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Is Our Moral Behavior Stained by Our Human Motivation?

As I write this, we are in the middle of another presidential election cycle. It seems like there is another debate each week with the candidates doing their best to appeal to voters and gain their party’s nomination. It is interesting to me to see the different ways each candidate attempts to stand out among the pack. Even more interesting is the myriad of ways a candidate can alienate the electorate.

For the most part, candidates from the same political party will typically agree on most issues. When there are differences in policy, the differences are relatively minute and technical. It makes sense, then, that as candidates dropped out of the race, they eventually throw their endorsement to one of their former rivals. After all, their beliefs may not have been all that different to begin with.

Voters can have very strong opinions about which candidates they like, and often even stronger opinions about the candidates they don’t. How could candidates who are so similar in their policy proposals evoke such disparate reactions from voters of the same political party? Some candidates become beloved and build movements behind their candidacies while others fail to ever gain traction.

A candidate’s appeal comes down to perceptions of the candidate’s motives. Is a candidate genuine, or do their have ulterior, self-centered motives? Two candidates can say they will do the exact same thing as president, but if one is perceived as being genuine and the other is perceived as simply pandering, there is no contest who will win. In the end, presidential candidates, like everyone else, get judged on their character just as much as their political positions.

Voters will often consider a candidates’ life before running for office. Sure, candidates may have done great things once they became a politician, and they may say they want to do great things as president, but what about their life before they were in the political spotlight? What were the candidates like before anyone was looking? There seems to be an understanding that people are not “good” or “bad” based on their actions alone, but rather based on what motivated them to act well or poorly in the first place. If a candidate does something good, but only because they know their good deed will get them more votes, many voters will react negatively. However, if a good deed was done without any benefit to the candidate, voters feel safer trusting that candidate. Let’s not take advantage of the grace of our God. Instead, let us do good and try to please him as a response to the way he has treated us. - Jimmy Wallace Click To Tweet

This phenomenon highlights one of the unique characteristics of Christianity. Christianity, alone among the world religions, offers a grace-based path to reunification with God. Christianity teaches that it is by the grace of God that he forgives us of our transgressions and welcomes us into a relationship with him. In contrast, all other major religions teach that good works are necessary to make up for past failures.

Under these systems, someone may be “doing good” only to get something they want and not out of a simple response to the transformational power of God. This is not to say that all people under these systems act selfishly (of course not), but it creates an environment in which good works can be a self-centered endeavor.

In contrast, Christianity offers a system which can produce genuine motives in Christ followers because good works are not required by God. Christianity teaches that while God wants us to respond as transformed believers, our responses do not earn us our salvation. As a result, each believer responds genuinely out of a desire to please God, help others, or simply from the perspective of a renewed heart and desire to do what is right.

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Let’s not take advantage of the grace of our God. Instead, let us do good and try to please him as a response to the way he has treated us. Let’s do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

Detective Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner’s son) is a Police Investigator in Los Angeles County, a Christian Case Maker, host of the Incarnate Investigation Podcast and Incarnate Investigation Video Series (featured at ColdCaseChristianity.com).

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Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner's son) is a detective in Los Angeles County. He holds a BA in Psychology (from UCLA) and is currently completing his MA in Theology - Applied Apologetics (from Colorado Christian University).

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