This blog post is Part 6 of a series entitled "May I Ask A Question?" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN.
Message Date: June 11, 2023
There are questions we have answered in this series that have been entertaining, intense, funny, and also difficult to walk through. Today’s two questions are none of these. Today’s two questions, at their very core, are questions we each should be asking as it relates to our daily walk with God. I am so very glad someone submitted these two questions. Because I am not sure that we ask these questions of ourselves.
In full disclosure, I do not believe I have ever asked myself these 2 questions! In the Church, we often focus on the “big” topics; the “hot button” topics.
Today’s two questions are critically important to how you and I manage our decision-making as followers of Jesus.
We always, always allow God’s Word to lead us at Donelson First. Well, this statement has never been truer than today. Today we are going to look at 33, yes 33, different passages as we answer these 2 questions.
I want to implore you today to listen, to truly listen to the Holy words we read as we answer these questions. There is not a person here today who is not in need of these answers.
What should be the Christian's motivation to do right?
This question speaks to the very heart of who we are as humans. Each of us is motivated by something or someone in life. As a young boy, I remember being motivated to get my homework done so I could go outside and play with my brothers. As I got older, I was motivated to get a job so that I could purchase a car.
As I’ve gotten older, my motivations, but I, as do you, still have.
As I mentioned earlier, I am not so sure we pause enough, or ever, to answer such questions as this about the motivation we possess to do right!
Listen to these verses this morning about the glory and the majesty of our great God:
Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty - he is the King of glory. Psalm 24:10
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. Hebrews 1:3-4
Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head overall. 1 Chronicles 29:11
The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure. Psalm 93:1
Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you - majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? Exodus 15:11
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:9
Again, I really, really appreciate this first question: What should be the Christian's motivation to do right?
In answering this question, I have been forced this week to consider several addendum questions about my own life. I would like to share several of these questions with you today:
Do I place as much thought into pleasing God as I do into fulfilling my personal pleasures?
When I strive to do right, am I motivated to do so out of a desire to please God or an attempt to elevate myself?
Which is more important to me: Bringing glory to God or making myself feel happy?
Is God pleased with me?
I presume, if you are considering, truly considering these questions today, you very well might, as have I, find yourself under some level of conviction and, quite possibly, disappointment over the decisions you have previously made in your life. This has been quite the week of conviction for me personally.
To answer this question this morning, I want to make this an extremely self-reflective time for us each. Therefore, rather than speaking generically about all Christians, let’s each consider this question on a very personal level. Therefore, I will re-word the question: “What should be the Christian's motivation to do right?” to a more intimate question we each must answer today: As a Christian, what should be my motivation to do right?
My motivation to do right should be directed by:
1. My determination to be holy.
The word holy appears almost 700 times in the Bible. When God is forging a relationship with His people, the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, He says these words: Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. Leviticus 19:2
Be /Hebrew/ haya = a changing of state; a process by which change occurs
What is the process God calls His people to? The process by which change occurs as you and I become holy people.
Holy /Hebrew/ qados = set apart dedicated to God; free from impurity
I played intramural basketball at Belmont. One night, I used some foul language in a game. It would be several days later when a guy knocked on my dorm room door and talked with me about Jesus. He told me, “The language you used gave me the impression that you were not a believer.”
I ask you today to consider: Do those with whom I interact in the world see unequivocal evidence in me that clearly says: “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”
At that moment in college, there was nothing “set apart” or “free from impurity” about me at that moment in my life.
In Leviticus, God wanted it to be extremely clear then to the nation of Israel, and today with each of us, what His expectations are. God set the bar very high and states His desire for His people to rise to such an expectation.
I would ask you to consider this morning... Do I desire holiness in my life? Do I desire holiness before happiness? Do I desire holiness above pleasure? Do I desire holiness in place of personal comfort, success, and accomplishments? You see...
Many Christians view holiness as a lofty position at which one almost never arrives. God views holiness as a state of being I can achieve daily as I resolve to do what is right.
And it is this that should be my motivation above all when facing life’s choices.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Psalm 51:10-12
For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 1 Thessalonians 4:7
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1
Holiness requests I forsake the life I want for the life God demands.
My motivation to do right should be directed by:
2. My desire to bring God glory.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:8
Even in the way in which we die, we can bring glory to a deserving God: Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” John 21:19
There are so very many ways in which I can bring glory to God. Here are a few...
