-pilot too much. I fell into unconscious habits just like unsaved people do. I have no idea why I did so much of what I did today . . . because I wasn’t thinking about it at all.
But — again — this should not produce discouragement in us. It should produce conviction and shame and grief, but then we need to consciously and intentionally humble ourselves before God and seek Him. Then we will hunger and thirst after true obedience.
Please share this series on your favorite social media outlets so that other followers of Christ can submit their motivation to God’s will, and never hesitate to reach out to Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com if you need some help determining why you do what you do and/or submitting your baser motivations to the Lord.
And join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing the only way we can do the right things in the right ways for the right reasons and in the right power.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.