May we never make excuses for our actions based upon good motives and pure intentions. May we examine the morality of our actions, or lack thereof, and may we sincerely care about the impact our behaviors have on others. And may we never discount and disregard another’s perceptions because we are right in our own eyes. Instead, let us humble ourselves before the holy law of the Lord, and let us never say “there is no sin in us” (1 John 1:8,10).
But one of the rejoinders we will hear, and have already begun to hear, in the face of egregious sin is downplaying one’s culpability. There are many ways the accused try and lessen the impact of what has taken place. And if we’re willing to be self-reflective, we make the same kind of arguments all the time. That is, we try and focus on aspects surrounding our sin instead of the sin itself. We speak of our motives or our intentions, and we attempt to discard the impact our actions have on others.
The Scriptures do not allow us to be so dismissive. Sin is sin. Its heinousness is only made more severe by our underlying motivations or intentions—not less so because “we meant well” or some other such reasons offered.
No, biblically speaking, we may analyze every action on the basis of at least 5 ethical considerations. They are: motive, intention, the action itself, the impact it has on others, and people’s perception of the given action.
We always do what we want to do, and we have a motivation behind why we do what we do. It can be a sinful motive or a selfless/holy motive. A sinful action is made more sinful by sinful motives. Take for instance the internal motive of: “I lied to protect my own neck, and I don’t care about the harm it may cause.” Very seldom would we admit something so baldly, and yet, we can easily see how such sinful motives (self-preservation) make the sin itself (lying) more odious. Motivation is only ever an aggravator of sin, never a mitigator, but we often attempt to use it as the latter. “My motives were pure, therefore my actions must be pure, too”—sadly, this is not so. Pure motives cannot rehabilitate violations of God’s law.
We can be motivated by sin while intending a good outcome. I can bring my wife flowers (a good act), aimed at genuinely blessing her (a good intention toward her) but with the self-serving purpose of getting her off of my back for something I refuse to repent of (wicked motive)—or any combination thereof. I can have a good motive to do a sinful act because I believe the ends justify the means. For example, I can tell a “little white lie” to prevent someone’s harm when asked “does this outfit look good?” And yet we can never use sinful means to accomplish good ends. In other words, good intentions do not baptize bad behavior.