The Matter of Motives
by Tim Challies
I find one of the trickiest matters of Christian living to be the matter of motives. I often find myself wondering why I do the things I do. Just as often, I find myself wondering why I do not do those things I refuse to do. Sometimes, even with a lot of focused thought, I can make little headway.
I think the Apostle Paul would identify with me. In Romans 7, he wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (vv. 15–16). He was not looking to his motives per se, but he was still considering his life and finding that he was unable to discern why he did sinful things even when he wanted to do holy things. He saw his lack of holiness and his pursuit of sin and marveled at his own inability to do even the good things he wanted to do.
Like Paul, I am a Christian. I have been granted salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Day by day, my mind is being transformed by God’s Word, and I am being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
As the Lord does this work within me, I find a growing ability to know the right thing to do in a given situation. When I am sinned against, I have a greater knowledge of Scripture to draw upon as I attempt to respond with grace. When I am asked to give money to a cause or a mission, I have deeper wells to draw from as I consider whether this is a worthy cause. When I am faced with a decision and am uncertain whether I should stay or go, whether I should say yes or no, I increasingly have the mind of Christ and with it the ability to make a wise and God-honoring decision.
And yet sometimes I still do not know why I do the things I do. Am I giving to that mission because I believe the Lord is using those people to do His work in his world, or am I giving to that mission because it makes me feel good or because I want the missionary to respect me? Am I speaking grace-filled words to the person who offended me because I really love him despite the offense, or am I doing it to show off and to convince myself of my own holiness?
Too often I simply do not know. I pray and think and ponder and in the end I simply cannot untwist it all. We are complex people with complex motives. We are being made holy, but in the meantime we still have sin clinging to every part of ourselves.
I have found freedom in two ways. The first is repenting of poor motives. Even if I cannot pinpoint where my motives are sinful, I know there must be some sin in them, and so I ask that they be forgiven through the work of Jesus Christ. And then I determine to concern myself less with discerning motives and more with doing the right thing. I look to the cross, I look to the Bible, and I attempt to discern the next right thing to do for God’s glory.