In my last post, I laid the theological foundation concerning our obedience in Christ. The main thrust of that post was to gain an understanding of how we are made righteous in Christ, which we determined was through our representative union with Christ. Through this union a Great Exchange occurs where Jesus’ righteousness is attributed (imputed) to us. As that occurs, our sin is taken away, we are made righteous, and our relationship with God is restored.
In this post, I want to show how an understanding of our salvation motivates us to obey and serve God. Here is my thesis:
We should be motivated to obey and serve God when we reflect on our salvation.
A prime example of one who reflects on their salvation and is then motivated to obey and serve God is Isaiah.
Isaiah: Our Prime Example
In Isaiah 6:1-8, we are privileged to read Isaiah’s vision. From this vision we learn a great deal about God. In verses 1-4 we learn that God is separate from His creation and all that is sinful because He is holy.
How is God separate from His creation?
(1) Transcendent Majesty
The text tells us that the Lord is Sitting on His throne, which is symbolic of His reign or His Sovereign rulership. We also read that He is High and lifted up, which is symbolic of His supreme exaltation through the glorious display of His royalty, splendor, and glory. Lastly, we learn that the train of His robe fills the entire temple. His train filling the entire temple accentuates His infinite royalty, splendor, dignity, and majesty.
With that in mind, we can express what verse 1-4 tell us by saying that God is separate from His creation through His Transcendent Majesty. Transcendent meaning He is above and beyond anything else in His creation. Majesty referring to His sovereign power, authority, and royalty. So the Lord transcends all that is in His creation because of who He is.
(2) Moral Purity
Not only is the Lord separate from His creation through His Transcendent Majesty, but He is also separate because He is sinless. He is completely and utterly without sin.
Because of His Transcendent Majesty and His Moral Purity, He has an infinite hatred of sin desiring to destroy those who are sinners (Hab. 1:13; Prov. 6:16; Rom. 1:18). Since we are all sinners, we all deserve the wrath of God (Rom. 3:23).
What is Isaiah’s response when he comes face to face with the God we just described?
First, he says, “Woe is me!” showing he is grieved and in great distress because he understands his sinfulness. (vs 5). Second, he recognizes his uncleanliness and the uncleanliness of those he lives among when compared to a holy God (vs 6). He says in Isaiah 64:6: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”
Atonement: The Result of Isaiah’s Response
At Isaiah’s response, he is made clean and his sins are atoned for (vs 6-7).
We like Isaiah are a people completely separate from God and we too are a people of unclean lips. We also could never make ourselves righteous, but based on our representative union with Christ, we are made righteous, which allows us to have fellowship with God and one another.
Service: The Result of Our Reflection on the Atonement
After Isaiah’s sins are atoned for, he desires to serve God. In verse 8, he desires to be sent to proclaim God’s message to the people of Israel. His desire to serve God was motivated by a sense of gratitude.
The definition of gratitude is as follows:
Ready to show appreciation for and a desire to serve out of thankful for what has been done for you.
So we see that a desire to serve is birthed out of a focus on what is done for you. In Isaiah’s case, a sense of gratitude comes over him as he comes to understand what God did for him.
We too should have a sense of gratitude come over us when we realize what God has done for us in the gospel. Truly understanding that God has restored our relationship with Himself through the work of His Son on the cross should cause a sense of gratitude to well up inside of us, and that sense of gratitude should cause us to serve God. All of this means that our service and obedience to God is birthed out of our understanding of and our reflection on the gospel.
When reflecting on the story of Isaiah, or even our own story, we may say we, or Isaiah, serves God out of a desire to repay God for what He has done for us. However, serving God, in order to repay Him for what He has done is the wrong motivation.
God’s salvation is a free gift. When someone gives you a gift, they do not expect that you give them a gift in return or that you repay them for their gift. A gift is free. God’s salvation is free. He does not give it to us on loan, expecting we work it off through our service and obedience to Him.
When we try to repay God for what He has done for us, we focus on what we can do. Focusing on what we can do proves we still do not understand the gospel. The gospel tells us that we are utterly helpless. Our relationship with God is broken. In our own power, we can do nothing to restore that relationship. If our works can do nothing to restore our relationship with God, then why do we think our works can repay the relationship He freely restored? So, by saying we must repay God with our works, shows we do not fully understand the gospel. We do not fully understand our inability to help ourselves.
In contrast, when we obey and serve God out of gratitude, we prove we fully understand who we are, who God is, and what the gospel teaches. We prove we fully understand the gospel because we see that we could never do anything to restore our relationship with God. Our restored relationship with God depends totally on His free gift of salvation. A gift we cannot pay back through our works.
When we recognize who we are and what God has done by giving us the gift of salvation, we are thankful God has chosen to save us and our love for Him grows. The thankfulness, or gratitude, that wells up inside of us creates a desire in us to serve God, not in order to repay Him, but because we are thankful for what He has done. So we see that a sense of gratitude is what motivates us to serve and obey God, and a sense of gratitude is birthed as we reflect on our salvation.
Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Ch. 2-4, 6.