How do we encourage our fellow church members to be more fully dedicated to Christ? How do Christian parents get their children to gladly obey them? What do we use to motivate Christian behavior?
Laying down the law is the usual method people use to produce change in behavior. For example, to increase church 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 income to the church.” In a troubled marriage, a spouse may lay down the law like this, “I’m taking the children and leaving unless you clean up your act.” Parents take the same approach with children.
The law, however, often incites our sinful nature to do just the opposite of what it commands. God’s Word tells us this. “When the commandment came, sin sprang to life…” (Romans 7:9)
Want an example? A parent who to their two year old, “Don’t touch that glass vase!” Two seconds later the child’s hand is reaching out to touch the vase or to see how close they can come without touching. Laying down the law often moves us to disobedience. Even if the law’s threats stop us from committing the sin, it can never motivate anyone to want to do the right thing.
So why don’t we use the Gospel to motive and encourage each other? Perhaps it is because we want to see instantaneous results. From our impatient human point of view, the Gospel doesn’t seem to work fast enough. The law may get results but only the gospel can bring forth results that please God.
A Lutheran pastor named Herman Gockel gave an illustration of the Gospel’s power to compel Christians to do the right thing. He wrote, “A mother was upset when she saw several suggestive pictures on her son’s dorm room wall. She didn’t say anything at the time, but sent him a picture of Jesus. He put it on his wall. In a matter of days, the other pictures were gone. The mother never once badgered him. Jesus’ love, as called to mind by the picture, worked in his heart what laying down the law could never do.“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 Corinthians 5:14-15)