At times living the Christian life can appear to be very confusing. As we try to determine the will of God, we often look for the easy way out. We look for rules to follow. Having rules makes it easy to know what to, or not to do. Thus we can avoid having to make complex decisions. The Pharisees were known for the large number of rules they rigidly kept. Many of these rules had a negative orientation. Jesus condemned them for their strict adherence to their rules. Rules had become more important than their relationship with God. The motives for their actions were wrong.
We are tempted to do the same thing that the Pharisees did. During the twentieth century, large segments of American Christendom were identified by the rules they kept. Like the rules of the Pharisees, many of these were also negative. They made it very easy to identify supposed Christian behavior. But these rules also became very rigid. While they attempted to define one’s relationship with God, they became more important than a true relationship with God. It even became possible to follow the rules without having any relationship with God at all.
But rules by themselves are often inadequate in making decisions. Life is much more complex than following mere rules. The dilemma we face is compounded by the fact that the same action can be a virtue one day and a sin the next. How do we determine which it is? The Swiss physician, Paul Tournier, writes about this issue in his book To Resist or Surrender? He states “What is good in the Bible, is not this thing or that. It is not a matter of resisting or giving in. It is doing what God wants and when he wants it: it is total dependence upon his person, not upon a moral code.”
We constantly find ourselves forced to make choices. Rules make it easy, for then we don’t have to think. Someone else has done the hard work for us. We can just mechanically react, like a programmed machine. But if we desire to do what God wants and when he wants it, we are led to question our motives when we are confused by choices. Is the motive behind our actions a desire to be totally dependent upon God and give him glory? Do our actions signify complete trust in Him? We see an example of this process at work in the life of King David in II Samuel 24: David is chastised for taking a census. Yet in Numbers 26 God tells Moses to take a census. What is the difference? David’s motive was to determine his military strength as opposed to his dependence upon God. He is condemned for his lack of trust in God.
God desires us to be motive oriented Christians. He desires us to be dependent upon Him. He wants us to totally trust in Him. Therefore, our motives are all important. Much of the praise or condemnation of individuals in the Bible has to do with the motives behind their actions. Were they acting out of allegiance and dependence upon God or did they have some other motive? Were they acting out of trust? This requires thoughtful analysis. We can not take the easy way out and merely follow a set of rules. As we live our daily lives, we need to ask ourselves these questions: Why am I doing this? How do my actions impact my relationship with God? What do my motives tell me about myself?