“If I know God is going to forgive all of my sins, why should I try to obey Him?” This is a question asked often by those considering the Christian message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Knowing that God will not punish us for any of our sins would seem to diminish our desire to avoid sin. One might conclude that it is foolish to focus on thinking and doing the right things, since ultimately all of the wrong things will be forgiven. Yet the experience of having our sins forgiven by God actually increases our desire to live in a way that pleases the Lord.
The Apostle Paul explains why that is the case in his letter to the Romans. He writes, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).” This sentence speaks of the magnificent forgiveness we have through Jesus. “No condemnation” means a verdict has been rendered, and we have been declared “Not Guilty.” This is not because of something we have done but because of what Jesus has done for us. As a result, we have no need to fear God’s judgement. That is indeed good news! Yet if this verse summed up the entire Christian message, then it would seem to make little difference whether one tries to obey God or not.
There is a second point, however, which Paul makes in the next verse. “And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death (Romans 8:2).” In other words, because of the new relationship we as Christians have with God, (“you belong to him”) our desires as to how we want to live have changed. We have been freed “from the power of sin.” This doesn’t mean we never sin, but it does mean we now have a desire not to sin.
The important thing to note is that a change has occurred in our relationship with God. For those of us who belong to Christ, meaning those trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior, God is no longer our Judge but is now our Father. The motive for obeying a judge is primarily fear. We do what the judge says because if we don’t, he will punish us. The motive for obeying a father is (or should be) primarily love. We do what our father desires because we don’t want to disappoint him. Another analogy the Apostle uses is that Christians are the “bride of Christ.” For most of us, a judge who has the power to fine or jail us does not have nearly as much influence over us as our spouse, the individual whom we love more than anyone else on earth.
Friends, both fear and love can be effective motivators. Yet ultimately, love is far more powerful. Yes, a healthy relationship with God does contain elements of fear, but it is our love for the Lord which motivates us to seek to please and honor Him. The more we love God, the less we want to sin. Knowing God has graciously forgiven us naturally fills our hearts with gratitude. That gratitude for His amazing salvation naturally grows into love. That love for God naturally motivates us to obey Him. Grace leads to gratitude, which leads to love, which leads to obedience. This is the heart of the Christian life. It also explains why those who know their sins have been forgiven are less likely to sin, not more.
Rev. Dan Erickson
Senior Pastor, Chisholm Baptist Church