The Gospel Coalition

Rick Thomas writes an insightful piece entitled "The Danger of Trying to Please God." The counselor in this story sounds way too much like the way many of us preachers preach:


Sandra has struggled all her life with people pleasing. She said she could not remember a time when she was free from thinking about what others thought about her. The way she dresses, the car she drives, the technology she carries, and the house she owns are all controlled to some degree by what others think of her.

A Peek Into Her Life
She is fanatical about working out because of her keen awareness of what a "nice looking body" should look like. On a few occasions she has caught herself stretching the truth. She says she spins her stories because the real story doesn't seem as interesting. She is fearful of bringing a bag lunch to the office because everyone else goes out to a local restaurant to eat. She'd rather go into debt than feeling like the odd man out. She has a low-grade anger toward her boyfriend because he pressured her to have sex with him. She believed he would leave her if she didn't have sex. She needs to be loved by someone. Having a boyfriend is one of her ways of feeling significant.

Her biblical counselor quickly discerned that her problem was fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). The counselor told her she needed to be more concerned with pleasing God rather than others.

From there, the counselor laid out a plan of prayer, Bible study, and service oriented activities in order for her to practice a lifestyle of pleasing God. The mistake the counselor made was not carefully unpacking what pleasing God meant to an idolator like Sandra. Sandra is an idolator who has been living a performance-driven, people pleasing lifestyle. When she was told that she needed to be more willing to please God than man, it was not a difficult thing for her to do. People pleasing was what she knew best. Unfortunately, she was not told what pleases God so she did what she has always done--she ratcheted up her obedience.

Who Can Please God?
And a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. - Mark 1:11 (ESV)

Christ pleases God. Anything the Son does pleases the Father. Jesus came to do the will of the Father and He completed that task perfectly. The Father received the finished work of the Son and now a way has been made for us to please the Father by accepting the Son's work.
Without faith it is impossible to please him. - Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)

A Christian, who is living by faith in the works of the Son, is pleasing God. Pleasing God is not about what we do, but about believing in the only One who could authentically please the Father. Even on our best day, with our best works, we would not be acceptable to God.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. - Isaiah 64:6 (ESV)

Sandra is a Christian. However, she is not seeking to please God by trusting (faith) in Him. She is still performing, but this time she is performing for the Father, hoping to get a good grade. Rather than accepting what is pleasing to God--the works of the Son--she tries to please Him by her obedience. For example, she says she feels more spiritual by going to church. She believes her activity for God gives her more of God. She feels more spiritual when she is doing. She also says that if she misses her prayer time, Bible reading, or a church meeting she feels less spiritual. She will read her 4 chapters each day, even while brushing her teeth so she can check it off.

Sandra is convinced that if she has her morning prayer time and things go well for her during the day, then she will partially contribute God's favor on her based on her prayer-time-obedience. As you might imagine, if she does not have her prayer time and things do not go well for her during the day, she feels as though her lack of prayer (disobedience) caused her day to go bad. Sometimes her friends affirm her theology of legalism when they observe her bad day and say, "You must not be prayed-up today."

As you can see, when her biblical counselor gave her a list of things to do in order to please God, Sandra initially was excited about the list. Any people pleasing, self-reliant, performance-driven person would be.

However, as time went by, she could not juggle her list of spiritual disciplines with the rest of her life. Eventually discouragement and depression set in--she could not keep up. From her perspective, God was not pleased with her--basing this on her poor performance. According to Sandra's functional theology she could control God's pleasure by what she did rather than what the Son did. Her understanding of Christ's work was limited. She believed the Gospel was for her salvation, while her obedience was the primary thing needed for her sanctification. Obedience is obviously hugely important to any Christian. However, the key is to make sure that your obedience is not an effort to please God, but a response to your faith in God.

This is only the first part of it. Read the whole thing here. What do you think?



Comments:

[...] some people think the Bible says this, what Hebrews 11:6 actually says [...]

Kathy Morse

January 25, 2012 at 03:45 PM

Phil. 2:13 ...it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Andre' Fowlkes

January 24, 2012 at 01:21 AM

Jack,
I believe you are right on regarding evaluating your "works/obedience" and whether it springing forth from gratitude versus mere duty lends itself to pietism. Is that not what happened in Europe a few centuries ago and was the fruit of this sort of thing. Maybe it was the extreme example of this sort of bifurcation of motives, but at the root there are similarities.

