What Drives Us? Pragmatism?

Time for another installment of our What Drives Us series looking at why we do, think and feel the way we do. The core idea is this: we either make our decisions based on God’s promises in the Gospel, or on something else.

We’ve looked at Preference, Perfection, perhaps nothing (apathy), and Protection.

Now it’s time to get down to business with Pragmatism, the idea that as long as something works, it’s good. The end justifies the means.

Does Pragmatism drive you?

Let’s look at how this plays out in life.

Situation … response:

  • When all is well in my lifeI must be doing things right, since everything’s working out well.
  • When trials enter my lifeI will do whatever it takes to get the circumstances back to normal.
  • When I am criticized, Ithink that I can do better if given more time or another set of resources.
  • My relationship with Godis a way for me to find significance.
  • Motivation: Desire to be great, be known.
  • When I sinI remind myself that failure is inevitable since I attempt risky things for God. (For me sins are actions that fail to bring about the desired results.)
  • I trust in the best methods known today, and will shift to new methods if they benefit me.
  • My greatest strengths/weaknesses are … my strength is I have a simple perspective on life; my weakness is that when things don’t go well I dwell on it.
  • My identity is found inbeing effective, efficient and known.

Perhaps as you read this list not much seemed out of place. What’s the trouble with being a pragmatist? I mean, don’t we all want life to “work out” the way we dreamed?

In part, pragmatism is good, as is true with all the motivations explored so far. In life, we should be pragmatists about many things, like when shopping for cereal (which box is the most healthy, for the best price?), and exercise (just do it!).

Yet, as a philosophy-of-life, pragmatism simply does not work. It’s self-defeating, because no one can life solely on principles, even one so simple and streamlined as “do whatever works.” Unless one is convinced their pragmatic ways are incomplete, one will not see the need to change. We tend to see the need to change during times of trouble. An insurmountable obstacle in life comes along and one realizes he lacks the resources to overcome it.

Pragmatism doesn’t help the person who is at the end of themselves. And that’s a good thing.

What’s the antidote for our rampant pragmatism?

First, repent. The pragmatist does not worship God; he uses Him.

In Romans 1:22, Paul speaks of human pride in these terms: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Like people a couple thousand years ago, we too suppress the fact that God is the source of all that we have. We see ourselves as far more important than we are. We act as though all of life rises and sets upon our own shadow. (This is the essence of our sin.) Therefore, we are constantly tempted to use God to suit our own selfish ends.

Know that there is no self-transformation by following certain formulas or procedures. We must encounter God personally and there is no way to manufacture that. Jesus is God come to us as a Person, and as a person our relationship with Him must be cultivated in real life. We cannot twist God’s arm and bend Him to do what we want. Begin, as always, with repentance. God, I am sorry for using You …

Then become a theologian. As you encounter Scripture, think of putting the WHOs before the DOs. (That is, Who God is takes center stage, and what we are to do in response, is just that, a response to who God is and all He has done for us.) Paul exhorts us this way:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” (Colossians 3:12)

Those attributes don’t sound very “pragmatic.” What will compassion, kindness, and patience “get” you? How will humility make you known and significant, building you a great platform? In God’s Kingdom, the why behind the what and how is significant. The ends do not justify the means. Rather, the means justify the end. Each of these character qualities are borrowed from God, who embodied them perfectly and wholly in Jesus. They are little bits of the “WHO,” though they are set forth in action terms. Our DOs are to live out who God is, as He changes us. Become a theologian who embodies God’s character. 

The grace of Jesus is the end of pragmatism in attempting to live for God. Instead, He lives in us as we live with Him. Jesus changes everything about us, and uses all the necessary means toward His ends. It’s a beautiful thing. Will you join me in giving up our pragmatic ways today?


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