I have noticed that a lot of Christians, when memorizing Scripture (which is not a bad discipline), tend to err in a way that can actually be more harmful than helpful. They do this by memorizing the direct commands of the Bible, but neglect to memorize and meditate on the reasons and rewards for obeying those commands.
Here’s as example of what I mean. Imagine a young Christian guy is struggling with lust and pornography. He goes to a resource– maybe his youth pastor, a book, or a helpful article on the subject– and is told to memorize Matthew 5:27-28 which says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old,‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So, he knows it is wrong.
But now what?
The question I want to ask is this: is simply knowing that you should not do something motivation enough to not do it? I think the answer is no. And I’ll go a step further and say that I don’t think that is where the Bible leaves us. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” Did you catch that? God actually says that we cannot please him until we believe that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. In other words, until we realize that God is not simply after our behavior modification, but our ultimate happiness, the fight against sin will not be won. God is not threatened by our need for reward in order to be motivated. C.S. Lewis says it this way: “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward … promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.”
When I use the language of reward and happiness, I am not talking about dog treats. I am speaking, like Scripture does, of a deep satisfaction in Christ that leads men and women to lay down their lives for the great commission. This is the kind of deep joy that allows a person to quote Psalm 73:26, my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever, as they move to a country that is actively seeking out and persecuting Christians, so that they can share the gospel with the people there.
Here’s my encouragement: don’t just know what God desires of you, know the reason why he requires it, and the rewards he promises for those that follow his commands. If we go back to our example of the young man with the lust and pornography battle, we can see that he really needs a verse just a few sentences before the one we quoted earlier: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matt. 5:8)” This gives a reason and promise of reward to the fight for purity, rather than just a command.
Know that sin is declaring war against the joy God wants to give you and that holiness (following God’s commands) is drinking from the fountain of living water. Know that God is a dad who gives commands to his kids because he loves them. Know that the path of the righteous is also the path of the true hedonist. I have found this practice to be immensely helpful in my life and I hope you will too.