Motives and Motivation Part I-VI

Motives and Motivation: Part I

Why People do What They Do



Motivation is a term used to explain behavior. As previously discussed, theories abound in the secular world to explain why people do what they do. The theories represent presumed reasons for people’s actions, desires, and thoughts. However, the predominant feature is subjectivity – feelings and to get. Motivation is not only a theoretical construct. The term can also be used to define one’s direction in life or to explain a person’s repetitive behavior. A motive is what prompts the person to act in a certain way or at least develop an inclination for a specific behavior. However, motivation involves thoughts and desires which have morphed into wants.

Everyone is a motivational-ist. By that word I mean man and mankind were created by God for a purpose. Man is purpose-driven in varying intensity. Man acts according to or in opposition to that purpose. In other words, motivation is theological. These facts make sense only because God is motivated by something – His glory and the good of His people. God is motivated by that which is inherent and innate in His Being and essence. It part of his God-ness. God is a motivated, the Motivator and the Influencer.

Moreover, God created man to be motivated and to be motivator. God’s ultimate goal and purpose for creation is to bring His people into His divine presence. He will dwell with them as their God and they will dwell with Him as His people. Fulfillment of these purposes appeared to be an impossibility for Adam and Eve after they were “exiled” from the Garden (Gen 3:21-24).

Man’s relationship with God was radically different after the Fall. Fallen man, still the image of God and a dependent creature, severed his right relationship with God. Post-fall, man’s motivation took on a godless, rebellious, and “me-first” mentality.

When we speak of and study motivation, where do we start? Do we begin with fallen man’s idea of why man does what he does? Do we center on the Word of God? God – Creator, Controller, and Redeemer – knows Himself and His creatures. He designed them as His image bearer. So it is only proper and logical to begin with God and His Word. Several facts are self-evident.

  • God relates to Himself in the Trinity and to His creation and creatures. He is morally and ethically responsible for Himself and His world.
  • God is a rational, revelational, relational, responsible, and religious Being. He thinks His own thoughts. He reveals Himself to His people in a variety of ways: through nature, through the law (or its requirements) written on every person’s heart, and through and in the Word – the living Word, Christ – and the written word, the Bible.
  • God is to be worshipped – He is a religious Being. He created man in His image, so that man is a rational, revelational, relational, responsible, and religious being. Man is reflector – he is to reflect the very nature of God.

As God’s image, what motivates God should motivate man: God’s glory and the good of God’s creatures. That is the reality of heaven and the state of existence in the Garden before the Fall. Since the Fall man’s motivation has changed to “me-first,” for my glory, and my benefit. That is the shocking reality of sin and life apart from God. Fallen man creates his own virtual reality. That reality is a make-believe world even though he is residing in God’s world. Man’s make-believe world is for him, by him, and to him. The scene of two toddlers and one toy depicts the reality of the Fall: “I-had-it-first” mentality so often rears its head. “Me is first” in fallen man’s world and that mentality is not limited to toddlers.

God has not left His people to fend for themselves. Man is still influenced – motivated – by something on the inside (the heart, the spiritual aspect of man) and that which is outside of him. That which is outside is not causative. Man is an inside-out being. His heart is the key to motivation. Over the next several blogs, I will discuss some ways God motivates Himself and how He motivates man. I will look at various levels (for lack of a better term) of motivation for man and mankind.



  1. What turns you on and off? Give reasons for each.
  2. Read Gen. 1:1-2 and John 1:1-5: what do you learn? Who is the subject of those verses?
  3. Reflect on God’s motivation: His own glory and the good of His people – see Ps. 115:3 and 135:6. What are your thoughts and why?


Motivation and Motives: Part II

Why People Do What They Do

Levels of Motivation


Motives and motivation are common terms that refer to the reason, incentive, and purpose a person has for doing or not doing something. Motivation results in an action (or perhaps inaction) and includes thoughts and desires. In fact, thoughts and desires are linked to action or inaction and all are linked to motivation. At its core motivation involves the whole person – thoughts, desires, and actions. A person’s motive is linked to the importance he places on having or doing something or avoiding something.

