Today’s reading was in the book of Judges:
18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. (Judges 2:18-19)
I think what we see here is the difference between mature and immature faith, which has a lot to do with intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The Israelites demonstrated immature faith here in that they were only obedient when a judge was watching over them. The fear of punishment was what kept them from sin. And when the judge died, they returned to their old ways. Punishment for sin, and rewards for obedience are the basic tools that we use with children. We tell them to do their homework, “or else…” and dire threats of punishment/withholding of technology ensue. What we hope is that at some point, the child will do their homework and read books not because they have to, or because they fear punishment if they do not, but because they realize the inherent value of study and reading. At this point their motivation has become intrinsic rather than extrinsic.
I do think that we see some development through the Scriptures on this question. In the early days (the Pentateuch etc.) there was a clear extrinsic feel. Deuteronomy 28 is a chapter that dictates the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience. But I would hope that as we come into the New Testament that the obedience becomes more intrinsic. We love and obey God not because we want blessing or fear punishment, but simply because it is the right and fitting thing to do. We are, of course, enormously assisted by the intrinsic presence of the Holy Spirit, moving in us to obey and love our Heavenly Father.
I’m sure, like any parent, our Father is pleased when we obey not because we are being watched or because we fear punishment, but because we trust that what he wants for us is good, and that we can trust him when he says no. We trust that when God forbids something it is because he knows it will harm us, or because he has something better for us.
For my part, I would rather my relationship with God be characterized by loving trust, rather than fear.