The Temptations’ first big hit was called, “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” The whole point of the song is to tell this girl that she is great, not only because of what she does, but because of how she does them. “You got a smile so bright you know you shoulda been a candle.” “The way you smell so sweet you know you coulda been some perfume.” And the chorus goes on to say: “Well, you coulda been anything that you wanted to and I can tell, the way you do the things you do.”
The way you do the things you do matter. But even more so, the why you do the things you do really matters. It is not enough to do things. That is good. But the root of the issue is why you do them. Motivation matters. Deeds rise from the source of the affections. What want we will.
This is a devastating truth for sinners. By nature we are children of wrath (Eph 2:3). What we want is sin! When light came into the world we scurried into the dark corners of our hearts so as to not have to look outside of ourselves and find our all in God (John 3:17ff). The Pharisees diligently searched the Scriptures and yet they did so to boast their own self-righteousness. Their motivation was their own glory and so they missed the entire point, which was to see the glory of Christ and His work on the behalf of His people (John 5:39-40). Their problem was not that they loved the Bible too much but too little and in an illegitimate way. Their piety was a facade, driven by their own sinful desires.
The picture is actually much more bleak. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him…” God is not pleased by our fig-leaf morality. Our attempts to “be good” are like dressing up a corpse. It isn’t commendable. It’s damnable. Similarly in Romans 14:23 Paul says that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Any action done, no matter how good it may appear externally, is utter blasphemy if not done out of a heart that is trusting in Christ alone for their salvation. If our hearts are not operating out of an overflow for all of God is for us in Christ then whatever we do will not be pleasing to the Lord. The gospel must motivate our actions. Motivations matter. The why you do the things you do matter.
Saving faith is not only trusting in the righteousness of Christ and turn from all of your sin. It can never, ever be less than that! However we must be careful not to preach saving faith in a way that makes God another means to whatever end we would already love to see fulfilled in our flesh. Saving faith is rest in Christ alone to save and satisfy! Justification by faith alone is the heart of the gospel. But it isn’t the goal of the gospel. Justification by faith alone in the Christ alone to the glory of God alone is good news because it brings us to see and savor the glory of Jesus Christ in that good news. Christ suffered once, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
The reason that we sin is because we are sinners. Is that a distinction without a difference? Far from it! It is a distinction that is a world’s difference. Our evil hearts pour forth evil deeds, not vice versa. So if we are to do anything of any real, spiritual good then we must have the Holy Spirit change our hearts. We need fleshy hearts but we are born with hearts of stone. We have as a good chance of changing our desires as a leopard has to change his spots (Jeremiah 13:23). So then we are totally dependent on God. Truly, we have no good apart from Him (Psalm 16:2).
For the Christian, we do have the ability to do the things we do with the correct “why.” We will struggle with our sin (including our motivations) until the day we die. The gospel continues to be good news. But the gospel is also good news because it promises to change us from the inside out. There are unfathomable riches in the gospel of free grace and these riches that we did not earned are used to fight for sight – sight to see God as He is and enjoy Him forever. And that is a fight. Holiness is beautiful, but because we are sinful, it is hard. Sin’s roots must be continually weeded from the garden of our hearts.
How do we do that? By focusing on the why we do the things we do. Indicatives (what God has done/who God is) leads and grounds the imperatives (what we are to do to live a life pleasing to God). Plants don’t grow by spending all of our time tending the flowers. Roots grow plants. We have to prune the flowers and be watchful over what they are exposed to, tending to any scorching heat or deathly frost that might come in their season. So we fight first to behold. Our holiness will rise to the level of the affected glimpses we get of Christ. When notice soul decay when our vision is disrupted (and that cuts both ways). To do the things we are commanded we must daily battle to see the Commander as supremely valued. Free grace and hard labor are not enemies. Holiness and happiness. Duty and delight. This is true gospel religion.