Why talk about motivation? People want to know why people including themselves do things. There are many theories to explain why people do what they do. For instance, according to instinct theories, people are motivated to behave in certain ways because they are evolutionarily programmed to do so (William James). The incentive theory suggests that people are motivated to do things because of external rewards (Skinner). According to the drive theory of motivation, people are motivated to take certain actions in order to reduce the internal tension that is caused by unmet needs (Charles Hull). Humanistic theories of motivation are based on the idea that people also have strong cognitive reasons to perform various actions. This is famously illustrated in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory which presents different motivations at different levels. However, all theories pale in comparison to God’s truth because they are based on counterfeit wisdom. Isaiah, in Isaiah 8:20, encouraged the people – motivated them – to look into God’s word for direction using the phrase: to the law and to the testimony. Every person is a theologian since every person has a belief about God and a relationship to Him whether acknowledged or not. Therefore life is theological and it is lived in or out of relationship with God. Further, since every one is a theologian and life is theological, we must study what God has to say if we are to be accurate in our assessment of motivation.

The Bible teaches that man, an image bearer of God, was created to be motivated by God for God. Man was created a rational/thinking, morally responsible, purposeful being. As such, he thinks, desires, and acts. Man decides and chooses for a purpose. He has a “why” for doing and not doing. He hopes to accomplish something.

Daily, the ultimate choice for everyone, believer and unbeliever, is to please God or to please self. This choice is the result of Adam’s first sin and God’s judgment. Pre-fall Adam had the capacity and the desire to please God. After the fall, unless saved, man only has the capacity and motivation only to please self. He has no desire or ability to please God (Rom. 5:5-8). Man is a sinner from birth; therefore he sins. Even, and especially, the believer has an inner-man conflict: to serve and please God or self. That choice is pictured in Romans 13:12-14 and Galatians 5:16-18.

Several levels of motivation exist for all mankind. At a basic level there is the motive of getting: what a person can get from something or someone. Self takes center stage. “What is in it for me?” is the mantra, spoken or not. The I-had-it-first mindset is often demonstrated in the scenario of two youngsters and one toy. Another decision-making situation occurs when obedience is required or desired. The youngster who is told to clean up his room can be the obedient one primarily to avoid consequences. Getting for me by avoidance is the goal. Everyone recognizes that these approaches are selfish. This basic level of “getting” has a variety of expressions and carries potential unwanted consequences, most importantly dishonoring God.

At another level, motivation focuses on others – pleasing them. In fact, the goal is still pleasing self because pleasing others is intended “to get what I want” – generally a good feeling. At this level of motivation there may be a desire to do a good job (fulfill a personal responsibility, for instance) in order to obtain something. That something may simply be a happy parent. The child reasons: a happy mom and dad make life easier for me. Therefore he cleans his room. Another motive may be “getting” appreciation or favor in the eyes of the other person. In all of these examples self still takes center stage. These levels of motivation do look away to others but the goal is still self-pleasing. The resultant activity is often acceptable by others but the motivation is still self-focused.

A third level of motivation stems from a real concern for others. The youngster who cleans his room because he does not want to incur punishment from his parents maybe concerned about them as well: “I don’t want them to be mad. They are sad and nobody is happy then.” The person is moving from self but self is still paramount. I will continue the discussion in the next blog.



  1. Write out your view of God and why you hold to it.
  2. Write out reasons to please God and reasons to please self.
  3. What makes it easy for you to please self and hard to please God?
  4. Read Ps. 34:8: what is the psalmist’s message and how does it apply to motivation?

Motivation and Motives: Part III

Why People Do What they Do?

A Higher and The Highest level of Motivation


A higher level of motivation centers on the desire to please God. Only the believer can truly please God. He was re-created to please God, glorify Him, and enjoy Him forever (1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 5:9; Eph. 1:4). So-called Christian hedonism enters the picture here. It teaches that man is must satisfied when he is satisfied with God. God is most glorified when man is completely satisfied with God. However, even the motive for pleasing God can be tricky. When knowledge, joy, contentment, trust, and obedience are linked the believer is moving to the ultimate motivation of pleasing God. These five elements were perfectly wedded together in Christ, the God-man. He lived to please the Father. Covenantal faithfulness motivated Him to the cross and beyond.

