“We do not love God so that he will love us in return. We love God because he has already loved us completely in Christ.”

In the greatest commandment, Jesus tells us that the basic Christian life is summarized in loving God and loving your neighbor. In this series of posts, we are looking at the Bible through this lens, seeing how different passages function as either why we love God and others, how we love God and others, or the result of loving God and others. We’ve summarized this in what we call the Discipleship Pathway (you can see the diagram at the bottom of this post), and we’ll explore the first element today: gospel motivation.

When Jesus gives the greatest commandment in Matthew 22, he does it in the midst of a ministry that is tightly focused on the heart. We misunderstand Jesus if we think he only wants us to act a certain way towards God and others. He wants us to love God and others for the right reasons.  

What are the right reasons? What is the driving motivation of the Christian life supposed to be? Throughout the Bible we see that our love is motivated by God’s love for us. As John puts it, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). What John is describing is a gospel motivation. We do not love God so that he will love us in return. We love God because he has already loved us completely in Christ.  

This theme is all over the New Testament. For example, Ephesians 5:2 tells us to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Paul is clear that we do not imitate God or walk in love so that we can become God’s beloved children. No, we imitate God and walk in love because we already are beloved!  

The basic Christian life functions on a gospel motivation. But the gospel is not the default mode of our heart. We are constantly reverting to our old attempts to prove our worth to God by moral living or looking for satisfaction in immoral living. And so the basic Christian life will always involve fighting the impulse to refuse God’s grace and returning to the gospel as our ultimate motivation. This means we will want to regularly ask ourselves why we are reading our Bible, why we are praying, why we are serving others. Is it to serve ourselves and earn our salvation? Or is it because we know our full acceptance in Christ through the cross and resurrection? In the same way, we should regularly ask ourselves why we aren’t reading our Bible, why we aren’t praying, why we aren’t serving others. Is it because we think we can find more acceptance and satisfaction elsewhere?

The fight for gospel motivation always takes us back to the cross. Meditating and dwelling on what it cost for Christ to pay for our sins, as well as how free we must be if he paid them all, is like a magnet that pulls our hearts towards gospel motivation. As we walk the basic Christian life, we must keep our eyes there and our hearts will follow.

“We love because he first loved us.”
-1 John 4:19

Next in series: Walking with God >>

Brian Colmery

Brian serves the church by overseeing preaching and Sunday morning services at Cornerstone.

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