A friend of ours is currently going through a very painful, ugly and mean divorce. The story isn’t anything unique or new. One day, her spouse woke up and decided that he didn’t want to be married any longer. Maybe it was the younger, slimmer, more athletic, sexier co-worker’s flirtatious remarks or advances. Maybe it was the gradual drift of shutting down and emotionally disconnecting after countless times of being dismissed, mocked, ridiculed, or taunted. Maybe it was a combination of months, or years, of selfishness. Regardless of what the motivation was, it always boils down to selfishness and deceit by at least one, if not both, parties. I recently read the line, “You don’t really know someone until you know what they want.” That may be true, but a deeper and more probing question is “Why do they want it?”
If you don’t believe me, consider the concept of motivation, i.e., the why behind the things we do. Jump on a site like Amazon or Barnes & Noble and look at the countless volumes of self-help books. Emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual. Advancing, excelling, exceeding, dominating, winning, climbing, pushing. Consider why it is that you’re reading How to Win Friends and Influence People or some other book on leadership. Truly consider why it is that you’re eating bark and tofu. Consider why you’re spending countless hours training. Why? So that you can say, “I’m the best?” To get the trophy, award, ribbon or record? To achieve, accomplish, gain and conquer all obstacles in your way? The truth is that our motivations reveal futile efforts to fill the infinite void and eternal question of inherent value. We want to answer the question “What am I worth?” but “Why?” sheds light on things unlike any other question.
Why did that couple get married in the first place? Why did you get married? Why do you want to get married? Counselors tell us the reason divorce is so common is because people get married for the wrong reasons: pleasure, convenience, finances, fear, security, insecurity, social or cultural norms, attention, pressure. What about when the pleasure ceases due to accident or age? What about when convenience becomes inconvenient? What about when the layoff happens, and that affluent lifestyle can’t be maintained or advanced? What about when those fears or insecurities are conquered? What about when the norms change, the attention ceases, or the pressure abates? As it turns out, it’s not really what we want that matters most, but why we want it.
Ephesians 2 begins with a universal truism on the human condition:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
— Ephesians 2:1
Paul backs up that idea in Romans 5:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
— Romans 5:12
When we read on in Ephesians, we find out the universal human sin/death condition can be altered:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
— Ephesians 2:4-5
That’s what God did, and how he did it, but it still doesn’t answer the deeper question of why. That’s the unfathomable power behind Ephesians 2:7.
Why did God bring us from death to life?
so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
— Ephesians 2:7
God didn’t swindle us into temptation, sin, and an eternal death sentence simply to rush in at the last moment and play the role of twisted cosmic hero. Last week, a friend of mine asked, “Why doesn’t God just make us love him?” I smiled and told him, “If we are made to do it, then it certainly cannot be called love.” At one point, we had a choice to esteem, adore, trust and love him. We all decided universally, collectively and individually that independence, autonomy, rebellion and rejection were the ways to go.
I read an article on motivation recently. An accurate summary might be that our motivation for doing anything falls into one of the six following categories: incentive, fear, achievement, growth, power or social. What a horrible, yet accurate, portrayal of the human sin/death condition. Thankfully, God doesn’t operate under the limitation of human constraints.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
— Isaiah 55:9
God wasn’t incentivized to create the heavens and the earth. “One more universe there, buddy, and you’ll get a salary bump of 2.5%!” God wasn’t motivated by fear. “Oh, me! If I don’t create humanity, what am I going to do for all eternity?” Not by achievement. “The award for most-improved god goes to…” Not by growth, by power, nor social void. Rather, God did what he did so that “he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Why? Why did God create the heavens and the earth, establish Eden, create humanity in his image and likeness, breathe his breath of life into us, expel us from the garden, promise a serpent-crushing champion, bless Abram, call Moses, appoint Israel as a kingdom of priests, deliver us from slavery, provide us with a King, reveal himself through Scripture, foretell of his personal advent, allow himself to be born in a feeding trough, turn his face resolutely toward Jerusalem, endure ridicule, mocking, nails, thorns and excruciating pain at Calvary, and die? Why?
…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…
— Hebrews 12:2
This devotional began with a statement: “You don’t really know someone until you know what they want.” We took it a step further and posed a deeper and more pressing question: “Why do they want it?” That’s how you really know someone.
The old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” God might have created us and merely boasted about his extravagant, boundless, incalculable love for us for all eternity. But our God isn’t one of cheap, idle, hollow words. It would have been one thing for God merely to send us a magical book filled with history, poems, wisdom and songs, only to stop there, never actually coming, never dwelling with us, never enduring, never experiencing shame, regret, fear, depression, isolation, loss and utter rejection. Instead, the light of the world stepped down into darkness, went to and endured the cross for the joy set before him, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
It’s one thing to admire or merely bask in that amazing grace. That’s not who followers of Christ are called to be. Grace transports us from death to life. It also transforms us from selfish, autonomous consumers into what Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:20
Have you repented from sin and been brought to life in Jesus? If so, you are now an ambassador of Christ. Live out that grace as Jesus did: for the joy set before you. The joy of seeing his grace transport our brothers and sisters from death to life. So, now what? Dive into the divine narrative of God’s mission with reckless abandon, bringing the immeasurable riches of the gospel of his gracious kindness with you wherever you go.