I bring God glory as I acknowledge:
Who God is.
In the New Testament, we read in all four of the books called "the gospels," Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, events and happenings in the ministry life of Jesus Christ. Each author offers us, in his own words, as seen through his own eyes, various stories that highlight the most important 3 years in the history of time on this planet.
It is a remarkable study, one in which we should indulge at some point, as to both the variety and uniqueness each book offers into the life of the most loved and often hated, man to have ever walked planet Earth.
Did you know that the book of Matthew is the only book of the 4 gospels that records the Sermon on the Mount - - the greatest message ever preached?
The story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus, who wanted to see Jesus, which is an extremely popular story in the New Testament, is only recorded in the book of Luke.
Even the story of the birth of Jesus is recorded in the books of Matthew, Luke, and John. However, this most important story detailing the events surrounding the birth of the greatest man to have ever walked the planet is not recorded in all four gospels. This remarkable story is not recorded at all in the book of Mark.
And, the book of John, though filled with many, many wonderful stories of the life of Jesus told through the eyes of the one we believe the Bible calls, "the one whom Jesus loved," has no details as to Jesus' final words to His disciples and His ascension back into heaven.
However, interestingly, all four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John do contain the story of a man of whom we know very little information. This man had an extremely important and intimate encounter with Jesus at the beginning of Jesus' ministry.
The man? John the Baptist. Here are Matthew and Mark’s comments on this man:
What amazes me is when we read, "The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him." Of course, we do not know for sure how many people were living in this region of the world at this time. But it is estimated the number was somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 -700,000.
Whatever the number, this was a whole lot of people. I would think the likelihood is remarkably high that, any one person in such a position of notoriety and ever-increasing popularity would have the potential to become conceited, self-absorbed, and prideful.
However, this was not the case with John the Baptist.
As a matter of fact, read the words of John summarizing the mission of his extremely popular ministry:
Assisting one with the lowly job of managing their footwear was a task given to one who would have been considered to be a low-level servant.
John the Baptist, though given the privilege of baptizing so very many people, including the Savior of the world, considered himself to be not even worthy of such a humbling task of untying one's sandals.
And the story of this man positioned at the beginning of each of the 4 gospels is, by my reasoning, an indication of a selfless heart squarely aimed at bringing glory to Jehovah God... because of who God is.
I bring God glory as I acknowledge:
What God did.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. Titus 3:4-8
Have you ever wondered why it is that there seem to be times we hope for the worst scenario for others? You know... someone whom you do not like or have ill will toward, and you say things, if only to yourself, such as…“Well... she deserved it!” Or… "I sure hope he gets what is coming to him!" Or... "You made your own bed. Now you have to lie in it!"
Why do we often want the worst for others and even seem to, if only privately, celebrate when it all comes crashing down on them?
Now, don't get me wrong... I’ve had similar thoughts before, especially when watching a movie!
For instance, in Jurassic Park, I remember Dennis Nedry, a computer programmer working at the dinosaur park, who agrees to smuggle out dinosaurs' embryos to a competing company. Eventually, his misdeeds come back to bite him...literally!
And then there is Biff! Biff Tannen in Back to the Future. Biff is a true jerk to Marty McFly's dad George, constantly tormenting him and bullying him to do his homework for him.
Of course, there is Scar in The Lion King. Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Thanos in Avengers End Game. And, of course... the villain I personally love to hate! Count Rugen of The Princess Bride. He creates the extreme torture machine and uses it against Sweet Wesley. He, too, is known as the "Six-Fingered Man" who kills the father of Amigo Mantonya, when Amigo is but a little lad! We know in the end, the Count gets... I am sure many would say, "What he finally deserves!"
I am so very thankful for what God did... chose to save me rather than condemn me!
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. Romans 8:1-3
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
Imagine Church... Imagine if I gave greater attention and personal motivation as a Christian to bring God glory for all He has done for me.
What would that look like?
Rather than saying, “Life isn't fair.” I instead say, “I glorify God even amidst life's treachery.”
Rather than saying, "God, why did you allow this terrible thing to happen in my life?" I instead say, "God, I glorify you by trusting you have my best interest at heart."
