Motive and Conduct

While we are discussing the matter of conduct, it is important that we consider the fact that right action can only follow right understanding. If our ultimate intention is set to love God supremely (keeping in mind the full implications of the word love), then this is essentially all that we need to think about. We do not need to be under constant pressure to monitor our conduct each moment of the day. If you are making certain subordinate choices or everyday simple choices which to the best of your knowledge are the right means to fulfill your ultimate choice in life, and you are mistaken, this is by no means sin. The Bible states, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). God is saying that we are responsible for what we know—nothing more and nothing less.

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29

Our judicial system takes this principle into consideration when defendants are charged with a crime. If an individual has ignorantly or mistakenly conducted himself in the wrong manner, he ofttimes will be exonerated in a court of law. This procedure, however, cannot be repeated, so coupled to the forgiveness is an increase in knowledge as to the proper course of action in the future. Jesus, although He forgave the adulterous woman, commanded her to go her way and “sin no more.”

Little children also assume that their motives are the important consideration when they are accused of some type of wrongdoing. Many times a desperate little cry of “I didn’t mean to” is a most effective deterrent to punishment.

For those accused of premeditated crime, however, there must be no recourse. For while it is safe to pardon one who erred unintentionally, it is a menace to society when one guilty of intentional harm is released. The motives and intentions are the determining factor.

How often our own hearts have been touched by the sophisticated, flimsy gifts of children on special occasions. When a guest chuckles at the gift, we reply with a touch of indigna- tion, “It’s the thought (intention) that counts!” We don’t feel slighted by the fact that gift wasn’t expensive. There was no obligation for the child to give more because it was beyond his means. It is conversely true that when someone does have the means of elegant expression and a lackluster gift is given, it is the thought that counts, this time in a negative sense.

To further illustrate the relationship of motive and con- duct, I’ll let you in on one of the less clever moments in my life:

On the far end of the counter in our kitchen there was a glass container normally filled with small, plastic packets of vitamins. Often after an evening meal or snack I transferred a pack of vitamins from the jar to my body where I assumed they did more good.


Later one evening after completing this healthy ritual, I began to experience a burning sensation in my arms and legs that slowly crept over my entire body. Although at first I didn’t give it much thought, the sensation increased so markedly that I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. After looking at my face, which had become blood red, I became perceptibly alarmed. Moving downstairs I revealed the condition to my mother who asked if I had taken any medication recently. After commenting that I didn’t remember taking anything other than vitamins from the kitchen jar, she began to laugh. I didn’t know whether to feel insulted or encouraged! Finally she was able to explain what was so humorous. As it turned out I had taken my sister’s weight-reduction pills designed to flush out the capillaries. Some people react quite strongly and, as I had no need or intention to lose weight, I turned out to be one of those people.

Gordon Olson, a man who many consider to be one the great theologians of our day, often gives the account of his young grandson, who, in a spontaneous act of affection, crawled up into his lap and accidentally knocked the glasses off his face. Unfortunately, they wound up on the floor in pieces.

Now, the common denominator in both of these cases is that the intention or motive was right, while the conduct was deficient due to a lack of knowledge or understanding.