Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Pleasing God

Is it even possible?

Reaching out to God

by Dennis Pollock

The idea of pleasing God gets mixed reviews among professing Christians. Some suggest that we can never please God – we're all just sinners saved by grace and our every thought, deed, and attitude are stained and corrupted by sin. Christ in us is pleasing to God, but nothing we can ever do or say will ever please our holy Creator. Some run the other direction and tell us that no sin we ever commit, no act of foolishness, no amount of carnality on our part will ever displease God, since He runs His church on a purely grace basis. Still others insist that we had better learn to please God in every way or we will never make it to heaven. One small slipup and bam, the hammer of divine wrath comes crashing down on our heads. They give us the impression that we are all just one tiny mistake away from losing all that Christ died to give us.

As is often the case with extremes, the truth is somewhere in the middle. And as is always the case, the best means of finding the truth is to open your Bible. As we research this business of pleasing our Creator, we quickly discover that pleasing God is expected of believers and is not a futile waste of our time and energy. It certainly meant a lot to the apostle Paul, who wrote:

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. …  (2 Corinthians 5:9)

Paul desired not just to be pleasing, but to be well-pleasing to God. Obviously he considered this within the realm of possibility. It would be foolish to make an impossibility your aim in life. Imagine asking a young man about his primary goal in life. He tells you that his great desire, the overwhelming purpose for which he intends to give his time, energy, and years, is to develop the skill to fly through the air unaided, just like Superman does. We might laugh, thinking he was kidding us, but if in fact we discovered that he was totally serious, we would think him most foolish indeed. People generally aim at goals they consider attainable, and clearly the apostle Paul felt that pleasing God was a realistic and worthwhile goal. And as it was for Paul so it is for us today. It is no waste of your time to seek to please God. To turn from a selfish life lived for the satisfaction of the whims and lusts of your flesh, to a life focused upon God's good pleasure is surely the noblest and greatest transformations ever found in the lives of men and women.

The First Step

But what does it take to please God? Shall we sell our possessions, give the money to the poor, and go and live in a cave in the mountains, chanting hymns and lighting candles? Will God be pleased with us offering to go to the most disagreeable situation imaginable, and live in terrible hardship and deprivation to testify to His name? If we force ourselves to do the very thing we hate the most, will that gain the favor of the Almighty? No, the way to bring pleasure to the heart of God has everything to do with faith, not with any particular acts of hardship or self-sacrifice. In Hebrews we read: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

The Work of God: To Believe in Jesus

It is faith in God and in His Son Jesus Christ that is the means and the doorway by which we enter into a life pleasing to God. The Scriptures go so far as to tell us that without faith it is impossible to please Him. All the celebrities who put on benefit concerts, adopt African children, and give tens of thousands of dollars to fashionable, environmental causes will never please God if their works do not spring out of a heart filled with faith in Jesus Christ. And all the regular folks who, in smaller ways, try to live their lives as "good" men and women are in the same situation. Above everything else, it is faith that warms God's heart and brings His divine blessings. Faith in God, faith in His Son Jesus Christ, faith in His word, faith in His promises, faith in His goodness, faith in His providence, faith in His love, faith in His ability to make all things work for our good… The three greatest things that provoke the smile of God over your life are faith, faith, and faith.

When the Jews asked Jesus what they could do to perform the works of God, Jesus told them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29). Men have always looked for a way to the Father's heart, a means by which we can find full acceptance with our holy God, a set of rules, a list of principles, an enumeration of guidelines that will provide the perfect formula by which we may please God and experience Him fully. Jesus tells us that it is no set of rules or list of principles but a living faith in the living God and in Jesus His Son that opens the door to God's heart. And it is a lack of faith that locks the door shut beyond any hope of opening: "If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). To be born again we must receive Christ by faith: "But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12).

What about Afterwards?