Rather than saying, “I just do not see how I can afford to tithe this month.” I instead say, “I am so very excited to glorify God with my money and trust He will take care of the rest.”
You see... Acknowledging what God did for me reminds me that I have so very much more than I deserve; so very much more for which I am to be grateful. And even amidst pain, and uncertainty and brokenness and loss, recognizing that which God has done for me, it is this that is to be one of the Christians' greatest motivations for doing right.
I want to address one more question this morning - - a question with which I am confident more and more Christians wrestle. My motivation as a Christian to do right, as we just discussed, truly hinges on my determination to pursue holiness and to my desire to bring God glory.
What is often difficult in such a pursuit of both is the Christian's inner struggle, a struggle by the way that we often conceal at all costs, with the past.
Studies show that a high percentage of people struggle with the weight of regrettable choices. More than 78% of all people spend time each week reflecting on the effects the past poor choices have brought into their lives. I presume this to be so very true in the life of the Christian.
Not only because we all have made regrettable choices in the past. But too, and most notably important, we have an enemy who does some of his best work convincing you and me to spend time looking in the rear-view mirror.
He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44
I believe this to be why, in part, this next question highlights a tremendous struggle in the lives of so very many followers of Jesus: I am often tempted to give up in my relationship with God because I continually fail. What am I to do?
How many can relate? I sure can.
If you were to look at a list of names entitled "The World's Greatest Failures." I am most sure you would find my name somewhere near the top... (right under most Tennessee Vol fans!)
Hey, y'all... let this be a reminder to you today. Please listen, take this in, and stay with me!
1. I will fail.
You may be thinking, "Well, Jeffrey, if you are trying to make me feel better about not giving up on my relationship with God due to my failures, you're not off to a very good start!"
This is why I implored you moments ago to stay with me!
Yes, it is true. We are all flawed. Every single one of us!
Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. Ecclesiastes 7:20
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
And for those who look at the world, look at themselves, look at others again, and then surmise, "I'm pretty good and I'm sure not as bad as that person.”
Remember, not a single one of us is good, not a single one.
Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. Luke 18:19
For me to fail is human. However, even though I will fail…
2. I do not have to remain a failure.
Failing from time to time is human.
Living as a failure is a conscience choice I make to live in a way that is at odds with the person God has made me to be.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
Image /Hebrew/ selem = reflection of
We have discussed this before. The word image in Hebrew is the word: "reflection" or "reflection of."
When I think of my reflection, I think of a mirror. And God is revealing to me in Genesis 1 that, as a child of His, I have the ability to be His mirror... to reflect Him to the world.
3 things I glean from this reality. First...
My sins do not overshadow my ability to be a good reflection of God.
When God made us in His image, did he know we would fail Him? Of course, He did.
But He made us anyway, and He has you and me on this journey toward His likeness.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. Proverbs 13:4
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. Ecclesiastes 9:10
I do not always reflect my best side.
I have 2 daughters who take a whole lot of pictures. As a matter of fact, I checked this week, and I have 128,615 images on my phone... many of which were me taking pictures of my girls in a variety of places all across our nation.
You know what I have heard over and again as I have been the one taking pics?
Well... rarely have I heard, "Daddy, get in the picture with us!"
Instead, I have often heard, "Take the picture again. This isn't my best side." Or "Let me turn my head, or body, or hair so you can get the best pic of me!"
We don't like everything about us. We don't always like what we see in the mirror. We are not flawless. Though there are times I do not reflect the best version of myself, I still have the ability to "shift," to rise above my failures, and do good.
Letting go is a critical step in allowing God to use the failures of my past to shape the successes of my future.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, Isaiah 43:18-20
I preached a funeral this week of an 86-year-old lady who used to attend DF. After the service, someone approached me to say, “I feel extremely guilty over the choices of my past. These thoughts consume me. I think of them often. I feel paralyzed.”
Consistently harboring the past is paralyzing, and regurgitating my failures will always leave me nauseous as I am reminded of who I once was.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14
Notice Paul does not say that it is always easy to look ahead rather than to focus on the “behind.” He even says that this process can be a “strain.”
Dare I say this is an almost always difficult process to master? But remember...
I cannot change my past. However, if I choose to trust God with my past failures, God is capable of doing far more with my future than I can ever do on my own.
Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.