Friday, May 15, 2015

Motivations to Obey God

In times of temptation to sin, it can be helpful to remember those lessons, truths, and principles that motivate us to obey God. That is not always easy. Our carnal minds, with Satan's influence, will try not to think of spiritual things when we are tempted, but our carnal nature and Satan will try to focus our minds on the temptation and the temporary pleasures of sin. When Satan tempts us, he wants us to forget, at that particular moment, why we should obey God. He wants us only to think of the sin that tempts us. And at that moment, when we are in the grip of a temptation, it can be hard for us to focus our minds away from the temptation and on the reasons why we should resist the temptation and obey God.

"Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:13-15).

"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (Romans 7:14-25).

"Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:7-8).

"So the Lord said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it' " (Genesis 4:6-7).

But though it may be hard to focus our minds strongly on reasons and motivations to obey when we are in the grip of a strong temptation to sin, we can do things ahead of time to make it easier. We can rehearse and remind ourselves of the truths of God that inspire and motivate us, along with the scriptures upon which they are based, when we are not being tempted. By focusing our minds on those things and rehearsing them, meditating on them, continuously in our daily lives, we are more likely to remember them when we are tempted and to turn from the temptation, resisting the sin, and choosing to obey God for the reasons that motivate us.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would help us remember the things He said and taught. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:26). Jesus said the Holy Spirit will help us remember Jesus's teaching, but there is a broad principle here, that the Holy Spirit will help us understand, know, and remember all spiritual things and truths that we need, including all the teaching of the Bible that we have read and studied (1 Corinthians 2:9-16).

But to remember the things Jesus taught, we must read the Bible, for the Holy Spirit cannot remind us of things we have never known. So we must do our part, to read the Bible and study the teachings of Christ, so God will do His part by His Holy Spirit to remind us of what we have read and studied in the Bible. Likewise, God's Spirit can help us remember all we learn in the Bible, but we need to do our part to read and study. And also likewise, God's Spirit can remind us of the reasons and motivations to obey that we have understood and accepted, but we have our part, and that includes meditating on these motivations as we go about our day, even when we are not tempted, to thoroughly ingrain them in our minds and our thinking. Then, when we are tempted, we can more easily remember them and God can, through the power of His Holy Spirit, give us the help we need to remember these motivations and reasons to obey so we can turn from the temptation, choose to obey God, and avoid the sin. When we do our part, God will do His part. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

No doubt the greatest motivation for faith and obedience is eternal life. Obedience does not earn eternal life. Eternal life is a free gift. But that gift has conditions, and one of the conditions is obedience to God's spiritual law, God's way of life. "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13). "...for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified" (Romans 2:13). "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30). Christ is not teaching physical mutilation, but is using figurative language to teach us to go all out to avoid sin, and Christ uses the motivation that sin can cause us to lose our salvation and go into the lake of fire.

We should resist temptation and obey God's commandments so that God can accept us into His kingdom and give us eternal life and so that we do not have to perish forever in the lake of fire.

But it is not just for ourselves that we should obey. We should obey for the sake of others, that they may receive eternal life also. How does our obedience affect the salvation of others?

There are many ways. For one thing, our example, good or bad, can affect others in the Church of God. Our example affects our families. Our example affects those in the Church who see our example. When we obey, we encourage others to obey. When we disobey, our bad example can tempt others to disobey also. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). Notice in the following passage, Paul said that his example or the examples of others could cause a brother to perish. "For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (1 Corinthians 8:10-13). Also, as we pray for others, we want God to hear our prayers, but He will not hear us if we are not obeying Him. "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22). "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18). "Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2).

We also need to obey so that God will be pleased with us and hear our prayers for the gospel and bless and empower the work we do to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, to warn the nations of the tribulation to come upon them if they do not repent.

Hundreds of millions of people will die and suffer in the great tribulation if they do not repent, and millions of them deceived by their false religious traditions do not know they are doing wrong. Without a warning, they can easily blame God for their punishment, thinking to themselves that God never gave them a chance because He didn't give them a warning while there was time to repent. That can make it harder for them to trust God and repent, even if they live into the millennium, and it can affect their attitude towards God and even their salvation.

The work we do now of warning the people and preaching the gospel to them can make their salvation easier later, because they will see that God was fair and merciful to send someone to warn them while there was time for them to repent. It will then be easier for them to trust God and choose life.

Our obedience to God in obeying His law and commandments can empower us to do a more powerful work, and that can improve the chances of others to make it into God's kingdom.

