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“. . . so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.”  Colossians 1:10

We should not be afraid of this clear biblical teaching.  It does not counteract the gospel in our lives; it is the sweet fruit of the gospel in our lives.

The good news of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from all our works, is thrilling.  The message of forgiveness, acceptance, adoption, all by radical divine grace — I never get tired of hearing it and preaching it.  It is oxygen to me.  Every day.  I hope it means that to you too.

But this grace is also a power that transforms.  It both reassures us and changes us.  Both/and.  How else can we account for the New Testament?

“Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”  Ephesians 5:10

“We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.”  1 Thessalonians 4:1

“Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”  1 John 3:22

This is not legalism.  The One whose mercy flows freely to the undeserving is not a machine.  He is not a mechanical Grace Dispenser.  He is a person.  His smile is not an all-approving grin.  He has moral sensitivities.  We please him, and we displease him, moment by moment.  Within the gospel framework of his grace, inside the relationship of his fatherly acceptance, he is fully capable of confronting us.  Not rejecting us, not casting us off, but correcting us.  Because he’s a good Father.

I’ll take it further.  The One who is for us (Romans 8:31) can also bluntly say, “I have something against you” (Revelation 2:4, 14, 20).  The One who will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) is also quite capable of saying to us, “We need to have a serious talk.  It’s time for you to make some changes.  If you will listen and follow, I will continue to use you.  If you turn away, I will set you aside.”  All he wants to take from us is “what is dishonorable” (2 Timothy 2:21) anyway – the things in ourselves we can’t approve of either.  What’s so bad about that?

But here is what I’m wondering.  Is the only message we’ll hear and receive the word of justification and acceptance and affirmation?  What if our Savior wants to get up in our faces about things in us that displease him?  Will we dismiss that message as legalism?  We can turn it into legalism.  If we respond to the rebukes of Scripture as occasions for self-invented virtue, discounting the finished work of Christ on the cross, then it is legalism.  But that is not what the Bible is saying.  The Bible is alerting us to the heart of our Father, a heart that is wounded by our sins and follies, a heart that is pleased with our humility and obedience.  He feels the one, he feels the other.  This is part of the New Covenant message to God’s blood-bought people.  Will we receive it?

I remember my dad mentioning a close friend of his who was in spiritual trouble.  My dad said something like, “I wonder if he has so offended the Lord that the Lord has turned his face away.”  Only God knows what was really going on in that man’s experience.  But my dad’s intuition may have been right.  Our Judge who justifies us is also our Father who disciplines us (Hebrews 12:3-11).

If your theology includes the message of justification by faith alone, I hope you never back off from that.  I hope you keep that message central.  But I also hope your theology includes another message – the grace of obedience fully pleasing to the Father.

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16 thoughts on “Fully pleasing to him”

  1. David Kyle Foster says:

    Great thoughts.

  2. d camp says:

    Finally! Biblical teaching that reminds me of other half of Luther’s great statement: “Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.”

  3. d camp says:

    Let me also recommend a recent book by Mark Jones: Antinomianism.

    Great historical review as well as insights into important biblical distinctions which are not being made in the current literature regarding justification. Just an example from a recent review:

    “The distinction Jones makes between the beneficent love of God and the complacent love of God is a vital distinction. The former means basically how God sees us in Christ in justification. The latter is how God sees sanctification progressing in us. The former admits of no degrees, but the latter does. The flip side of the coin applies as to how God sees our sin. God can be displeased with our sin, not as a judge, but as a Father. The distinction Jones makes here, which is based on the Reformed fathers and, more importantly, Scripture, helps us to make sense of the biblical data regarding these things.” (Lane Keister – Aquila Report)

  4. John Dunn says:

    Excellent article! But not one that the Law/Gospel crowd is likely to embrace.

    But the question remains, do we tie our Christian ethic to a shadowy, obsolete Old Covenant standard, namely Mosaic Law/killing letter/written code? And then attempt to view all the imperatives of the New Testament as an impossible standard of “law”?

    Or do we possess a living ethic that is grafted to the very One who incarnated, fulfilled, and infinitely superseded that typological standard of Righteousness in Himself? And who now places His Spirit within our hearts? The Law of the Spirit of Life who is the fulfillment of the Law in us, who pours out God’s love in us and through us.

