I think it’s time for people to re-evaluate why they do things. Why do we do what we do? Why do we choose to tell the truth when lying is not only viable, but seemingly logical? What makes us wait until the light turns green before we enter the crosswalk instead of sneaking across when there are no cars in sight? Why do we return that lost wallet when we could easily take it for ourselves? Yea, I’m talking about all you “good” people, everyone who thinks they live a moral life whether you’re Christian or not, no one’s excluded from this. I’ve been rethinking my motives, my reasons for living a moral, healthy life. In my search, I’ve found that I live what most would call an “ethical” life for purely selfish reasons–and I bet most people can relate.
Now, my goal isn’t to inspire anarchy or torment people who do good things, but I want to challenge people to think. It’s not everyday that people question our motives and in this case I think it’s immensely healthy. At first glance, my aforementioned statement seems cynical, doesn’t it? “People live ethically for purely selfish reasons,” a Hobbesian statement for sure. But I would venture to guess that that statement’s not too far off the mark. It’s called people pleasing and we have absolutely no justification for it. When you people please, are you really doing things out of integrity or the kindness of your heart? I might be going out on a limb, but I’d say no. Absolutely not. You’re saving face, trying to look good in front of others so they’ll think highly of you. Even those who attend church or serve others in some capacity, are you serving for the right reasons? Or are you serving because it’s the “Christian” thing to do? Maybe it simply makes you feel like you’re putting in the time, earning your way to that “good person” label; maybe you want others to take note of your good works. Either way, this type of “good” work is self-serving, face-saving, God-ignoring legalism.
We as human beings–flawed in everything and perfect in nothing–can try as hard as we want to be moral stewards of our lives, but we cannot justify our good behavior without the joyful fear of God. The joyful fear of God? Why this? Well, the Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 9:10 and 1:7 respectively). Jerry Bridges writes, “It is the fear of the Lord that gives us the right perspective and prompts us to use it for the right end. It is the fear of the Lord that should determine our fundamental outlook on life.” Having the fear of the Lord gives us wisdom, knowledge, and an understanding of God’s purpose in our life. This purpose is to recognize and glorify Him (not ourselves) in everything that we do. I repeat: our main goal is glorifying God. When we acknowledge a proper understanding of the Lord and His role in our lives, we can use our lives to do good, with pure intentions. Not only that, but this fear of the Lord (more like seeing the awesomeness of God than what the world today defines as “fear”) “determines our fundamental outlook on life.” This means that when we study biology in school, we can marvel at the intricacies of God’s creations. When we study government or politics, we see man’s depravity without God’s perfect rule. Even when we examine our relations with others, we can see the harmony between people in Christ-centered relationships and the selfish pride that exists in Christ-less relationships.
Of course, our fear of God is always going to be imperfect, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. There is no purely ethical, moral, self-sacrificing person aside from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was a man who died for the sins of all mankind without receiving anything in return; he gained nothing from vindicating us from the death that awaited us due to our heavy debt of sin. What Jesus did on the cross for us was absolutely selfless, absolutely humble, and absolutely good. For it is written in Philippians 2:5-11 that Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, bought our lives at a price, and our devotion to him is formed out of gratitude and love. Because of this we have the promise of eternal life, the assurance that all believers are saved from our deathly sins and now live the righteous life that Jesus once lived. This is the proper motive for all of our “good” works; this is the reason why we, as believers, do what we do.
Society teaches us that “honesty is the best policy”. Business owners nail honesty into their policies to save face, in order to earn the trust of customers. Schools promote honesty, giving gold stars to all who are honest, or at least seem like they are. Those who plagarize are blacklisted, marked with a scarlet letter for their wrongdoings, hated for their dishonesty. Honesty is the best policy. However, Biblical wisdom–the kind that stems from the fear of the Lord–always factors God into the equation. We can either be honest because society tells us to, or we can be honest because it glorifies God. It’s because of what the Lord did for us that we are able to give or act morally in return. 1 John 4:11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Likewise, it is because of what our Lord has done for us, His death on the cross and awesome nature, that we act morally. So next time you avoid illegal activities, finish your homework on time, or even pay for someone’s dinner, remember why you do it–and take joy in Him.