“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
In a recent congregational discussion, we were discussing motives for doing works or whether to we ought to do things seeking a reward. This short devotion can’t consider all the facets of that question, but I wanted to think about one particular thing. Someone reminded us that the question is what drives you? As we consider our motives more, it is helpful to look at what the word of God has to say.
Luke 6.43-45 reminds us to consider how our outward actions display our inward motives. ‘Out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.’ This can be extended beyond our words. Many other aspects of our lives can be considered fruit whether good or bad. So we speak from the abundance of our hearts and we act from the abundance of our hearts. An essential question then is what should be the posture of our hearts? The posture of our hearts should be to love mercy, do justice, walk humbly with our God. It should be to love to do what our father wants us to do. There are many ways of expressing this truth. The issue isn’t only that we do the right things, the issue is ultimately that we do it with the right motive, loving to do what our father wants us to do. As Augustine says, ‘You have made us for yourself and we are restless until we find our rest in you.’
There is a problem here of course. We are not perfect. All humanity is completely broken. This means that from myself alone, my deeds and words will be done and said with the wrong motives. In this, the historic doctrine of sin comes to the forefront. Apart from the work of God in me, my motives are evil and your motives are evil. They are self-seeking. And so this brings us to the message of the gospel. Jesus came to redeem us and even to redeem our motives. This means that through the work of Jesus Christ, there is hope for change.
So when we consider the question, ‘Should we do good in order to get______,’ the biblical musings above must come into play. Ultimately, it ought to be, ‘I am justified by faith and so I submit now with joy to the demands of the gospel.’ Thus our motives for doing and saying should be in grateful response to the work of Christ in our lives. But we are not there yet. I still act and speak with selfish motives. This is where the demands in the New Testament on the Christian come to us. They act as a schoolmaster, training our habits and hearts. And we seek to act in the proper manner as we offer our bodies as living sacrifices. Another aspect of this is seen in Ephesians 1: our lives as Christians are in Christ. It is good and proper to want to be like Christ, and so we act in order to be conformed to his image. The glorious thing is that in all these things, we who have repented of our sin and believed are sealed with the Holy Spirit of God. His Holy Spirit provides us with the energy to do what we would not be willing to do of our own accord with the right motives. It is by grace that we have been saved, and this is not ourselves it is a gift of God. And now we respond with the work of sanctification through the work of Jesus Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.