It can be said, and almost unanimously, that many approach the obedience and performance of good works, that are the heritage of the saints, in the spirit of fear of punishment or loss of rewards. They reason, always introspectively, that as a Christian, they must render obedience to the revealed will of God or else they might not be saved at all or suffer loss of divine real estate in the future kingdom. But is this how Scripture portrays the “working out of our salvation” to be? Must we always be laying our hearts bare, anxiously searching for the evidence of salvation that was there yesterday but somehow today feels absent?
Michael Horton writes that “John Wesley used to argue that he could not accept the doctrine of election because it undermined the main supports of holiness: fear of punishment and hope of reward” (Putting Amazing Back into Grace, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002, 80). In opposition to this erroneous line of thinking, Paul stated, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father'” (Rom 8:15). So if Scripture denies the fear of punishment or loss as the motivation for godly living, what then is the proper impetus? The Heidelberg Catechism provides this response in its answer to Question 86, “…that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings…” The only acceptable ground for all our obedience and good works, in God’s sight, is gratitude.
This is where the study of theology, the immersion in the doctrines of Scripture, come into play. Of course, no one becomes a child of God without first having known the truths about the person and work of Christ, believed in these truths, and trusted in the object of these truths, Christ Himself. So then a progression emerges: the more we know of Godâ€”His attributes, His nature, and His workâ€”the more we realize the glories of the redemption that is ours in Christ and the benefits conferred on us by virtue of this union; and the more that this knowledge is ours, the more grateful we become! This gratitude then “…hits us…we have been predestined to a high and holy calling, we discover a higher and holier motivation for pursuing God’s revealed will…we realize we are part of ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession’ (1 Peter 2:9 NASB), we begin to reflect that awareness in our daily living” (Horton, Grace, 81).
We obey God’s law not because we want to prove that we are children of God but because we already are! We constantly look to Christ for the assurance of our salvation, and this produces in us the gratitude that is the stuff of obedienceâ€”an obedience born of faith.