When pleasing God, some people attempt to use God – as a fix or analgesic – to get. People do any number of activities in order to get from God under the guise of pleasing God. They may seek God to perform for them. They, in fact, are the idol and the idol-maker. They use God to obtain or so they can look good in attaining it (such as the pastor who leaves his wife for his secretary in order to “strengthen” his ministry). They actually worship themselves and are using God in their own worship service. In another sense, God is functioning as their idol. For instance, in times of trouble they want relief or sleep and may seek it from God. Relief is paramount and if they do not get it they will seek other ways to please God in order to get for self. They may move to another tactic.

However, God is not simply a Giver to be used. He is Lord of lords and King of kings. He is their refuge and ever-present help in or out of trouble but he is not for sale or to be used (Ps. 46:1-3, 10). Rather, the believer runs to God for fellowship and intimacy simply because God deserves it and He has changed the believer from a self-worshipper to a God worshipper. True worship is giving of self to the honor and glory as the Son gave of Himself to honor and glorify the Father for the benefit of His people.

In summary, the highest level of motivation is pleasing God simply because God is God.

Pleasing God is one of the reasons God created man. Even in a sinless world, God is Creator, Controller, and Sustainer. As such He deserves to honored and glorified. This was true in heaven among the angelic beings and it was true in the Garden. In each environment, the angels and Adam and Eve knew God and themselves. They had the highest reason to please God: God is God and they were not. They failed.  They did not even try to please God. Self took center stage.

The ultimate reason for pleasing God is simply this: He is God and deserves to be pleased and praised (Eccl. 5:1-3; Ps. 146:5-9; 147:4-6; 148:1-6). Jesus knew this and He was motivated to please His Father (John 4:31-34). God motivates His people by teaching them about Himself (He reveals Himself) – Who He is and what He has done, is doing, and will do. Knowledge should lead to a desire to please God. Knowing the truth about God motivated Jesus all the way to the cross and beyond.

God by His word and Spirit teach mankind about itself. The Bible gives reasons why the believer can and will live as a God-pleaser. Lovingly, our God has taught us about Himself (He is Creator, Controller, and Redeemer of His people). He demonstrated His love and justice at the cross and reaffirmed that truth with Jesus’ bodily resurrection (John 3:16-21; Rom. 3:21-26; 4:25). God indwelt believers with His Holy Spirit and He gave the world His powerful, purposeful self-revelation. Jesus is the Living Word and the Bible is the written word (John 14:6; 17:17).

Ultimately, it is in the believer’s best interest to please God because God is God and the person is not. If that fact has not taken hold of you, ask yourself why. You may assume that God doesn’t exist or that He is not important. You may assume that He is not the God that He says He is. You may consider the cross an insignificant historical event without any importance for you. Or sin may be so common-place in your life that you are comfortable with it. You think you have no need to repent. No matter the reasons, stop and focus on who God is and who you are according to Scripture. It is a matter of life and death, now and eternally.



  1. Pleasing-God is antithetical to pleasing self, man’s orientation post-fall. Review the various levels of motivation discussed so far.
  2. What is the believer’s best interest and give reasons for your answer?
  3. How may a person “use” God?


Motivation and Motives: Part IV

Why People Do What they Do?

What Motivates God?


In the first blog in this series, I wrote that God is motivated by that which is inherent in His Being. What we know of God we know because God revealed it to us. He did and does so by His Son – the Living Word (John 14:6); by His written Word, Scripture – John 17:17, by nature; and by the moral law written on the heart of every man. Make no mistake: God reveals and motivates by and through His revelation. He reveals Himself – Who He is and what He does.

Scripture tells us that our God is in the heavens; he does whatever pleases him (Ps. 115:3) and The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth,  in the seas and all their depths (Ps. 135:6). These are clear statements of the power and control of God. The word in the original translated pleases indicates delight, pleasure with, and rejoice in. God rejoices in Himself. Rejoicing in Himself is something only God does inherently and perfectly. He rejoices in being God and conveying His God-ness to His creation. Man, as God’s image, is a rejoicer, initially in God. This activity was to consume man which was best for man individually an corporately. .

