What is the primary motivation for a believer in Jesus Christ to live the Christian life? What should drive us to (as Paul says in Romans 12:1) offer up our bodies as living sacrifices, “holy and acceptable to God”?
Guilt? Fear? The hope of gain? Trying to earn God’s favor or stay in His good graces? While we may find ourselves from time to time being motivated by any number of those things in our pursuit of living the Christian life, none of those things are the proper fuel for the Christian’s engine, so to speak.
Trying to live the Christian life through guilt, fear, or the hope of gain is a lot like trying to drive a car with no gas and four flat tires. You just won’t get very far at all.
So what should motivate us offer up our bodies as a living sacrifice? In Romans 12:1 Paul says that we should do so “by the mercies of God.” In other words, God’s mercy and grace toward us in the gospel of Jesus Christ should motivate us. So our primary motivation should be, not fear or guilt, but gratitude.
In his book, Rediscovering Holiness, J.I. Packer writes,
The secular world never understands Christian motivation. Faced with the question of what makes Christians tick, unbelievers maintain that Christianity is practiced only out of self-serving purposes. They see Christians as fearing the consequences of not being Christians (religion as fire insurance), or feeling the need of help and support to achieve their goals (religion as a crutch), or wishing to maintain a social identity (religion as a badge of respectability). No doubt all these motivations can be found among the membership of churches: it would be futile to dispute that. But just as a horse brought into a house is not thereby made human, so a self-seeking motivation brought into the church is not thereby made Christian, nor will holiness ever be the right name for religious routines thus motivated. From the plan of salvation I learn that the true driving force in authentic Christian living is, and ever must be, not the hope of gain, but the heart of gratitude. (p.75)
So if you want some practical advice on living the Christian life, one of the most helpful things you should do (although certainly not the only thing) is to consider and mediate upon the mercies of God in the gospel. In the words of Psalm 103:2, we must “forget not all his benefits.”
The more we grasp the greatness of God’s mercies and grace toward us in Jesus Christ, the more we will be filled with gratitude and love for our God & Savior. And that will be the true driving force in our discipleship.