Andre' Fowlkes

January 23, 2012 at 10:23 AM

Why is it even necessary to split obedience into these two categories, especially since the Bible nowhere does this? Let me ask this question, do you attempt or try to live a perfect life? If yes, why and if no, why not?

When I attempt to obey what God commands, I am not thinking that I am improving upon my justification, because in the end it is as you say "our best effort" and not "perfection" that God truely requires.

When the Scriptures says for children to obey their parents and ties it to the fact that is pleasing to God, how does an interpretation of this verse coincide with the bifurcated way in which you look at obedience? Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post.

Blessings,
Andre'

Mitchell Hammonds

January 23, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Andre',
I can't speak for others but I distinguish between "obedience that benefits my neighbor (everyone) and pleases God" and "obedience that justifies and sanctifies me where God is concerned."
"Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." Love the Lord your God with all of your heart soul mind and strength... and your neighbor as yourself." These are an impossible task for all. It condemns and convicts every time it is read... because no one loves God and the neighbor this way. God demands perfection... not our best effort. Our neighbor, however, benefits greatly from our obedience.
Hope this helps.

Jack Miller

January 23, 2012 at 07:09 PM

John,

My thoughts:
I think we may have had this or a similar conversation before. I think the way you frame this as "He wants obedience that springs from a heart of love that wishes to please" can slide into a pietistic direction, i.e. a subjective evaluation of the quality and quantity of my love and desire to please the Lord. Since our main battle in this life is the mortification of our sinful thoughts and deeds, done and left undone (of which there is no end) I often will come up short in finding the subjective evidence of sufficient love and desire, as well as the presence of his life within. I think it better to state that simple faith resting in Christ's finished work is the ground of our obedience, not the subjective work of the Spirit.

Jesus said that all the Law and the Prophets can be summed up in two laws: Love God, Love neighbor as thyself. Simple obedience of the commands of the Law is an act of love (faith working through love) without my need to check and see if it is springing from the life of the Spirit. Where faith is, there is the Spirit. The principle work of the Holy Spirit is strengthening faith by bearing witness to Christ Jesus, our salvation.

John also writes, 1 John 2:5, but whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected. Jesus did that perfectly. We do it imperfectly, yet for us to obey is to love; and 1 John 5:2-3, Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and do his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

Being that our works are imperfect, they can only be accepted through faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. God requires perfect righteousness in our obedience. Impossible for even godly saints who are yet still sinners. Righteousness comes by faith alone, not the subjective work within. And Paul wrote, "and whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Faith apprehends the merit of Jesus' sacrifice for sin and his perfect obedience imputed to us by which our obedience is acceptable. That is the principle work of the Holy Spirit within us.

Calvin expresses the biblical teaching thus: In short, I affirm, that not by our own merit but by faith alone, are both our persons and works justified; and that the justification of works depends on the justification of the person, as the effect on the cause. (John Calvin, Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote)

Sorry for the rambling length of this comment and I don't mean to attribute any of the above to you. Again, just my thoughts.
Blessings and peace to you!

Andre' Fowlkes

January 23, 2012 at 06:18 AM

How does one deal w/straight forward passages like the one mentioned earlier relating to children obeying your parents? There are myriad of other passages that highlights what pleases God. Is it wrong to seek to honor the Lord based on what he has revealed about what is pleasing to him or is that the wrong motivation? I understand what Tullian is trying to guard against, but you can't successfully uphold something from the Scriptures by ignoring a part of the same Scriptures. Someone please educate me...

Jack Miller

January 23, 2012 at 03:10 PM

I do think we often make following Jesus more complicated than it is. Part of the reason, though, is that as fallen creatures our default position is that of justifying ourselves based on performance (i.e. law). When my wife accuses me of some failing (of course this is hypothetical, she never does this ;) ) my default response is to defend myself based on my version of events. My automatic thought is that my behavior is good enough so as to warrant no criticism and for my wife to accept me as is. Without the grace of God, that's all I have: my very-less-than-perfect performance as a husband upon which to stand. It is a struggle in those moments (where the rubber meets the road) to trust in Christ (his perfect performance) for my acceptance as the real solid performance-based ground to stand on. But when I do grit my teeth and hold to that, instead of defending myself, then I'm more apt to take her criticism seriously, consider if I have failed in some area - if so apologize and seek to love her better.