In the area of motivation, someone may ask if man has a free will. The short answer is yes. A next question follows: the questioner is to define the term free. Man is not a robot or automaton. He acts inside-out – according to his nature. His freedom is constrained by his nature. Consider: does God have a free will? Is He free to be other than God? God is free to be God. It is impossible for Him to be or do otherwise. God must be God – and He is. God can not lie. Moreover, He has no desire to go against His nature which in this case is truth (Num. 23:19; Titus 1:2).

God is a jealous, zealous God: Exodus 20:5. The word jealous implies a strong, intense desire for something such as possessions. It is a relational word. In the second commandment, God professes His passion for Himself – His holy name and His character. In that zeal He declares rightful ownership of all mankind and creation. He is fully devoted to Himself. He has every right to expect and demand full allegiance from all mankind. The word’s central meaning relates to “jealousy” within the marriage relationship. As Israel’s husband (Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:14; 31:32), He expected loyalty and He deserved single-minded devotion. The Church, the New Israel, and the individual believer owe the same loyalty to God. God will not tolerate spiritual and physical adultery/idolatry which represents unbelief and double-mindedness.

God is motivated from within. He covenanted in eternity past to bring a people to Himself, into His divine presence (Eph. 1:4). Redemptive history records the “how” of God’s story. In the Old Testament God was with His people – the pillar of fire and cloud, and the glory cloud at the tabernacle. Once a year, the privileged high priest entered into the Holy of Holies as God’s man (Lev.16). The high priest entered into God’s presence and he did not die. The ritual of coming into God’s presence without death was established by God at Sinai. The people relished the presence of God but understood holy and unholy don’t mix. When the high priest emerged from the Holy of Holiness alive and well, the people rejoiced knowing that a mediator brought them into God’s presence and the sacrifice was accepted.

The Day of Atonement pointed to the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, Who dwelt with and among His people (Matt. 1:23 – Immanuel, and John 1:1-14). He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell His Church and His people (2 Cor. 6:14-71; 1 Cor. 3:10-17; 6:15-20; 1 Peter 2:4-10). God was in His people, individually and corporately. History and salvation is His story. Scripture inerrantly and infallibly records and interprets God’s story for us. As recorded in the Old and New Testaments, history is the story of God making good on His promises – first to Himself and then to His people.

Jesus was motivated by a desire to please His Father and complete the plan and design set out in eternity past (John 6:37-43). What motivated Christ is what motivates the Triune God. God is a Planner and the Implementer of that plan. God is the Promise-maker and Promise-keeper par excellence. His glory and majesty is being played in the present as He brings a people to Himself and He judges His enemy. He keeps His promise!




  1. Read Psalms 115:3 and 135:6: how do they fit into your view of God?
  2. What does God’s motivation tell you about Him and you?
  3. List the differences it will make in your life.


Motivation and Motivation: Part V

Why Do People Do What they Do?

Your Response to God


In terms of motivation we are faced with God Who is real, purposeful, and powerful, and also good and merciful. He is all of those things at the same time. None of those terms describe Him totally and yet He is those perfectly and completely all the time. He is sui generis –in a class by Himself. Even that description does not do justice to God. There is no class to place God. He is God who is all that God should be – He is perfection and defines it!

Think about it. God protects His name and those to whom He has given His name – believers. Who is this God? He happens to be love (1 John 4:8), light (1 John 1:5), Spirit (John 4:23-24), and truth (John 14:6). He is long-suffering, slow to anger, and abounding with compassion (Exodus 34:6-7). Why wouldn’t you want to please Him and draw closer to Him? This God has made a point of presenting Himself to you as faithful and true. The cross proves this and the resurrection confirms this. He did not stop there: He poured out His Holy Spirit to His Church and His people.

The cross opens up the heart of God. It gives an insight into the inner life of God. When you examine the cross, you find God Who loves with an everlasting love. Try and grip what that term means. He has loved the believer eternally. He loved the believer into His kingdom and family.

