Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Can God get Upset with Us?

angry dad

By Dennis Pollock

In this brief study I want to look at the following questions: Is God ever upset with us? Can He be pleased with us? Does His attitude toward us ever change, and if so, does this depend upon our behavior? Or does our behavior even matter, once we have become His children? These seem like basic questions, and one might suppose that they should be easily answered by a glance at the Scriptures, yet there are many different opinions and responses to them.

Let’s look at the last question first: Does our behavior matter once we have been cleansed through the blood of Jesus and have become children of God? Some would suggest it does not. Their thinking is: “Since God’s kingdom operates by grace and not by works, whether we are good or bad today, whether we are grumpy or pleasant, whether we are sacrificially giving ourselves to bless others or selfishly grasping as many pleasures and possessions as we possibly can, God’s attitude toward us never changes. He never gets upset, indeed He never even notices our works, since when He looks down upon us, He only sees His Son Jesus. Whether we are beating our wives or volunteering at a homeless shelter, God only sees Jesus, Jesus, and nothing but Jesus. He is never any more pleased with us on one day than any other day, and He is never upset with us, regardless of how selfish, lustful, or hateful we are.”

The idea of “When God sees me, He sees Jesus” has gotten a lot of mileage in the church, and it is a tremendously comforting and encouraging thought, but is it really true? Well, the answer to that would be yes – and no. As regards our status, God indeed looks upon us and “sees” the righteousness of His Son Jesus. We are accepted as 100 percent children of God, fully cleansed, justified, and blameless in His sight. This is our “category,” this is God’s perspective on every born-again child who has come into His family through faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ. Jesus has become for us, to use Paul’s words, our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).

God is not Blind

But this by no means indicates that works do not matter to God, or that God is so blind that He can never see when we sleep with our neighbor’s wife, or steal from our company, or spend hours drooling over Internet pornography. God is very much aware of every single thing we do, every thought we think, and every attitude we hold. The Bible says: “All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

Do our works “matter” to God? They do not matter when it comes to us receiving Christ and being born again. A flagrant sinner can be saved just as quickly and just as easily as a mild, gentle little sinner. A drug-using, alcoholic, woman-beating, cursing, lying, brutal gang member can enter the kingdom of heaven just as easily as a little old lady who reads poetry, puts together packages of cookies for the poor every Christmas, and whose biggest sin is criticizing the weeds in her neighbor’s yard. When we receive Jesus by faith, His blood cleanses us from all sin, and this cleansing is just as effective for big sinners as it is for small ones.

Behavior Matters

But once we do become children of God, our behavior does indeed matter. In fact, nearly the entire New Testament shouts this out plainly and unmistakably. Over and over Jesus and the apostles exhort us to do certain things and avoid certain things. Do this; don’t do that! In the twelfth chapter of Romans Paul lists numerous responsibilities for those who name the name of Jesus:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality… (Romans 12:9-13).

For God to tell us to behave certain ways, to practice certain behaviors and avoid other ones, and then not be able to see whether we were in fact obeying Him would be ridiculous. He who sees and controls where the little sparrows fall to the earth and die, and knows all the hairs on our heads, surely knows and sees all that we do.

Discipline for God’s Children

One of the surest evidences that God clearly sees and notices what His children are doing is the concept of chastening or discipline. In Hebrews we read:

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? (Hebrews 12:7-9).

The concept of chastening demands that God 1) notices what His children are doing, 2) sometimes disapproves of their behavior, and 3) allows or creates negative consequences as an expression of His disapproval. His love is not in question here; in the same chapter we are told that “whom the Lord loves, He chastens (disciplines).”

I have sometimes heard pastors declare that “God is not mad at you.” They suppose that the idea of God being continually pleased with His children is an aspect of the grace of Jesus. We no longer have to earn God’s favor; Christ has done that for us. God is pleased with us every day, and could never be upset with us, no, not for a single second. This sounds about right, and sounds like a good, solid “grace” doctrine. The only problem with it is that the Scriptures directly contradict it. God can very much be upset with His children, and you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to see it, if your eyes are not blinded by a faulty perception of the nature of grace.