If you think our choices do not affect the probability that others will be saved, see my post "Do Our Choices Really Affect the Preaching of the Gospel?", dated May 16, 2014, link:

Not only should our desire to save others by preaching the gospel and Ezekiel warning to them motivate us to obey God, it should motivate us to obey even when obedience seems extremely difficult, almost impossible.

Consider what we are asking the general public to do when we preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to them. We are asking them to repent and turn from their sins. But how hard is that for the majority who hear our message?

The majority of the people are not being called at this time. Repentance is a gift from God when God calls someone (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25). God is not granting the majority repentance that leads to conversion at this time. Yet, is it possible for anyone to respond to our message to repent to avoid the physical punishment of the great tribulation even if God is not calling them?

The example of Nineveh shows it is possible. Carnal people can turn from their sins to avoid punishment, even if their repentance is not of a depth that leads to conversion. The people of Nineveh were not called to salvation, yet they repented at the preaching of Jonah and avoided the destruction God pronounced against them. Likewise, people in our nations can respond to our warning message even if they not being called at this time. If they are not called, God is not granting them the depth of repentance necessary for conversion at this time. But they can still repent to a degree and make an effort to obey God, at least physically in the letter of the law, as Nineveh did at the preaching of Jonah. They may not understand the depth of God's law and all the spiritual intent of the law and God's way of life, but they can still make changes to begin to put sin out of their lives, even if only out of fear of punishment. They can stop working on the Sabbath. They can stop committing adultery, stop lying, and stop cheating their neighbors. They can put away their physical idols and images they use in worship, stop keeping pagan holidays, and start to keep the holy days. They can start showing mercy to the poor.

There are many things they can do to try to avoid the wrath of God's punishment. And God may spare some of them from the worst of the punishment just as He spared ancient Nineveh.

But how hard will it be for the average person to do this? Without God's calling, it will be very hard. Yet, that is what we are asking them to do when we preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to them. Our message is not just for those whom God is calling, but for everyone.

Yet, if we ask others to do what is almost impossible for them, we must be willing to do what may seem at times to be impossible for us. We must overcome our sins even in the face of the severest temptations. "For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin" (Hebrews 12:3-4).

To have God's fullest help and blessing in preaching the gospel to help others, we must be willing to do everything we tell others to do. We must practice what we preach. And that should motivate us to obey.

We should be motivated to obey God not just by our love for ourselves, but our love towards our neighbors as well.

I am motivated to obey God because by resisting temptation to sin and by obeying God's commandments, I know things will go better for me and for others for eternity. I want eternal life for myself and for others. I want God to hear my prayers for others and for His work. I know that eternal life in God's kingdom will be joyous beyond our present understanding, and I want that joy for myself and for others.

We should also be motivated to obey God to please God and to glorify His name. We should do those things that are pleasing in His sight to increase His joy and pleasure. We should avoid sin so as to not displease Him. For it is clear in the Bible that God's state of mind is certainly affected by our obedience. God has pleasure in our willingness to obey him, and displeasure when we sin (Ezekiel 6:9).

We should be motivated by gratitude to God for all He has given us, including the sacrifice of His Son (John 3:16, 1 John 4:19, Romans 5:6-10, 2 Corinthians 9:15, Psalm 30:1-14, Psalm 92:1-4).

Another motivation is the spiritual and physical blessings in this life that can come from obedience. God does not promise physical blessings in this life under the New Covenant (Luke 16:19-25). God promises forgiveness of sins, spiritual blessings, and eternal life in His kingdom as our reward under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6). Yet, God's way of life does lead to physical blessings. We may suffer in this life in spite of obedience because the world does not obey God and because God may test our faith (1 Peter 1:6-8, Genesis 22:1-12). Yet, by obeying God's commandments, we can avoid many problems that come naturally from breaking God's laws (Jeremiah 2:19).

Alternatively, if we sin, we may provoke God's punishments, to correct us for our good. It is better not to sin rather than sin and be punished. "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters" (1 Peter 4:15). "For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil" (1 Peter 3:17). "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God" (1 Peter 2:19-20).

By believing and obeying God and resisting temptations to sin, we can enjoy a closer and more rewarding spiritual relationship with Him. We can enjoy a clear conscience towards God. We can receive answers to our prayers. We can have more confidence with God. And this can give us joy even in the face of trials. "Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:21-22). "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

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