Motivation and the Will

Motivation and the Will November 8, 2018

Although the question of motive is a popular one, especially in all all of our crime syndicate shows, the question of motivation has always been a key to psychological musings as well.  It’s the “why” behind our behavior, our “willingness” to do certain things.

To isolate and study aspects of our interior life is very artificial.  However, these are areas of study where questions overlap between Theologians and psychologists, or ministers and helping professionals.[1]  Although we know that humans are woven together more thoroughly, both inside and out, it is helpful to consider certain aspects of our makeup, as we develop a view of persons.

Motivation and the Will

i. Adam: Will

The will is first alluded to in Genesis 2.16-17, when God commands Adam not to eat the fruit, allows the choice, and then states the consequences.  “Man’s most sacred privilege is freedom of will, the ability to obey or to disobey his Maker.”[2]

The choice to eat ultimately causes death.  However, the immediate consequence is the knowledge of good and evil.  Adam has not attained this knowledge yet.  His will is governed by innocence (also evident in the unashamed nakedness of the couple, Genesis 2.25).

ii. Adam’s Fall: from Innocence to Conscience

“Who told thee that thou wast naked?” (Genesis 3.11).  The couple suddenly become aware of right and wrong, and apparently that is not all.  The couple can choose good or bad.  “Moral evil is the result of moral choice – such as intentional theft, for instance.”[3]

After the original sin, the innocence of the will is replaced by the moral dictates of the conscience.  The child may operate out of innocence, but the conscience develops over time, and serves as an internal guide of right and wrong.  Of the Americans studied by Brian Eck and Gary Moon, “84% try to live according to their religious beliefs.”[4]

We are aware of God and we have a desire to do good, but also to do evil.  Sigmund Freud recognizes this dilemma in his explanation of the Id, Ego, and the Superego.

iii. The 2nd Adam: from Conscience to Faith

“Our lives are intelligible precisely because we can have faith that our existence is the result of the actions of an all-knowing, intelligent God.”[5]  Every man is given a, “measure of faith” (Romans 12.3), but it is only activated when it is placed in God.

Faith in God becomes the highest motivation of human will and behavior (Hebrews 11).  This faith is a return to the innocence found in the garden.

JVI | Daylilies near Crystal Lake | 2018

When faith governs the will, it is no longer motivated only by a list of rights and wrongs.

B.F. Skinner theorizes that the environment controls behavior.  Carl Rogers teaches that the internal value system controls behavior.  However, faith is an internal belief in God, who is a separate entity altogether.

Scriptural descriptions plainly but paradoxically locate control both inside the self and outside the self, as revealed in Christ’s command to follow him in Matthew 16.24 and Luke 9.23.  He emphatically tells His hearers to decide daily (inner aspect of control) to follow Him (external aspect of control).  Faithfulness is developed over time as faith is consistently deposited into God.

Willing Participation

In ministry or helping relationships, genuine faith arises in the relationship itself.  Faith can also be posited in the skills or Spiritual Gifts of the helper, or in the parishioner’s motivation to change.  We glorify God for the work, but we also humbly serve in obedience.  Faith in God allows our will to participate with God, and yet yield to His creative processes of healing.

Ministers and counselors do well to have their faith rooted in God, no matter what the client believes in.  Oliver McMahan states, “This includes openness to the work of the Spirit in the life of the client and their own lives as therapists.”[6]  For helping professionals who seek to integrate the power of the Spirit into the session, McMahan suggests openness to God’s ability to move and direct the session.  This is an expectancy or faith that God will do the miraculous in this moment.

Questions to Consider:

1. There are other aspects of the will to explore.  For instance does your congregation have a stance on man’s free will?  After one is saved, there is also the question of willfulness versus willingness?  In other words, are we striving to reach some Christian form of the good life or learning to yield to the Spirit?  In what ways do you discuss the will?

2. Is there truly a possibility of a return to innocence?  We often operate from duplicitous motives.  How would operating in faith transform our motivation, desires, activity?

3. In what ways could our faith motivate and drive us to be participants in God’s healing activity in the world around us?


[1] Jared V. Ingle, “Nine Biblical Factors of Personality, Abnormality, and Change in the Creation Account,” (paper presented in Interpersonal Techniques in Helping Relationships, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, MO, December 9, 2003).

Toward a Biblical Concept of Personality

On Holism, Holiness, and Wholeness

The Image, the Body, and Renewal

On the Mystery of Spirit and Salvation

The Regeneration of the Soul

[2] J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, 2nd ed. (London: Soncino Press, 1960), 8.
Amazon: Pentateuch and Haftorahs

[3] Stanton Jones and Richard Butman, Modern Psychotherapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 52.
Amazon: Modern Psychotherapies

[4] Brian Eck and Gary Moon, “An Exploration of the Therapeutic use of Spiritual Disciplines in Clinical Practice,” Journal of Psychology and Christianity 21, no. 3 (2002), 267-268.

[5] Jones and Butman, 42.

[6] Oliver McMahan, “A Living Stream: Spiritual Direction within the Pentecostal/Charismatic Tradition,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 30, no. 4 (2002), 340.

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