But that is not all the story. We know that God is a consuming fire (Heb. 10:31); the just Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25), and Who does not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:6-7). He rights every wrong and has set a day to reconcile all things and all people to Himself (2 Thess. 1:5-10). Pray tell, why would anyone attempt to sully God’s name by sinning? Why would something think about using God for His own purposes? What further motivation does a person need to please God non-redemptively as Christ did redemptively?

Sin is an attack on God and His goodness. It is not simply an ethical act. Rather it arises from the heart of man as a habituated lifestyle leftover from membership in Satan’s family and kingdom. Sin, single or patterned, is best pictured as the sinner raising his fist at God and proclaiming that his way is best. The sinner whether he acknowledges it or not is following in the footsteps of Satan and the first Adam. He has chosen not walk in the footsteps of the second Adam – Jesus Christ.

The believer should be motivated to please God as he humbles accepts the blessing and a privilege of being known personally by a God. This God protects His name and those who bear it. He expects believers to do the same. Psalm 117 (the shortest psalm in the Bible) makes this point. In verse 2 we read: For great is his steadfast love toward us and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. This verse encapsulates the thought of Exodus 34:6. God makes and keeps His promises and holds His people to and in Him.

History tells us that Martin Luther, steeped in his own personal lawkeeping, took careful notice of Romans 1:16-17: For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “the righteous shall live by faith.” The issue was one of righteousness – how he looked before God or how God looked at him. Luther became convinced that there was no salvation apart from righteousness. The issue was the definition and the source of that righteousness.  Luther became convinced that no one had a right legal standing before the Lawgiver when judge by His standard – the Law. Prior to that day, Luther, as did many people, had a high view of himself and his own law keeping. He had a low view of God and Christ’s lawkeeping – it was not needed.

On the day of his conversion, Luther accepted the following facts: he was not God; God was God; God had a right and obligation to make rules and to expect them to be obeyed; God’s saving of all those who believe in Him resides in the righteousness provided in Christ accepted by saving faith; Christ’s personal lawkeeping was perfect lawkeeping. What had been missing from Luther’s thinking, and perhaps yours, was the truth that God is love; He is long suffering; and He is the just Judge. Using false logic no matter its source, Luther was in a quandary.

Luther knew that God is Creator, Controller, and Father. God makes promises and keeps His promises. He began to acknowledge that God is also Redeemer and Deliverer. He rejoiced! Therefore, Luther was able to surmise that the cross brought together God’s love and mercy and God’s justice and wrath. He came to rejoice in the fact that Jesus kept the law perfectly and then Jesus went to the cross as the perfect Sacrifice. Jesus went to hell on the cross for His people as the true Lawkeeper and their substitute. Amazing! What motivated Jesus to go to the cross and stay on the cross? Simply and supernaturally, He desired to please his Father. Life was simplified for Jesus and for all believers.



  1. How did you answer the questions in paragraphs one and two?
  2. What is the basis for your answers?
  3. In what ways does your knowledge of God – His love and justice – motivate you to change your thoughts, desires, and actions daily?


Motivation and Motivation: Part VI

Why Do People Do What they Do?

Who is Your God?



Who is your God (or god)? This question is simple but it demands a thorough answer. There is a God (notice the capital G). Everyone has a god and is a god OR there is God. That is, everyone marches to some drumbeat, has allegiance to someone, and lives in devotion to him. The fact of the matter is revealed in nature and Scripture: there is one God. He is the Creator, Controller, and Sustainer of the universe. He is Father and Redeemer of His children.

Moreover, God created man, His image bearer, a revelation receiver, interpreter, and implementer. Man is to apply that revelation – put it into practice. How do these non-negotiable facts motivate you and in which direction? They do motivate because, as we have mentioned, everyone is a motivator and motivatee. Every person will accept or reject these truths about God and himself. There is a link between knowledge of God and knowledge self and one’s response to God, self, and others. .

What are some of the ways that God motivates people? One way is teaching truth about Himself, man, and the world as revealed in His Word. God is truth and life (John 14:6) and light (John 8:12; 9:5; 1 John 1:5). Jesus Christ, the light, shines into the darkness but the darkness did not and cannot extinguish it or overcome it (John 1:4-5). Paul wrote that man attempts to resist and reject the truth and light (Rom. 1:18-20). Moreover, Jesus came to His own and they rejected him (John 1:11). Any teaching disconnected from God is untruth.