This is clearly the case for everyone that is not yet saved. There is no good work you can do that will win God's favor. You must receive Jesus Christ by faith, and then begin to enjoy a life of grace, which is unmerited favor. But what then? Once we are redeemed, forgiven, and justified, does our obedience or disobedience mean anything? Since we are all under grace, is the Christian who constantly screams at his wife, berating her for every little mistake, any less pleasing to God than his neighbor who is gentle and loving toward his wife, continually affirming her and telling her how precious she is to him? Is the believer who frequently spends his entire nights watching dirty movies just as pleasing in God's eyes as the Christian who spends his evenings praying, helping his children with their homework, and volunteering at the food pantry?

drunkThere are times when we hear teachings that push things nearly this far. The reasoning behind believing that none of us pleases God any more than anyone else is very grace-oriented, but I believe it is not scriptural. Since salvation is by grace through faith, and has nothing to do with works, some extrapolate this to mean that works are entirely irrelevant in the Christian life. Once born again, regardless of our lifestyle, or level of spirituality or carnality, we are all equally pleasing to God. We no more walk in the favor of God on our best day than we do on our worst. The Christian who has temporarily backslidden, and is spending his nights getting drunk and sleeping with prostitutes is as equally pleasing to God as the believer who is red-hot for Jesus, and is constantly sharing the gospel, giving away huge chunks of his income to charitable causes, and volunteering to help with any and every need of his church. In most people's eyes this would be utter nonsense, but for some misguided folks, this is merely an extension of the gospel of grace – which tells us that our salvation is of faith and has nothing to do with our works. In such people's eyes, works are so entirely meaningless and irrelevant that it is an offense to the grace of God to suggest that God might become even a little displeased when His children walk in disobedience.

Positional vs. Personal

Such a belief does not discriminate between positional justification and personal relationship. In a positional sense we are every bit as much justified on our worst day as we are on our best. We do not stop being a child of God when we slip and fall. A man's children will always remain his children regardless of their behavior. On their best days, on their worst days, when they're furious with their father, when they tell him what a great dad he is, when they're dirty and smelly, or when they are clean and fresh, they remain and always will be his children. The parental relationship was fixed from the moment of the child's birth. When we were born into the family of God and sealed with the Holy Spirit, we entered into a relationship with God that does not diminish when we get grumpy and is not enhanced when we are on our best behavior.

On the other hand the personal relationship can alter greatly. There are usually times when children infuriate their fathers and Dad is not ashamed to let them know he is upset. There will be times when cold silence is far more prominent than warm fellowship. The dad never stops being a dad, and hopefully never stops loving his children, but any father will tell you that there are times when his kids absolutely drive him crazy.

So it is with our Heavenly Father. Since we live under grace, is it even possible to offend and displease our Heavenly Father? It most certainly is possible. Paul warns us "grieve not the Holy Spirit." If we had no other verses but this, this one exhortation should be enough to tell us that Christians can do things, say things, or possess attitudes that displease God. If someone were to tell me that never once in their life have they grieved the Holy Spirit, I would be extremely dubious and question whether they knew the Holy Spirit at all.

"I Know Your Works"

In truth the Bible is filled with verses that speak of how we can please or displease the Lord. And our works very definitely have something to do with this. In Revelation two and three, Jesus gives words of commendation and words of criticisms to seven churches. And these compliments and rebukes clearly have something to do with their works. In fact the first thing He says to each of the churches after identifying Himself is: "I know your works." He says to the church in Sardis, "I have not found your works perfect before God" (Revelation 3:2). He says to the church at Laodicea, "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot…" (Revelation 3:15). He goes on to say that if they do not change He will vomit them out of His mouth. Clearly the Lord Jesus is not especially pleased.

Verses which demonstrate clearly that God can be particularly pleased with His children in the works that they do include:

  1. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. (Philippians 4:18).
  2. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. (Colossians 3:20).
  3. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. (1 John 3:22)
  4. Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us, how you ought to walk and to please God. (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

At this point some of you may be a little confused. You may be thinking, "If our walk with Christ is a walk of grace, then why should our works play any role whatsoever?" The answer is that when grace is truly grace, and when our abiding relationship with Jesus is the real deal, good works will spring forth from our lives. These works are different from the works of non-believers; they are faith-based works. Just as a thermometer measures a man's temperature, so these works measure and manifest our walk with Christ. Where God sees these works pouring forth from our relationship with Him and His Son, He is well-pleased. They are, to use Biblical language, a sweet-smelling aroma rising up before Him. Let us determine, with Paul, to make it our aim to be well-pleasing unto Him.

For a full listing of all devos (written and audio) go to our Devos Catalog Page.


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