Our Motive Matters


At first glance, it appears as if the unrest in America continues to alter the spiritual landscape. Those who claim the problem is a gospel issue are labeled as gospel escapists (a title I gladly take for I am one of them. That is what Christ and Paul were––good company!). Those who take a position of pulpit advocates are labeled as too socially minded.

When we consider ways to work through this, there is immediate concern when believers call for a panel discussion and bring unbelievers in. To that end, we must ask about motive. Now how do we examine Bible narratives about Joseph and Daniel and how they interacted with worldly officials? Well first of all, they are mostly narratives, describing God’s providence and will in preserving His people. In no way, do they endorse or teach us partnerships with the world. In fact both Joseph and Daniel were slaves and placed into their respective situations by man and God’s purposes.

The only participation Joseph and Daniel had in common is this: they were God’s instruments to interpret dreams while Joseph was used by God to preserve Life (Genesis 45:5, 7; 50:20). They were never involved in social affairs because their motive was to please their God. In the end, how we use these Old Testament people has much to do with how we place them in their proper context. So we cannot use those passages to justify partnerships with the world for anything that seems good or appropriate. There must be a better way.

Needless to say, what we do when these situations develop says much about our resolve and confidence in God’s word. While we are not called to be passive participants in this world, an active response based on good intentions is not sufficient.

There are several angles we can take biblically when looking at our response to conflict, but only one will be the focus for us today. What we do and how we engage in this broken world must be a matter of motive.

In his very brief but helpful booklet on the topic of motive, Edward T. Welch stressed the source of our motives: the heart. We seek what we seek because our heart is inclined toward it. If it’s the drug addict, his or her motive is to get high and get lost from the world. The adulterer’s motive is to seek pleasure at the expense of his life and the unfaithfulness of others.

 The Problem of the Heart:

Welch furthered the issue by stating the reality of our human heart. He stated, “Simply put, the heart’s root motivation is, ‘I WANT.” ‘I want comfort, power, pleasure, control…for myself, against God. By nature, the heart is selfish” (p. 6).

What does Scripture have to say about the heart? Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” The condition is beyond repair and only salvation can offer any hope where God assures the sinner a new heart.

While Welch did not deal with the problem of social justice or societal conflict, motive permeates all we do. This is true because the heart is the source of our motivation. And to this day, believers still wrestle with this reality. Paul in Philippians 1:9-11 prayed that this fellowship in Philippi would choose what is best without having mixed motives. Sometimes our motives seem right until they are held before the light of God’s character.

That is why believers, especially ministers, must always recognize they are still dealing with sin and impure motives at times. We cannot just go with our convictions until we have thoroughly washed them in God’s word through the Holy Spirit. It is easy to be over-emotional when we identify with the perils around us. But that must be tempered by truth, God’s word. The consequence of the fall is not something to take lightly, especially in times of racial tension. 

The Provision for the Heart:

The only provision for this sick and depraved heart is Jesus Christ. The only assurance that anything will be made right for sinners is when Christ dwells in the heart. In the book of Romans 1:18-32, man in sin will continually suppress the truth in unrighteousness to the point of God’s sure judgment upon him. Do we think he will offer objective counsel for us in this world while rejecting the words of our Wonderful Counselor?

Another point of consideration is this: if we need unbelievers to speak about the spiritual problems in society, why would they come to us for counsel? Because in most cases, the problem in society, such as violence or racial tension, is not an isolated problem; it is about motive––the heart. For that reason, the gospel message is the basis for all discussions. Not the gospel of social equality or fairness (although that is good, it is not the good news), but the gospel about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18). Until that vertical condition is mended, the horizontal will always escape humanity.

To be truthful, I would rather spend 3 hours in prayer than spend a day dialoguing with the world on an issue that escapes us all apart from God’s word. We can talk but we must talk about eternal matters: righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come (Acts 24:25).

It is important to add one caveat. Those who are without God can provide good insights. They are helpful in areas of medicine, health, housekeeping, the best car to purchase, etc. What they cannot offer are solutions to the problems that stem from a heart of sin. And the racial, hateful, sickening problems around us are a result of humanity’s rejection of God. Therefore we implore and beg of sinners to be reconciled to God on behalf of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).

The Predicament of the Unregenerate Heart

Now in relation to the problem of motive and the heart, we must examine how this fits into the context of engaging with the world. If we agree that man’s motive in this life for the most part is anti-biblical, or his motive has no eternal outlook at all, how do we handle the conflict?

As we look at the challenge of living in this world or where you live, your local pastor and leaders are in place to shepherd you in this area more than this blog. Any disagreement or conflict within your local fellowship should be prayerfully considered before addressing them. Make sure you seek to know what their motive is. A biblical motive is a good one. Any other motive must be examined carefully.

But from what I read in Scripture, the unregenerate heart cannot be trusted because he is entrenched in this world’s fallen system. Additionally, when sinful man achieves something great, he will not glorify God but will glorify human progress. That is a grave sin. One of man’s chief sins is his vain attempt to steal God’s glory. Just listen to them when they accomplish something great. For example, the athlete will speak much about how hard he worked in the off-season and may use 3 brief seconds to speak about the ‘man upstairs.’ Who is the man upstairs, his landlord?

The Plight of Human Progress

While we do seek progress, is this the true nature of the church or the calling for believers? If we stay closely with Matthew 28:19-20, our purpose is quite clear. Yet one cannot help but look and see the widespread wickedness around us. From Kenya, Africa to New York, the pain of tragedy is so heartbreaking. Naturally, we want progress in today’s world.

But at the risk of progress we may fall into the trap of vainly attempting to make the world a better place when our feet should be adorned with the gospel of peace instead (Eph. 6:15). There is only one means of peace, and it comes from the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). And the more I communicate with believers, progress is hindered because we are not gospel motivated. We want the government to do what Scripture did not sanction them to do (Rom. 13), while we make them our god and spurn the ministry of determining to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.

The Practical Outworking of Right Motivation

The situation is not hopeless for us. We are called to engage in meeting pressing needs (Titus 3:14; 2:14; 3:8). Those good deeds begin with charity among believers (Gal. 6:10), and then as we live in the world, we are light (Phil. 2:14) and salt (Matt. 5:13).

One way we can make God-honoring progress is to disciple our youths in truth. Teach them how they can allow God’s word to shape their motives, so that they may approve the things that are excellent. In doing so, they can become the lawyers and advocates of biblical conviction. A biblical worldview is essential for them.

With that the church must be more active in evangelism. Personal evangelism is extremely weak and many believers do not see making Christ known important enough. But if we examine the New Testament churches, their impact for the gospel was evident. Not sure if that is true of us today.

Personally, Psalm 1 frightens me away from any panel of discussion about the affairs of this world. The very beginning of verse 1 speaks about not walking in the counsel of the ungodly. Whenever men of God in Scripture stood before the ungodly, they spoke highly of their God and very little of the world’s social problem.

If our goal is to lift high the name of our God, our motive must be to determine to know Jesus only and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).