“I Know Your Works”

The greatest and most undeniable and irrefutable example of this is found in the second and third chapters of Revelation. Jesus addresses seven different churches of those days, and He gives both commendations and criticisms. These two chapters provide tremendous insight into the mind of Jesus towards His people and the assemblies of His people that we know as churches. If ever there were a perfect place to discover how Jesus feels toward His disciples, it would be here.

So what do we find? From these brief exhortations to His people in the seven churches, we discover that Jesus can surely be pleased with the behavior and attitudes of His people, and He can also be upset. To the church of Smyrna Jesus begins by saying: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)…” (Revelation 2:9). He goes on to warn them of coming persecution and encourages the believers: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” There is no word of condemnation; no rebuke, no warning of judgment from heaven upon them. Jesus wants these disciples to know that He knows what is going on, that they will face some tough times, and that there is a crown of life that awaits them.

In addressing the believers in Philadelphia, Jesus says:

I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name… Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. (Revelation 3:8, 10)

Here again Jesus seems to be pleased with these followers. There is none of this idea of: “I can’t see you or what you are doing – all I can see is my own righteousness.” No, Jesus is acutely aware of everything that is going on in their lives. He knows their works; He has set an open door of opportunity before them. And because they have persevered in their walk with Him, they will be kept from a terrible “hour of trial” which is coming. Having heard these words, the followers in the first church of Philadelphia must have been tremendously encouraged!

“Something Against You”

But not all of Jesus’ exhortations were so positive. In fact, some were pretty fearful. He tells the believers in Ephesus that He has “something against them.” They have left their first love, and if things don’t change, He will take away their lampstand, apparently removing the working of His Spirit among them. He sternly rebukes the church in Thyatira for their open sexual immorality and threatens those participating in it with death if they do not change their ways. He declares that “all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (Revelation 2:23). This hardly sounds like the popular notion that “When God sees me, He sees Jesus, and never notices my sins.” God has surely seen wickedness among those who profess Jesus Christ, and He doesn’t seem too happy about it.

The church of Laodicea isn’t practicing such blatant sin, but they are still given a stern rebuke. Jesus tells them:

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

The hyper-grace pastors, who feebly attempt to persuade us that since we are in the dispensation of grace, Jesus could never be upset with us, will never preach or teach on this verse. They couldn’t, of course, because these words totally undercut their entire doctrine. If words mean anything, when Jesus threatens to “spew believers out of his mouth” He surely must be upset, displeased, angry, grieved… Call it what you will, Jesus clearly knows what is going on here, and He is not at all happy about it.

Grieve Not the Holy Spirit

The apostle Paul tells believers “grieve not the Holy Spirit.” In these few words we learn 1) the Holy Spirit can be grieved by our actions, attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyles, and 2) we need to carry ourselves and so live that this is not the case, so that the Holy Spirit is not grieved with us, but He is happy with us, He is pleased.

For us to grieve God, or for Him to be “upset” with us does not mean that we cease being His children. A misbehaving son or daughter is still a son or daughter. Even on our worst days we are still loved, we are still children of God; we are still heirs with God and joint-heirs with Jesus. Our future is bright and our Father’s promises to provide for us and defend us are just as valid as ever. But we may be disciplined for our rebellious behavior, and more importantly, we may grieve the One who loves us more than anyone has ever loved us.

It may be comforting to some to think that God can never be upset with them, and that because of grace He is always pleased with them in every way and on every day. It takes some of the pressure off to believe that our behavior doesn’t matter at all – we go through life with the smile of God continually upon us. It may be comforting, but it isn’t quite correct. We can grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), we can insult the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 10:29), we can behave in such a way that God finds it necessary to discipline the one He loves (Hebrews 12:5-8).

But that’s OK. God’s grace and Christ’s justification cover our lives continually, and we can be sure that our Father’s plans for us are good ones, to give us “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Whether God is disciplining us or whispering encouraging words of love in our ears, we are still His children through faith in Jesus Christ. This is real grace – grace that springs from the heart of God, grace that forgives, grace that patiently endures, grace that disciplines, grace that corrects for the sake of holiness. And in the end – grace that provides us eternal life with our loving God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.



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