January 7, 2017 | PASTOR ZACHARY PUDLO
With a new year underway, many people have resolutions on their minds. I would be lying if I said there aren’t goals and resolutions I too have in mind this year. Common resolutions for many people include losing weight, exercising more while eating less, reading more, finishing projects, spending more time doing things you love, etc… These all seem like good resolutions for an individual to improve him/herself. They are all about progress, getting better, moving forward. With the topic of resolutions being on my mind it got me thinking about what the different motivations are for establishing and accomplishing resolutions.
Reasons Behind Our Motivation
New Year’s resolutions often are about self-improvement. But what is it that drives a person to self-improvement. In his work entitled The Nature of True Virtue, Jonathan Edwards wrote about the things that motivate people:
All sin has its source from selfishness, or from self-love not subordinate to a regard to being in general…And no wonder that men, by long acting from the selfish principle, and by being habituated to treat themselves as if they were all, increase in pride, and come to look on themselves as all, and so to lose entirely the sense of ill desert in their making all other interests give place to their own.
Edwards is saying that the ego, love of self, is what drives people. In The Nature of True Virtue he also makes the case that the two main motivating factors behind every sin are fear and pride. Is it possible this true of some of our new year’s resolutions?
Are fear and pride main motivating factors when it comes to self-improvement? Let’s consider the most common New Year’s resolution from 2015, working out more, as an example of how what Edwards wrote 250 years ago is still so true today. What are the motivations behind working out more? Possible motivation #1: “I don’t want to get any bigger than I already am.” That’s one of the major reasons for working out, isn’t it? Quite bluntly…it’s the fear of getting fatter. Fear is what drives people to the gym. Fear is what causes people to set the alarm for 4 A.M. when they would much rather sleep till 6. Fear is a huge motivator for that New Year’s resolution.
But it’s not the only one. Not all people spend countless hours working out motivated by fear. Many other do so motivated by pride. Possible motivation #2: “I’m nothing like ‘so and so’ who never works out. I’m not lazy. I’m better than that.” What’s the motivation in this line of thought? Pride. Pride in thinking we are better than other people who “let themselves go” is what drives people to be workout warriors. Pride in thinking we are better than others is what motivates many of us to find time to hit the gym even when our schedules really don’t have time for it.
Fear and pride motivate many of the things we do on a daily basis. But Edwards goes on to make the case that fear and pride don’t motivate us just in some of the more trivial actions like working out. Fear and pride are the motivational factors even in some of our most virtuous acts. Let’s take working hard at your job as an example. Working hard is a very virtuous thing. But what are the motivational factors for doing so? Often times it is, once again, fear and pride. It’s the fear of getting fired if we don’t work hard and do well at our position. And it’s the pride of thinking we are better than those who don’t do such a great job in the workplace.
What does this all mean? It means that Isaiah was dead on when he wrote, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) Even our most virtuous acts and moral successes are really rotten garbage. Even our love is motivated by sin. And what’s more…our motivation behind what we do is really based on the questions, “What’s best for me?” As Edwards rightly said, “All sin has its source from selfishness.” We are all very selfishly motivated.
Edwards continues by stating that we only act with virtue, i.e. honesty, patience, kindness, hospitality, etc… if that action benefits us in some way. If that’s true then our virtue isn’t really that virtuous. Our honesty, patience, kindness, hospitality, etc…can all be compromised. If we can gain something from being dishonest, unkind, impatient or inhospitable we will act in those unvirtuous ways.
So how do we find a lasting motivation that can’t be compromised? Fear and pride are the main motivating factors for our sinfulness, so how do we rid ourselves of them? Many religions don’t address both fear and pride. Moral based religions try to address fear. If we can be good enough, act morally and with enough virtue then we drive away any fear of punishment from an omnipotent and just god. But that teaching can certainly lend itself to smug pride. “Our moral behavior makes us better than those heathens.” Moralism only attempts to address the fear and actually leads to pride. What about secularism? “There is no such thing as sin. We all are equal.” It certainly addresses the pride. But it also lends itself to fear. Under this teaching there is no certainty of what comes next. Life after death, meaning and purpose in life, the meaning of pain and suffering…these are all open questions, uncertainties, unknowns. And as Carmine Falcone said in Batman Begins “You always fear what you don’t understand.”
Christianity is different. It addresses fear and pride. How? Through Jesus’ death. The death of the son of God removes all pride because it reminds us we were so sinful that God had to pay the price of His blood to forgive us. It removes our fear because God loved you, His enemy, enough to die for you.
In Genesis 3 when God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden he gave them one law, “Don’t eat from the tree in the middle of the Garden.” He didn’t give them that law because there was something dangerous about the tree. The tree wasn’t poisonous. Their motivation to not eat from the tree wasn’t supposed to be fear or pride. Their motivation to obey God was simply because God said so. He had given them life and health, love and marriage, a beautiful life in paradise and nothing to worry about. His request was for them to obey him simply because of who he was, their loving and providing God. That was their motivation.
That’s our motivation as well. Nurture your motivation by looking to who your God is. Remove pride from your heart by looking to a God who saw such a wicked people that he had to sacrifice His life to save them. Remove the fear in your heart by looking to a God who saw us as His enemies, and still died for us. Only by looking to your God dying on the cross will you find the way to push fear and pride from your heart. Only by looking to your God dying on the cross will you find a lasting selfless motivation for all you do. May your loving God daily drive you in all your resolutions.