If you, like me, go a little crazy sometimes with wondering if God is pleased with you, may I share some things I’ve been pondering this week?
It is the most natural thing in the world for a believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit to want to please God. It would indicate a serious problem if this desire were not present to some degree in the heart of a believer. BUT I’m pretty sure it is not God’s intention that we be obsessed and doubtful as to whether or not this, that and the other thing is just exactly what He would have us be doing at any given moment. It is not His desire for us to be continuously anxious about how well we’re doing? Are we praying enough, giving enough, doing enough of the right things… Are we pleasing to Him or is He just a bit exasperated with us and well, just putting up with us and wishing we were doing better…
This is not faith. This kind of thinking casts God in a bad light, as if He were a begrudging Father, exacting and hard-to-please. So it’s a kind of thinking I want to be rid of! It is not as ‘spiritual’ as it may sound on the surface, because it is not based in faith or in truth. The fact is mankind can’t and doesn’t please God apart from His intervention. For this we have Jesus. He is very pleased with His Son.
We were discussing Jesus’ baptism in Bible Study this week. Why was He baptized if He was sinless? There are various conjectures but the primary reason we have to go by is of Jesus’ own insistence in the face of John the Baptist’s reluctance: "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Mt.3:15 ESV Jesus never failed to please the Father. In every circumstance He knew and did the Father’s will. And God was pleased with Him and said so on more than one occasion: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Mt.3:17
Now the application that is commonly given at this point is that God said this of His Son before He had even ‘done anything’ (as though living a sinless life for the thirty years up to this point were nothing!) and since we too are God’s children, this is naturally true of us regardless of what we’ve done or left undone. And quickly the attention is diverted from Jesus as God’s perfect spotless Lamb to assuring ourselves that God is saying this to us despite our spotty histories, because we too are His children. It makes us feel very special and fills up that craving to know we are pleasing, at least for a split second…But if you’re like me, one affirmation is never quite enough. One more is always nice. Where does it end? Maybe we’ve missed the primary point being made in this passage? Maybe it’s not about us.
In this historical moment in history Jesus is being presented to the world as ‘The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ Jn.1:29 It is crucial that the lamb offered for a sin offering be spotless. This, in my opinion, is the significance of God’s affirming voice from heaven. This is the Lamb of God who has come to die in our place. This statement from heaven is not about us. But that’s a good thing. We are not always pleasing, anymore than a two year old having a temper tantrum is especially pleasing at that moment to his parents. We are not naturally good, or sweet, or loveable. But God provided the Lamb and that has made all the difference.
We are no longer dependent on our own virtues or law-keeping or dutiful sacrifices to gain favor with God. We don’t have to be obsessed with ‘am I pleasing’. God, knowing our inability to please Him provided the Lamb. And we can be glad Jesus was baptized as a part of ‘fulfilling all righteousness’ because we never could do this on our own. Instead, what the law was powerless to do, God did, by sending Jesus as a sin offering and so he condemned sin in the flesh ‘in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Rom.8:4
Jesus’ baptism was a part of fulfilling the righteous requirements of God’s law on our behalf. This is the wonder of this moment. We don’t need to try to get the passage to say that God is pleased with us. God is pleased with His Son and it is our response to His Son that determines whether He is pleased with us.
[As a side note, it is a fact sometimes overlooked that though God loves everyone in the whole wide world, He is not pleased with everyone. Most have rejected the sin offering provided in Jesus. God is not pleased. Apart from faith it is not possible to please God. Unless one in faith lays his hand, so to speak, on the head of the Lamb and claims His blood as having been shed on his behalf, sin will still separate him/her from God and the wrath of God will abide on him instead. But I digress…}
So, what then is the ‘take away’ cure for my obsessive desire to ‘be pleasing’? Better to look on the Son and revel in God’s words about Him and thank God for this perfect sacrifice on my bumbling behalf. In Him I am complete despite my weaknesses and failings, my inherent inadequacies and even my floundering doubts. By faith in the Son I can walk in confidence that I am loved without doing anything and any ‘pleasing’ that follows will be on account of the life of the Son lived through me by His Spirit.
Faith is evidenced not in struggling to ‘be pleasing’ but in rejoicing to have been adopted, ‘accepted in the Beloved, holy and perfect in God’s eyes because of Christ. He sees the end from the beginning and those He’s justified are as good as glorified in the eternal scheme of things! (See Rom.8:30). It’s hard to imagine, but isn’t that what faith is for?
But practically speaking, surely there are specific things that please God. I did a quick concordance look-up and these are things that popped out at me:
What pleases God?
His Son pleases Him.
The glad doing of His will pleases Him.
Faith pleases Him.
A contrite heart pleases Him.
Seeking Him, fearing Him, praising Him, thanking Him, making much of Him---all these things please Him. I didn’t find any grounds for a petulant insistence on asking ‘Am I pleasing’. It’s the wrong question. Rejoicing in the pleasing Son might make a better focus!
A few other considerations have been helpful to me in re-framing my mindset.
- God is the one who leads me in ways that please Him, who works in me to make me willing and able to accomplish His pleasure. Phil 2:13 The pressure is off. I am dependent on the Spirit to lead me in ways that are pleasing to Him--to direct me into all His perfect will.
- I cannot please God by any effort of my own apart from that which His Spirit accomplishes in and through me. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Jn.15
- Without faith, active dependence on Him, it is not possible to please Him. Doubt is no virtue here. Heb.11:6
- Though sin does not please Him--He hates it--a contrite heart does. An acknowledgment of my sin, including my doubts, pleases Him. Ps.51
- The best gift I can offer is my grateful praise for who He is and what He’s done on my behalf! Ps.69:30 I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. 31 This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.
- Generosity pleases Him, perhaps because it shows I am truly trusting in Him to supply all I need and am aware how generous He has been with me! He's pleased to give us the Kingdom! Why do we sweat the small stuff--food, clothes, cares of this world...Luke 12:22
And those are my scattered ponderings of the week. This area is somewhat of a stronghold in my life so I welcome your prayers for me as I continue to take these truths to heart in a way that liberates me to live as God has intended for His children.
I’d also welcome your feedback in the Comments below. Is this an area where you have struggled. What has been of help to you?
Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen. Heb.13:20,21
“…but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Ps.147:11
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Col.1:9-12