What will motivate us to keep loving and living for God when it’s not easy, when counterfeit goods look more real or rewarding, when people challenge our lifestyle or urge us to join their party, trials come and blessings seem absent, when we are alone for Christ without support, when God seems distant, when we lose our joy, when life is unfair, painful, discouraging or hopeless?
When we consider the Bible’s ethical teaching, we find that three key factors should stimulate and motivate our love for God and neighbor.
Memory: God’s love compels us. His prior love, grace and goodness inspire our love, grace and goodness (1 John 4:11, 19; see also Exodus 20:2 (// Deuteronomy 5:6); Deuteronomy 6 and 8; Psalm 78; Romans 12:1-2)
This reality is built into human nature. When we receive love and grace, we want to respond to its giver – not to earn what is already given, not to repay, not to earn more – simply to express our gratitude and love. God knows we can neither save ourselves nor repay him; that’s why he saves. He says, “I love you. You need me. I have compassion on you.” We respond with grateful, joyful service and love.
We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Identity: God’s grace changes us. He gives us a new nature and identity that we grow into (1 John 4:7; see also Ephesians 4-5; Colossians 2:6-3:17; 1 Peter 1-2; 1 John 2:28-3:18; 4:7-21).
Through the work of Christ, God makes us new, and his Spirit empowers us to live our new identity. As we trust and submit to God, he makes us the people we already are in Christ. As God’s children, we learn to bear the family traits; as rescued slaves, we learn to live in freedom, as new creatures, we learn to bear God’s image and reflect his glory; as royal priests, we learn to worship and serve God; as forgiven sinners, we learn to forgive; as saints, we learn to live holy lives; as beloved sons and daughters, we learn to love.
Those who have been born into God's family do practice of sin, because God's imparted nature is in them. They can't keep on sinning, because they are children of God (1 John 3:9).
Hope: God’s vision and victory motivate us. We believe in a just God, hope for his renewed creation and we join him in making it happen (1 John 3:2-23; see also Psalm 73; Matthew 6:10; 1 Corinthians 15; 2 Corinthians 4:1-7:1; James 5:1-11; 2 Peter 3).
We see God working to redeem and renew our hopeless, broken and dying world. We see him bringing heaven to earth and healing people to the wholeness and harmony they were created for. We recognize this restoration as glimpses of God’s grand work of redemption, glimpses of his glory piercing the darkness. We catch the vision and join the cause to make his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
We know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he truly is. All who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3).