As we study the Scriptures, we note an ascending order of motivations behind obedience. Our motive for obedience escalates as our love for Jesus increases.
The Fear of Consequences
The first, and lowest, motivation for obedience is the fear of consequences. This level of obedience is for the immature (we use this level with our small children). There is some fruit from it, but little joy and an element of resentment. Most enter the Christian life at this level of obedience, but it produces neither satisfaction nor longevity. I do not think we ever totally escape the fear of consequences as a motivation for obedience, but it should not be the dominating reason in the Christian life to obey Christ.
The Desire for Reward
The second motivation for obedience is the desire for reward. This level, as in the first, is a motivation rooted in selfishness. This reason for doing right is not altogether wrong, for Jesus did promise crowns and rewards, but it is wrong if it remains our major motivation in service. This motivation should be to have crowns to cast at Jesus’ feet and not for self-consumption.
The Good of Others
The third motivation for obedience is for the good of others. Though this is not the highest of motivations for obedience, it is certainly above the fear of consequences or the desire for reward. Jesus often used our relationship with others as an indicator of godliness – the Good Samaritan, etc. The danger in this approach is, that if we are not careful, we are giving in to a social gospel, dealing with man’s cultural and physical needs which, of course, are real but they are neither his total nor greatest need.
The Glory of God
The fourth motivation for obedience is for the glory of God. This is the level at which Jesus operated, as did Paul who said, “… do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31). When we are doing it for the glory of God, we are willing to pay any price necessary to accomplish His desire in our lives because He is worthy. We are willing to do it without recognition or results. In Romans 8:36, “… For thy sake we are killed all the day long; …”
God, in His grace, will often honor our obedience with weak and even wrong motivation behind it. I am sure we have all done right things with low motivation that God honored, and I am sure the higher our motivation behind doing right, the more God blessed. I believe one of the hardest things to do is to correctly assess our motives and when a motive adjustment is necessary, the foot of the cross is where we should be. There is nothing as powerful in the Christian life as a right thing done energized by a high, God honored motive.