Do Christians Have Questionable Motives?

“Motive” and “motion” derive from the Latin movere – “to move”. It makes sense, since all willful movement is motivated by something.

Here’s a for instance: I love pizza, and am often motivated to eat some (in fact, I’m eating a cold slice from the fridge as I write this). I don’t like buying bigger clothes after eating too much pizza, so I am motivated to work out several days each week. Simplistic? Perhaps, but a decent illustration.

In Vino Veritas

As long as we’re talking Latin, I’ll throw out the phrase in vino veritas – in wine there is truth. The idea is that if someone has been drinking, it is harder for that person to lie successfully, either by word or action. Alcohol is a cheap truth serum for exploring someone’s motives, their desires. Roman historians noted that Germanic tribes even served alcohol at their governing counsels in order to keep someone from concocting lies.

Another thing alcohol does is cause us to act in accordance with our motives, our desires. When I was a teen, I remember having too much to drink one night. In fact, this might have been the first time I ever got drunk. After drinking more than I could handle, I kissed the girl next to me. She kissed me back. We continued along these lines for a while. Just one problem. She wasn’t the girl I had started dating shortly before this. She was my girlfriend’s best friend. Yes, I’m a heel.

My girlfriend called me out on it the next morning. I tried to explain it away somehow, but other than remembering how lame I sounded I can’t tell you a word of what I came up with. She handled it well, though, and looking back on it I am still quite impressed.

“Tim, we’re done. I get that you were drinking, and I don’t think you’re horrible. But I do think that drinking reveals what you’re really thinking. You weren’t thinking of me. I don’t hate you and I don’t hate my friend. We’re good. We’re just not going out together any more.”

Was I hurt? Sure, but the wound was self-inflicted. It’s painful learning some lessons.

Meaningless Motives

One instruction I often give jurors in criminal trials is that the prosecution does not have to prove motive for a person to be found guilty. I instruct that motive may be a factor tending to show guilt and a lack of motive may tend to show innocence, but the presence of motive is not necessarily required. A person can commit a crime for the best of motives, yet a crime is still committed – think Jean Valjean’s loaf of bread.

Being drunk is no help for those committing crimes either. In my jurisdiction, someone who is voluntarily intoxicated (whether by alcohol or drugs, legal or illicit) usually cannot claim to be free from responsibility for their actions. It makes sense too; otherwise a person could drink alcohol or take a controlled substance like marijuana and then drive and claim no responsibility because they were too far under the influence to think clearly and exercise good judgment. And it doesn’t matter why the person was driving. The drunk driver’s motives are meaningless.

The Original Crime

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit (the first ever controlled substance). Adam tells God he only ate what Eve gave him, and Eve tells God the serpent tricked her. Neither of them tell God their motives, though.

Perhaps they knew that their motives were irrelevant to the fact that they violated their God-given instructions for living in the Garden. No amount of sugar-coating their motives or casting blame on others was going to change that.

Could we guess at their motives, though? Sure, we can take guesses. Same goes for surmising the motives behind what other people do. Sometimes we might even guess right.

God, on the other hand, doesn’t have to guess.

A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21:2.)

Our motives are always open to God; he knows them better than we do. He also knows better than we do that, despite our motives, we are righteous and holy because of the work of his Son.

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30.)

and,

… not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Philippians 3:9.)

We are righteous not because we have the right motives and desires, but because of the faith God has given us. Still, can we inquire as to what moves us? Sure, and the answer is Christ himself.

For in him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28.)

And all of this is designed for God’s glory, and not our own.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-12.)

This is what Christ accomplishes in you, because his motive is to give glory to God the Father.

There is nothing questionable about it.

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7 Responses to Do Christians Have Questionable Motives?

  1. Nick says:

    TIm! So good to read your culturally and biblically informed thoughts again. I was thinking about you this morning and finally followed through on checking out your blog. This is destined to be a success, I think. You’re such a talented writer. I’m sure you’ve got the memo that the radical journey is closed for business….I haven’t had time to read or write blogs for the last few months. WAY too much going on. Anyway – blessings on this great gift to the church. Hope things are going well.

    • Tim says:

      Nick! So good to see you here. I’ve thought about you and your wife often and wondered how things are going at seminary. I re-ran one of my TRJ posts last month here, and have another scheduled for next Friday too (assuming all goes according to schedule, which is subject to change!).

      Thanks for your kind comment and encouragement. I hope all is well, and really look forward to reading whatever you’d like to contribute to the discussion here in the comments. Or you could write a guest piece, that would be awesome!

      Blessings,
      Tim

  2. Mary Anne says:

    Do Christians have questionable motives? Of course we do, 24/7. I refer you to “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” After all, we’re a subset of humans and this refers to every one of us, all the time. I found it interesting that you referred to Valjean and the loaf of bread—did you go see Les Mis? Because people tend to forget that Valjean is no saint, especially at the beginning of the novel. He’s a pretty scary dude, right up until the Bishop illustrates charity and mercy in a way that penetrates Valjean’s bitterness. And for me, Javert and Valjean are one of the clearest examples of the Letter and the Spirit of the law. What breaks down Javert in the end is having to question his own motives, and that for once in his career he can’t simultaneously do what is lawful and what is right.

    I also think of Elizabeth Bennet and her exclamation of “Till this moment I never knew myself.”

    Do I have questionable motives? Darn right I do. I guess that’s why I have to question them so often. I don’t dare not to! 😉

  3. Aimee Byrd says:

    Great article, Tim. Especially the last line:
    “This is what Christ accomplishes in you, because his motive is to give glory to God the Father.”

    Thank goodness for the motives of Christ. And I am encouraged that as I am being transformed to his likeness, one day my motives will be this holy. Praise God!

    So many little treasures in this article as well. I never heard the Latin phrase meaning, in wine there is truth. Good one. And that girl you dated was wise beyond her years!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Aimee. When I was writing this, I learned that the Latin aphorism in vino veritas has counterparts in cultures around the world. And yes that girl was very wise, not only to dump the likes of me but in the example she set for me and her friend.

      On growing in Christ, including his motivation of glorifying the Father, I’m reminded of 1 John 3:1-3 –

      See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

      Pure motives, I wait for that day!

      Tim

  4. What your ex-girlfriend said about your drinking revealing how you really thought, is quite impressive. I like that. It is usually true for people that the heart is revealed when things are stripped away and we are made vulnerable.

    I pray my motives are always out for the interest of God’s glory being revealed.

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