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We all have someone in our lives whom we would like to change. There are times when my wife would like to change me, and for good reason. But how to do that? In particular, how to get the Christian to do what God wants? How to get the church member to be more fully dedicated to Christ? How to get the Christian child to obey his parents? What do we use to motivate Christian behavior?

Laying down the law is the usual method used to produce proper bahavior. For example, to increase offerings, a congregation may try shaming its members into giving more. In such a case the law reads something like this: “A good Christian would give ‘x’ amount of his income to the church.” In a troubled marriage the law might read: “I’m taking the children and leaving unless you clean up your act.” Parents also have clever ways of forcing their will upon their children. People use the Law to pound people into compliance.

However, the Law often incites our sinful nature to do just the opposite of what it commands. ” . . . When the commandment came, sin sprang to life . . . ” (Rom. 7:9)

An illustration of this is the father who puts a note on his tool box. In big, angry letters it reads: “Don’t even think about messing with my tools!” The result? Quite likely the children will dig out the tools the first time Dad turns his back.

The Law awakens in us the very disobedience it forbids. And even if the Law’s threats stop us from committing the crime, it can never motivate anyone to want to do good. God is looking for willing compliance.

Scripture teaches that the Law has three purposes: 1) as a CURB for all people, when it stops them from doing wicked, sinful deeds; 2) as a MIRROR when it shows people their sin and need for a Savior; 3) as a GUIDE when it informs the Christian about the kind of life God expects them to live (definitions from the Sydow Catechism). However, nowhere in Scripture does God use the Law to motivate God-pleasing behavior.

The Gospel The Power

So how do we motivate God-pleasing behavior which begins in the heart? We can’t. That power lies with God alone. God’s power to do that is the Gospel. The Gospel declares what Jesus did in life, death, and resurrection to save a world of sinners. Hear what Scripture says about the transforming energy of the Gospel: “Jesus gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Tit. 2:14 NIV).

Part of our problem in using the Gospel to produce change is that we want instantaneous results. And often, from our point of view, the Gospel doesn’t seem to work very fast. So we are tempted to give up and revert back to the Law.

A pastor, for example, preaches the Savior’s love week after week, but church and Bible Class attendance don’t improve. He decides, therefore, that he must “give it to his people” with the Law. Instead of using the Law to confront spiritual apathy, he uses it as a motivator. “Do this or else!” Lo and behold, things seem to improve. The law frightens the people into outward conformity. But their change of behavior has nothing to do with wanting to please the Savior.

Is using the Law to get quick results ever worth it? Never. Law motivation can only do great damage to the spiritual welfare of the Christian. Either it will put such fear in the heart that the Christian will doubt his very salvation, or it will make him a proud Pharisee who thinks he is righteous because he has outwardly conformed his life to certain standards–so righteous that he sees no need for a Savior from sin.

H. W. Gockel in his book What Jesus Means to Me has an illustration of the Gospel’s power to compel godly behavior. A mother was upset when she saw several suggestive pictures hanging on her son’s dorm room wall. She didn’t say anything about it at the time, but sent him a package containing a beautifully framed picture of Christ. Proudly the boy hung it on the wall above his desk. Before he went to bed that night he removed the pin-up picture which hung closest to the face of Christ. The next day another picture went into the wastebasket. One by one they all were removed until only the portrait of Jesus remained. The mother never once badgered him. Jesus’ love, as called to mind by the picture, worked in that young man’s heart, making it impossible for him to keep the other pictures on his walls.

“For Christ’s love compels us . . . and he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

–Pastor Michael Wilke