    To those who embrace the first answer, all of Christ’s commands are burdensome and impossible.

    But to those who embrace the second, the new life of the Spirit is a reality, and they declare that Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light.

    2 Peter 1:3 – His **divine power** has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.

    Ephesians 3:16 – that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened **with power through his Spirit** in your inner being.

    Ephesians 1:19-20 – and what is the **immeasurable greatness of his power** toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.

  5. d camp says:

    Another thing that Jones reminds us of, which is consistent with this article, is that the believer is no longer “totally depraved.” This is critical in realizing the reality that unlike our regeneration, which is the sovereign work of the Spirit totally apart from the human will, the Spirit now works in and through the active will of the believer, enabling him/her to obey. What Ray is saying, I believe, is that the Spirit does not obey for us, but is the source and enabling of our willing obedience which is pleasing to God. The is one of the essential differences between biblical justification and biblical sanctification.

    Obedience to the Word of God, what Jesus and His Apostles gave us by why of NT authority as well as the NC understanding of the Old Testament: What could only be fleshly self-justifying behavior for the non-believer is now pleasing to God.

  6. Chris says:

    Thank you! Yes and amen to this post!

    Today’s Adam4d comic is quite apt: http://adam4d.com/srsly/

  7. Matthew says:

    Great post, and a much needed reminder!

  8. isaiah543 says:

    We of the Law/Gospel crowd would include a couple other verses in our Bible study on pleasing God. Hebrews 11:6 “Without faith it is impossible to please God” and Luke 3:22 where the Father says to Jesus at his baptism, “You are My beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” God always says this to me *in Christ* even when my behavior is displeasing to Him. Simul justus et peccator. Ray Ortlund writes ” If we respond to the rebukes of Scripture as occasions for self-invented virtue, discounting the finished work of Christ on the cross, then it is legalism.” We believe that self-invented virtue is so omnipresent, that we never tire of placing the emphasis on justification over sanctification, even though we do not deny the latter. We don’t deny sanctification, we just don’t talk about it much because it is so underwhelming. We believe that sanctification is better promoted by exulting in justification. And I cannot be charitable toward the intuition of Ray Ortlund’s father that maybe his friend had “so offended the Lord that the Lord has turned his face away.” The Gospel says that because the Father turned his face away from the Son for three hours on the cross, He will never again turn his face away from all those who are in Christ. Sure the Father disciplines his children. I discipline my children. But I would never turn my face away from them.

  9. d camp says:

    But isn’t Ortland’s point that a biblical focus on sanctification is the way that God has ordained that we focus on, revel, demonstrate, and joy in our justification? What would we think about someone who always raved about their wonderful cake recipe but always left it in the oven?

    Look at the way Paul constructed the pastoral epistles: the first few chapter primarily addresses our position in Christ, what He has done for us (the indicatives), while the 2nd half typically addresses the ‘living out’ or visible/experiential ramifications (the imperatives). Sanctification will be severely truncated if it is merely reflecting on our justification. There is great spiritual benefit in reflecting on our justification, but our sanctification is also the source of great joy. It is so because it was so for Jesus, who is the guide for our sanctification (John 15:9-11, Heb 12:1,2). Sanctification is not legal, it is Christological — living out the same life with and for Jesus that Jesus lived with and for His Father.

    Furthermore, the world doesn’t see our justification. Our actions — the result of the ongoing process of sanctification, the good works we were ordained to walk in (Eph 2:10) — are pleasing to God not only for what it says about our love for Him and the effect they are having in conforming us to the image of Christ, but the glory that the Father receives from the watching world. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, ESV) As someone has remarked in the past, “God may not ‘need’ our good works, but our neighbor sure does.”

  10. george canady says:

    Thank you Ray for writing about this subject. It encourages me to know that the fear of my fathers full loving watchful care includes punishment(permanent in time)and discipline (temporary in time) to keep me saved for all time.

  11. Kathryn says:

    “The good news of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from all our works, is thrilling. The message of forgiveness, acceptance, adoption, all by radical divine grace — I never get tired of hearing it and preaching it. It is oxygen to me. Every day. I hope it means that to you too.”

    Please plead for me that it will.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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