The commands of the Bible come at us a with a white-hot purity: ‘Consider the needs of others to be more important than your own’ (Phil 2:3-4). Hearing such a command cuts us to the heart as the revelation of our own selfishness becomes clear. We are self-centered, very self-centered. The more we let the command sink in, the more we realize how often we break it, and unable we are to keep it. We consider our needs more important than the needs of others everywhere: at work, in the classroom, in our Bible study, at the gym, on the road, in the restaurant, etc. An honest appraisal will reveal that we truly have not obeyed this command, not even for one day. The glory of self is too enticing. We are intoxicated by our own worth and greatness, blind to the fleeting nature of our own triumphs and successes. As we read the Bible and listen to the leading of God’s Spirit, we know that all of this is true, and that we ought to live for God’s glory; we know that we are not living as ought to.
So what do we do? Make new plans to be selfless? Try harder tomorrow than today? Set new goals and benchmarks to measure our progress, all with the aim of becoming truly selfless? How long do we last? If you’re like me, not very long. We may make some progress, but often we just return to the empty pleasures of sin, like a dog returning to its own vomit–we like the taste, even though it only leads us to death. Trying harder to live up to a standard will never really lead us to grow in godliness, for trying harder –even if the standard we are trying to achieve is noble– cannot sustain and motivate us to be transformed. Trying harder is often only moralism dressed up in a Christian religious veneer. If Jonathan Edwards is right, we need a greater desire than the pleasures of sin to motivate us. We need a motivation that is stronger and more beautiful than the goal of becoming better.
The gospel is such a power, and is the motivation necessary to transform our hearts. We have to be wooed by the great redemptive acts of God and believe in the depths of our heart that the gospel is truly glorious and wonderful news: God made us to worship Him and take pleasure in Him forever, and taking pleasure in Him is a righteous act which brings Him glory; we, like all of humanity, have traded in the glory of God for the dog-vomit pleasures of the world, choosing worthlessness over the infinite worth of God; though we only deserve hell for our rebellion, God is merciful, compassionate, and gracious, and out of His unbelievable grace, sent His Son Jesus to die for our rebellion and glory-trading; if you have repented and believed, Jesus has saved you and made you his forever; now, you have a new identity in Christ as his son or daughter, and through your godly lives you bring glory to God. If these truths woo and grip my heart, I live and obey the commands of God not to merely reach a standard of godliness, but because I love bringing glory to Christ. I obey the command to consider others’ needs as more important that my own, because of a great motivation: I consider Jesus more wonderful and glorious than seeing my own needs met at the expense of others. The truth that I am new in Christ, loved, forgiven, righteous, sealed with the Holy Spirit, destined to bring glory and delight in our Triune God forever, drives me forward to love my neighbor and consider their needs greater than my own, for in doing this I am bringing glory to God. This is the motivation my heart needs when I hear God’s holy and righteous commands.
(You’re right if you think my thinking here in this post has been influenced by such godly men as my pastor Joe Thorn, Tim Keller, John Piper, G.K. Beale, and Jonathan Edwards)