We are the complicating ingredient. By the way, I think that this also is why certain teachings lean towards so-called grace enabled/obedience-based salvation. It fits more naturally.

John Thomson

January 23, 2012 at 02:24 PM

Jack

'All the reason we need to obey is that God, in his Word, has commanded it. That is really the best motive, in my view. That is actually a pure motive. I obey because my Lord has commanded. I seek to gain nothing through my obedience from him.'

In one sense this is fully right, but it is not the whole story. Yet our Lord wants not only our obedience but our love; he wants obedience that delights in obeying. He wants obedience that springs from a heart of love that wishes to please. More, it is not wrong to serve with a view to reward (Moses did... eyes on recompence of reward) ... to hear a 'well done'.

Again, when we think of life relationships children obey their parents because they should, because they love their parents, to please their parents, to see the joy on their face, to hear their 'well done'. All of these motives are legitimate and natural in a wholesome relationship.

Incidentally, I don't think our obedience is acceptable because of Jesus' blood, at least, not directly. WE are accepted because of Jesus' blood. Our obedience, however, is acceptable because it arises from the new life of the Spirit - the life of Christ - that dwells within. The blood cleanses from sin and our conscience that we may serve but it does not make our service 'acceptable' - it is only acceptable because it is the fruit of God's grace in our lives (God working within us).

Andre' Fowlkes

January 23, 2012 at 02:21 PM

Jack,
I agree wholeheartedly with you assessment, but wonder why this has become such an issue in our P&R world these days? It feels like, in some respects, that we have made following Jesus more complicated than it really is. Also it feels like trying to de-emphasize perceived or real legalistic tendencies, we have created another rule, that we must absolutely adhere to. I am definitely open to correction and guidance from my brothers and sisters on this issue.

Andre'

Jack Miller

January 23, 2012 at 01:17 PM

Andre'- you wrote, Is it wrong to seek to honor the Lord based on what he has revealed about what is pleasing to him or is that the wrong motivation?

My two cents:
Not at all. All the reason we need to obey is that God, in his Word, has commanded it. That is really the best motive, in my view. That is actually a pure motive. I obey because my Lord has commanded. I seek to gain nothing through my obedience from him. I am just thankful to be a servant in his household, one who has been made an heir...

And you also write, When I attempt to obey what God commands, I am not thinking that I am improving upon my justification, because in the end it is as you say “our best effort” and not “perfection” that God truely requires.

Amen, and as it states in the WCF 16.5:
We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit, and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God's judgment.

Obedience that seeks nothing in return, but merely is obedience that seeks to obey, though imperfect on our part is nonetheless pleasing to God. It is obedience acceptable by Jesus' blood. Paul commands children to obey their parents, not in order to please the Lord, but simply because that is the command. That obedience is most pleasing to a parent. And when obedience (though imperfect) simply follows from the command it is most pleasing to the Lord. This is all in the context of being the people of the new covenant.

Any way, like I said, my two cents.

cheers...

Curtis

January 21, 2012 at 04:05 AM

Summed up...we 'get' to, we don't 'have' to...because He already did!

Mitchell Hammonds

January 20, 2012 at 05:58 PM

Jack,
Perfectly said my friend! Thanks much!

Jack Miller

January 20, 2012 at 05:03 PM

Mitchell,

I don’t disagree with the exhortation towards obedience. But I find the whole idea of “obedience driven by gratitude(good) vs. obedience driven by performance(bad)” to be an impossible distinction for the human mind to make.

I agree. It is impossible to divine the distinction. The human heart, desperately wicked, who can know it... The way I understand this is not that I need to know that my motive for obedience is gratitude (good) and not performance (bad). That will become just a kind of inward works-righteousness. But that by Christ's death and resurrection and the gift of his Spirit I have been set free from having to do it right, i.e. from needing to be sure I have the pure motive of gratitude in order to rightly obey. My motives, in this life, will always be mixed.

