Captivation: Fuel for the Long Road to Holiness

The Mechanics of the Heart


Men, why do you need hearts that are captivated by the glory of Christ. A short answer is because love empowers. As every parent knows, love is a renewable resource. Unlike petroleum or coal, love is not depleted as it is used. Even idolatrous love often reveals this. A man who lives for success does not find himself wanting less of success the more he pursues it. The contrary is true. The more he obsesses regarding success, the more he desires it. In this way, love is self-propagating. It fulfills the words of Jesus, ‘For to one who has, more will be given’ (Matt. 13:12).

The Uphill Climb to Holiness

Now there is nothing more vital for discipleship than strength. Christianity is not a therapeutic religion whereby men and women are called to release the inner spirit. Christianity is not a secular path to self-fulfillment. Christianity requires discipleship, which is to say discipline. There are appetites to be resisted, assignments to be performed, sin to be mortified, precepts to be obeyed, and promises to be believed. We do well to ponder Thomas Watson’s statement, ‘Though our salvation with regard to Christ is a purchase with regard to us it is a conquest.’ Recognizing this, every Christian ought to ask the question, ‘Where will I get the strength to persevere through all of these difficulties?’

The quick answer is the Holy Spirit. However, this answer needs to be broken down in order to be useful. One of the chief things the Holy Spirit does – in fact the chief thing – is to enable believers to search the unsearchable riches of Christ. The Spirit does this (among other reasons) in order to harness the motivational power of love. Although there are other motives for Christian obedience such as duty, profit, and fear, none of them produce the enduring power of captivation. These other motives are like simple machines – pulleys, levers, and incline planes. They provide leverage in critical moments of temptation or struggle, but are limited in what they can accomplish. Love as a motivational power is of a whole different order. Love is to fear what a hydraulic lift is to a lever.  Once a man is captivated by the glory of Christ he will sacrifice anything, endure anything, do anything to be near Christ, know Christ, and please Christ. He will declare, ‘Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you’ (Ps. 74:25-6).

This is why captivation is of such vital significance to discipleship. The difficulty of traveling to Mars is in part the difficulty of finding a sufficient source of fuel to power a space shuttle the entire way of the journey, there and back. The Christian life is faced with a similar challenge. Where will Christians find the strength to press through combat fatigue and relentlessly advance, decade upon decade, toward the center holiness? The answer is love. A heart held captive by a vision of Jesus is the only heart that will ‘go from strength to strength’ through the Valley of Baca, up the mountainside, and on to the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem (Ps. 84).

Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection

  1. What makes the road of discipleship so challenging to follow? Have the challenges always been the same or are there new challenges in the 21st century?

  2. Why are fear and duty inadequate sources of motivation for the Christian life? What does love offer that fear and duty cannot supply?

  3. If our love for Christ is a source of fuel that empowers obedience, what can we do to make sure that our tank is full and that we are not surviving on fumes?

  4. Talk through the second stanza of ‘When I Survey’. Try to put the lines in your own words.