What Motivates You? (A Study in Galatians)


Galatians 6: 11-13

What is it that motivates us? What motivates us to get up and go to work? Perhaps it is the paycheck. Maybe your parents instilled in you a sense of the goodness of work. Even the retired often work hard. I have heard many retired people say they do not know how they had time to work they have so much to do now. What motivates the student to study or the child to obey Mom and Dad? The student knows study is necessary if they are to pass, and the child knows that to disobey Mom or Dad probably means punishment of some sort.

What motivates people to come to church and to be involved in the work of the church? Is it possible some do this with improper motives? Is it possible for someone to support God’s church and still miss the boat? Are some motivated by a sense of guilt if they do not come? Do they come as a result of pressure from family members or out of fear of disappointing them if they don’t? Are some simply carrying on a family tradition? Are some simply searching to fill a void they feel in their lives?

Paul rebukes such impure motives in these verses by appealing to the example of the Judaizers. They tried to turn the Galatians back to the Mosaic ceremonies and laws as a means to gain salvation, rather than simply trusting in faith in Jesus Christ as Paul taught. They possibly claimed to speak for the Jerusalem apostles and perhaps even Paul himself. The Galatians may have wondered whom to believe. They were hearing two messages: one from Paul that salvation was through faith in Christ and the other from the Judaizers that works must be added. What motivated the Judaizers was impure and unacceptable.

Through looking at the negative, consider some positive things that should motivate us to do God’s work.

Be Motivated by Humility

Paul condemns the Judaizers for religious pride. They were no different from the Pharisees and Saduccees Jesus often condemned during his ministry. Paul said the Judaizers desired to make a good showing in the flesh. They tried to compel the Galatians to undergo the Jewish rite of circumcision. They were like the scribes and Pharisees Jesus said would travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte and then they would make him into twice as much a son of hell as themselves (Matthew 23:15).

Flesh carries a different meaning here than previously in the epistle. It is not a reference to residual desires and patterns of acting but rather a reference to human works apart from the Spirit of God. It is an attempt to show off what people depended on: good works. Pleasing God with inward righteousness did not concern them. They were only concerned with what others thought of them. They wanted to impress others with their outward show of legalism.

Jesus condemned this same religious pride. He gave repeated warnings in his Sermon on the Mount and in other settings. On one occasion, he said; “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). He also said that when we do good deeds we are not to sound a trumpet or call attention to them so as to receive praise from others. Praise from God is what counts. He warned against insincere prayers such as those made by the religious leaders. They would stand in the synagogues and street corners so that others could hear their eloquent prayers, prayers that went no further than the ceiling because they were designed to impress. Jesus warned against insincerity in fasting. The religious leaders fasted in such a way that it was evident to others what they were doing. They wanted to impress with their piety. In speaking to the religious leaders on another occasion, Jesus said, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15).

You remember the story Jesus told of the Pharisee and tax collector who went to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee moved down front where all eyes were upon him. He boasted of all the good things he had done for God. He, in essence, placed God under obligation to him. He had been so good God owed him a blessing and mercy. Then there was the tax collector who stood in the back and would not even lift his eyes to heaven. He beat upon his chest and cried out for mercy. He recognized he was a sinner, unworthy of the grace of God. Jesus said he was the one who went away justified, not the Pharisee.

We must make absolutely sure what we do for God in his kingdom work comes as a result of humility and sincerity. There is nothing wrong with the religious rituals we observe or the acts we perform. There is nothing inherently wrong with the liturgies of the church. However, we must make sure we perform them with humility while recognizing their true meaning. We do not do what we do in and outside the church to impress others or even God. We must do it with humility, a humility that results from our sincere faith in God and love for him. The warning is that any unsaved person can learn to observe the same rituals we observe as Christians. The things we do must always be preceded by humility that comes from our faith in God. We must never substitute any of these things for faith in God. The sacrifice of Christ and our faith in that is all we need for salvation.

