Whenever I hear someone say “God just wants me to be happy” I can usually assume quite safely that they are looking to rationalize some choice they are about to make. Even though they know it is morally wrong, they are convinced their happiness depends on it. So they tell themselves (and others), “This will make me happy. God wants me to be happy. It must be o.k.”
So far, I have presented two thoughts.
But what is it that distinguishes the two?
1. The motive for which we obey
When we do what is right for the wrong reason, it falls short of holiness. Is it possible to be wrongly motivated to do right? Yes!
Some are motivated by a desire for praise. This was the problem for the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Matthew 6 says they gave public displays of religion “that they may have the glory of men”, and “that they may be seen of men.” When our good works are motivated by a need for recognition, they are “self-righteous”. Morality rather than holiness.
Others are motivated by a fear of punishment. If I don’t do what’s right, God might do something horrible to me. I obey out of a sense of impending retribution. This motive also results in self-righteousness.
There are other wrong motives, (hope of salvation, habit, peer pressure) but the key element to each is it is self-centered. When it’s all about me, I have begun to worship myself. I have placed myself on the throne of my life instead of worshipping God. The only motive that will produce genuine holiness in my life is a desire for God’s glory that comes from a love for Him.
This brings us to the second distinction between Holiness and Morality
2. The Means by which we obey
The person who is wrongly motivated will never render Holiness because they will be forced to function in the flesh rather than the Spirit.
The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring honor to Christ and make Him known. One of His ministries is to manifest holiness in the life of a believer. Only out a of a love for God and His glory, will we discern the essential reliance that we have on the Holy Spirit to do this.
It is impossible for me to live Holy apart from the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit.
“This I say then. Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things you would.” Galatians 5:16-17
It is clear from that statement and the following verses that the flesh cannot produce any works that are pleasing to God. This is also made clear in Isaiah 64:6,
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Clearly, then, it is possible for good works (righteousnesses) to be unacceptable to God. Moral deeds done in my own strength will only foster pride and a false sense of self-righteousness. This is neither for God’s glory, nor my good.
The next aspect of this topic to address is the relation of love as the purest motive to the inward work of the Holy Spirit. I’ll discuss this in Round 4.