Have you ever held back from serving the Lord because of fear that your motives weren’t pure? Maybe you were thinking about praying out loud in a group setting, but then thought, I just want to sound good and impress people – I shouldn’t pray with that kind of attitude. Or you were about to share an insight that came to you during a Bible study discussion. You almost opened your mouth, but then couldn’t quite bring yourself to actually speak up. It’ll sound like I’m showing off –and it’s not that important anyway.
The examples could go on and on: sharing the gospel with your neighbor, playing on the worship team at your church, giving your testimony in public, writing that book you’ve been thinking about for years – all of these potentially good works can, and I’m afraid often do, get put on the back shelf to die a long, slow death while we try to get our motives completely clean.
If you ever done or thought something along those lines, I have good and bad news for you. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: your motives will never be pure. You will always be tempted in some way by pride when you step out in service or some good work for the kingdom of God. That’s the reality of being saints who simultaneously have God-given desires to bear fruit (see John 15:16, Eph. 2:10, 2 Thess. 1:11) and also remaining sin that taints our good deeds.
But here’s the good news: Jesus cleanses our acts of service. It is through Him that we offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Peter 2:5). Listen to John Owen’s words about how Jesus purifies our spiritual offerings:
The Lord Christ first, as our high priest, bears the iniquity, the guilt, and provocation [of our best duties]; and not only so, but he washes away all their filth and defilements…Whatever is of the Spirit, of himself, of grace – that remains; whatever is of self, flesh, unbelief… – that he consumes, wastes, takes away…The saints’ good works shall meet them one day with a changed countenance, that they shall scarce know them: that which seemed to them to be black, deformed, defiled, shall appear beautiful and glorious. (Communion with the Triune God, p. 292)
I’m convinced that Satan, the enemy of our souls who opposes every advance of God’s kingdom, rejoices at how many of us stay on the sidelines because of fear that our motives aren’t pure. Yes, we must watch our hearts and be open to the Holy Spirit’s conviction when pride becomes our dominant motive. But don’t buy the lie that one day pride will be totally dead and you can serve without any trace of self-seeking in your heart.
Here’s what I suggest. When you’re wondering whether you should step out and act but analyzing your motives, ask yourself this question: will what I’m about to do glorify God and bless others? If the answer is yes, do it – even if your motives aren’t 99.4% Ivy soap pure. Trust the work of Jesus to cleanse your good works, take your eyes off of yourself, and then step out in faith to serve others. It’s what you were created to do!