What we do as a church, as well as our observances, can come from hearts that are sincere and humble. We are not trying to impress anyone, for if we are then we have missed the true meaning of salvation. Insincerity does not impress God. The Bible reminds us that if we humble ourselves God will exalt us. If God exalts us, we will not have to try to exalt ourselves. Humility must motivate us.

Be Motivated by Bravery

Cowardliness motivated the Judaizers. Paul said they did all they did to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Following the Mosaic ceremonies and laws protected their lives and their material welfare. In the process, it fed their fleshly egos. They could feel good about themselves and at the same time avoid persecution.

To be identified with Jesus Christ in the first century and after meant persecution. Many of the early Christians were persecuted when the Romans discovered Christianity was different from Judaism. Nero blamed them for the burning of Rome and then used this as an excuse to persecute them. He dressed them in animal hides and let wild animals attack them. He covered them in tar and set them on fire as lights in his garden. Paul himself tells of the many acts of persecution committed against him because of his stand for Christ. Church tradition says he himself was beheaded at the hands of Nero.

Paul calls the Judaizers cowards. They would not identify with Christ because of the cost involved. Sure, they may use his name or even attend his church, but they would avoid accepting the meaning of his death. To do this would mean they would have to stop trusting in their ceremonies and laws.

Paul speaks of being persecuted for the cross of Christ. The cross has been recognized as the insignia of Christianity since the first century. During the Roman persecutions, the fish became the symbol. Christians used this as a secret means of identifying themselves. It meant “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Our Savior.” This is still a symbol used today.

In spite of this, the cross is the only sign that has continuously and universally represented Christians. The Judaizers were cowards because they would not identify with the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross for fear of persecution. They would identify with the church, but not the cross. They may have even recognized Jesus as the Messiah, but they had no part in him because they rejected his work on the cross. They wanted a Messiah to deliver them from their oppressors but not their sins.

Even before the crucifixion of Jesus, the idea of a sacrificial death repulsed many Jews. When Jesus spoke of his flesh symbolizing food they must eat and his blood drink that they must partake of, many withdrew from following him. The Bible says that “many of his disciples withdrew, and were not walking with him anymore” (John 6:66).

The cross, as Paul uses it here, does not refer to a piece of wood on which Jesus hung but to the entire work of salvation accomplished as he hung on that cross and paid the price for our sins. There he took our place and atoned for our sins. The Judaizers wanted no part of this. A Jew who became a Christian was often subject to social ostracism and financial ruin. He was put out of the synagogue and sometimes out of his own home. Fellow Jews would not do business with him, and it was difficult to buy food and clothing even if he had money. The best way to avoid all of this was to avoid identifying with the cross of Christ.

Being a child of God requires bravery. There is no room for cowards in the service of the King. On the cross, Christ suffered and died for our sins, and we dare not ever be ashamed of identifying with him. Anyone who denies the sufficiency of what Christ did is an enemy of the cross and God. The reason such a belief offends many is that it strikes at our pride. It reminds us there is nothing we can do to please God. It is only through faith in what he has done for us that help comes. We must always take a bold stand on this belief. Courage must motivate us to serve God.

Be Motivated by Sincerity

Sincerity is a warning against hypocrisy and goes hand in hand with cowardliness. Fear can motivate us to pretend to be someone we are not. Paul accuses the Judaizers of being hypocrites. He said they did not even keep the law themselves, even though they proclaimed this was necessary for salvation. They did not do what they told the Galatians they must do. Their religion was a sham. They wanted to make proselytes so they could boast. They wanted bragging rights.

This warning reminds us it is possible to be actively involved in God’s church and yet be morally and spiritually corrupt. Hypocrisy is easy in God’s work. We must be sincere in our service to Christ and love for him. We may fool everyone else, but we can never fool God. He sees behind the mask. Sincerity must motivate us.

Martin Wiles
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