The person in darkness – unbelief and rebellion – will attempt to suppress and overcome truth and light (Rom. 1:18-23). He will exchange God’s truth for the lie. However, he will not overcome truth and light because he cannot. Darkness will never reign supreme in God’s world because it is God’s world and His Son is the Light and it shines forth.

John teaches another truth: freedom. The truth will set man free (John 8:31-32). The truth is a person and the word (John 14:6; 17:17). John indicates man’s bondage – a type of wilderness and an existence apart from God. The essence of this darkness is self-pleasing which is attempting to be God. The first Adam’s active covenantal unfaithfulness dwells within man. It manifests itself in some form in the unbeliever always and the believer periodically. The beauty of knowing the truth and its proper application and the promise of freedom is one of God’s primary motivations for believers.

A third means of motivation is via suprasensual living. This is more than simple sense perception (John 4:31-34; 2 Cor. 5:7, 9). Facts are everywhere; every fact is perceived – it is taken in by the senses. Every fact is interpreted. Truth is objective and real. It is a Person – Jesus Christ. His truth by His Word gives every person the correct interpretative grid. The Holy Spirit enables the believer, and only the believer, to correctly use the Bible and live suprasensually (Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-13). God’s truth – it is truth by definition – is something around and in every person.

The person interprets the facts. The person must be careful. Every person has an interpretive grid. He thinks and interprets in his outer man (his brain) and in his inner man (the heart) – as a whole person. He draws conclusions and thinks, desires, and acts accordingly. However, only the believer has a suprasensual interpretive grid – saving faith that is conditioned by biblical truth motivated by the Holy Spirit. Man perceives both sensually and suprasensually. I am not speaking of emotions or feelings. By suprasensual I mean a Holy Spirit-directed and -principled life. Life is simplified and clarity enters into the believer’s life. Knowing truth sets a person free to please the Father vs. self.

The life of the believer is a life that includes an experiential or existential encounter with God. In several places, Scripture calls man into intimate fellowship with God (Ps. 34:8: Oh, taste and see that God is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him). What does it mean to taste and see God and His goodness? The simple fact is that God is good, always. Your experience, your feelings, and your own logic divorced from biblical truth won’t change that fact. Boldly, God tells you to seek intimacy with Him. He knows Himself and you. He invites you to come and He has given you so many reasons to come. Why would you not? He has entrusted every believer with the Holy Spirit, saving faith and sanctifying faith and grace, and a forever relationship with God by union with Christ, and His Word. Wow!

A fourth means of motivation is God’s Fatherly concern for His children. God reminds us that He is the believer’s Father. As such, He moves the believer toward Christlikeness (Rom. 8:28-29; 2 Peter 1:5-10). Like Father, like Son. The Triune God pushes His people toward a full-family resemblance. As a family member, the believer should expect and appreciate the Father’s discipline and the pruning of his faith (Heb. 12:5-11; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7). God intends to return His people to the true family resemblance and to think His thoughts and desire His ways. God makes good on His promise of developing Christlikeness in His children. The cross and the resurrection affirm and confirm that fact.

Lastly, God, the righteous Judge, brings all facts to light, rights all wrongs, and does not leave the guilty unpunished. A patterned failure to apply biblical truth has consequences including misery in this life (Prov. 13:15b). God protects Himself, His name, and His people. We may not see God’s retributive justice immediately but it is coming (2 Thess. 1:5-10; Matt. 25:31-46). It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). God’s children will never have that experience because Christ suffered the entirety of God’s unmitigated wrath on the cross (Rom. 8:32-34).



  1. Define motivation and review some of the means by which God motivates people.
    2. Coming to God in intimate fellowship is a duty but more: it is a blessing and privilege. Give evidence of that fact in your life as expressed in Ps. 34:8.
  2. Compare Phil 3:3-6 and 3:7-11: what did Paul learn and how are you like and unlike Paul?








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