The Motivation of a Christian (Acts 4:1-12)

The Great Sanhedrin (Jewish ruling council) by Edouard Moyse, 1868

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so, the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (New International Version)

What motivates you? What is it that moves you to speak and act? What is your motivation in life? 

The answer to the question of motivation says a lot about the person. 

People are motivated by all sorts of things: to prove someone else wrong; to make a lot of money; to become famous; to help underprivileged kids in the inner city; to take on the problem of the world’s sex trade; to quietly make God known in everything. 

As you well know, our motivations can be rather selfish, or quite altruistic. Or both.

In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Peter offered to the nation’s leaders his motivation. Peter was moved to have a dedicated ministry of proclaiming Jesus and healing in his name. 

Whereas the ruling religious authorities thought Jesus just another man, Peter’s conviction was that Jesus has the power to save. The name of Jesus Christ is the one which saves.

Our words and actions – what we actually say and do in life – comes from our deepest motivations. 

Peter’s proclamation the gospel through both word and deed came from his deep wellspring of knowing Christ. Peter believed that Jesus could deliver on life’s most pressing problems of guilt, shame, and sin.

For Christians everywhere, motivation comes from knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and him crucified, died, risen from death, ascended, and coming again. This, ideally, is an intrinsic motivation – and not simply something we feel we “have to” believe.

Intrinsic motivation is an internal desire, inspiring us to perform particular tasks. When we are intrinsically motivated, we start enjoying even those tasks that we never thought of as bringing joy.

I’m not particularly fond of housework. I don’t get an internal kick out of pushing a vacuum, doing laundry, or cleaning the house. But because my dear wife is limited in what she can do, I find that I actually enjoy these tasks. You see, I clearly link what I’m doing with my love for her – which, for me, makes all the difference. My intrinsic motivation to love my wife works it’s way out in the loving service of doing the necessary mundane tasks around the house.

An intrinsic motivation allows me to connect the task at hand as the good and beautiful thing to do.

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from external factors exerting themselves on our lives. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When someone holds us accountable for following through on expectations, this is a good thing. Laws exist, ideally, as positive extrinsic motivations to do the right thing.

Being motivated to get good grades, a better job, or a trophy can be a powerful means of acting and speaking for good in the world. It’s just that sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, In those times, we then fail to connect with our original intrinsic desires to make a difference.

Unfortunately, a lot of churches get stuck here – simply doing the same things over and over and forgetting why they’re doing it – maybe acting a lot like the religious leaders of Peter’s day. Churches can too easily stray from making disciples of Christ to making followers of tradition. And then they wonder why they aren’t reaching anyone.

If we lack motivation, then we need to run to Jesus. When the believer’s deepest needs are met in Christ, the supernatural by-product is being moved to make Jesus known in every sphere of life. 

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Saving God, you have made your glory and grace known to me through your Son, the Lord Jesus.  May I know him better and better so that the motivations that impel me in life are pure, holy, righteous, and, above all, gracious. Amen.