An interesting conversation I sometimes find myself in centers around a Christian’s motivation for keeping the commandments. If, as Christians we are saved by grace, what motivation is there to live righteous lives? There’s no way for our righteous living to somehow earn our salvation, or even add to our salvation. If Paul is correct in Galatians, that Jesus alone saves and anything added to Jesus (Jesus + ___________ (baptism, church attendance, moral living)) is false teaching, then we as Christians must admit our righteous deeds have no bearing at all on our salvation. Thus the question, what’s the motivation for Christians to keep the commandments?
One answer is Paul’s argument from Romans 6. In answering the question, if grace is so wonderful, why don’t we just keep sinning so that grace can abound even more, Paul says, no you can’t do that. Why? Because you/we have died to sin. To paraphrase Paul, when we entered the waters of baptism we put to death the old life. We crucified the sinful nature. We are now living for God. It would be a contradiction to try to live a life of sin again. It would go against our very identity, as those who have been raised to new life as children of God, to go back and live a life centered on sin. Thus, what is our motivation to live righteous lives? Sinful lives are simply not our identity anymore. We have been raised with Christ and we should live like it.
Another motivation, however, comes with the reality of the in-breaking Kingdom. Jesus was once asked by the Pharisees in Luke 17 when the Kingdom of God would come. They were looking for a specific time or place. Jesus answers like he often does by changing the question slightly. Searching for the Kingdom is not about discovering certain signs or waiting for a particular time and place. Instead, the Kingdom of God is in your midst, right now as we speak. Jesus was reminding the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be touched, like a building, but is instead the reign and rule of God realized in the world. And while there will come a moment, sometime in the future, when God will usher in the new heavens and new earth, when the new creation and God’s Kingdom will be established in its fullest, that even now the Kingdom is realized. Anytime the reign and rule of God is honored and acted upon in the world, it is the Kingdom. The Kingdom has broken in, it’s just not fully realized, but it will be someday.
A Christian’s motivation for righteous living stems from a recognition that the Kingdom is already in our midst, and as Christians, we have the opportunity to live the new and future reality now. The fancy word for that is proleptic. It means to live with hope that the future reality is so determined to happen, that one lives now as if the future has already happened and is realized. For instance, if you’ve accepted a new job, but haven’t officially started yet, you may still tell people you work for the new company. The future is so certain, you are living and acting now as if the future is already here. It’s a proleptic way to live.
This is the motivation. Because the Kingdom of God has already broken in, and someday will be realized completely, Christians live proleptic lives as if the future has already happened. And as Christians live as if the future has already happened, we become signs pointing toward God’s new creation. The motivation then is to live into the new reality, and point the rest of the world to that same good ending.
So what does this mean?
It means that Christians live in a way that points the world toward what the new creation will look like. For instance, in the new creation there will be no hungry people. Thus in the moment, Christians are called to use our money and resources in a way to provide food for hungry people now, not because we believe our efforts will end world hunger, but as a sign that in the new creation there will be no hungry people so now there should be no hungry people. It’s as if the future has already happened.
Another example, in the Kingdom of God there will be no violence. Christians thus refrain from using violence against others, not because they think they will end all violence in the world, but as a sign that in the new creation there will be no violence so even now there should be no violence in the world.
Or, in the Kingdom of God, differences in skin color and culture are celebrated and honored; and are actually traits that show beauty in diversity. Thus, even now, in the midst of a broken world where racism still exists, Christians choose to work against racism and toward reconciliation as a sign that in God’s good future, there will be reconciliation between all people.
So why do we live the way we do? Why do Christians keep the commandments? Because, if in the new creation, life will be ordered a certain way to help life flourish, we should live that way now because it is the only thing that will lead to a life that will flourish. Christians live in a way that points toward the hope they have in Jesus and the new creation. Not because it allows them to be saved, but because they are saved already.