Having been set free in order to be free (Gal. 5) we can take up the easy yoke of obedience to Christ without the concern of dotting the i's and crossing the t's of motive or outward behavior. What a gift of free grace this is! And when we sin (which is technically in everything we do) we always have an Advocate with his blood there before the bar of God's justice which effectually allows a clean conscience. So really, an attitude of repentance and trust in Jesus' finished work go hand in hand with obedience. We'll never get it right in this life. Hallelujah, we have a Savior. Thankfulness as we go forward.

cheers...

Mitchell Hammonds

January 20, 2012 at 02:06 PM

I don't disagree with the exhortation towards obedience. But I find the whole idea of "obedience driven by gratitude(good) vs. obedience driven by performance(bad)" to be an impossible distinction for the human mind to make.
As I have stated before. I grew up in a Christian environment from the moment I was born. My life has had no dramatic change as to what I did before vs. after conversion; at least not by my definition (perhaps others see the change... it would be ridiculous to ask such a question). I will say that since studying the reformer's view of the Gospel I believe in "my sinfulness and Christ's forgiveness" passionately. But as to the real extent of my "transformation" it seems as though my "sins" have only changed. The sins I tend to struggle with at 44 are different than my struggles as a teenager and so forth.
But as to what drives my obedience? I hope that I would obey from the reality of being grateful but to attempt to make that distinction simply removes my faith in Christ to placing faith in what I find; or cause me to despair based on what I don't find. Either way it seems I'm back into a performance mentality.
Why do I attempt to obey knowing I never attain obedience in my efforts? I guess for the sake of those around me. They benefit greatly from my... "imperfect obedience." I simply don't get the "what motivates my obedience" argument. Either way one has to "navel gaze" in order to make the distinction.

John Thomson

January 20, 2012 at 01:17 PM

We should probably note too that the only things we do that are of any worth (are righteous) are those done from a desire to please God. Anything other is legal duty. Christ's obedience was perfectly pleasing to God precisely because it was motivated by a desire to please God.

Fletch

January 19, 2012 at 12:59 PM

"Pleasing God is not about what we do, but about believing in the only One who could authentically please the Father."

This like so many of your blog posts is spot on.

I'd love to talk about this blog as it relates to others, but the truth is...I see myself clearly in the behavior described in this post. My very best days (when I think I really "get" the gospel) are quickly followed by a day of seeking to earn God's favor through my own righteous behavior. Ugh!

We talked about this in our community group last night. I referenced the false illustration that a pastor had used for sanctification. He described that as believers we are all climbing a spiritual mountain. Some of us are just starting and others are further up the mountain. Therefore, we can reach down to help our weaker brothers, etc....

I remember thinking to myself: What a flawed illustration. Can't we see that it's Jesus that climbs the mountain for us? All we need to do is hang on to Jesus. But then, I realize I am just as flawed, because it's not about me hanging on to Jesus (I'll eventually let go). The gospel says that Jesus holds on to us when we are unwilling/unable to hang on to Him.

So...thanks for the reminder again...chances are high that I'll forget it again tomorrow. :)

Steve Martin

January 19, 2012 at 12:17 AM

I watched it, Fabio.

That was a law sermon. No grace there.

"If you're a true child of God, you can do this." (the preacher was referring to repaying evil with good when someone attacks you.)

"You can do this."

Where's the grace in that? It reminded me of a "sermon" I heard from John MacArthur where he said "keeping God's Law is not difficult to do."

There's no gospel there. Hold up the example of Mother Teresa, for cryin' out loud and say, "you can do it." 'You can love God and your neighbor as yourself...it can be done...try harder...the Holy Spirit will 'help' you.' You can hear this stuff in churches all over the map, from Baptist to Roman Catholic. No thanks.

____________________________________________________

Because of Christ Jesus, God is pleased with you before you even start the day.

Amen.

BW

January 19, 2012 at 11:55 AM

Col 3:20 (ESV)
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Doesn't the "for" imply motivation (i.e the reason for obedience)? Just trying to be careful not to eisogete my theology into the verse.

Steve Martin

January 19, 2012 at 09:00 AM

When you are NOT thinking about pleasing Him, but living for the neighbor, is when He is pleased.

"When did we do those things?"

"When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me."

Redeem Christianity

January 19, 2012 at 08:00 AM

I would say we can absolutely work to please God, through faith in Him, we can devote every moment of our day and week to loving Him and loving others, in this He will be well pleased. We certainly cannot earn our salvation, but we absolutely can please Him by our works.

"Without faith it is impossible to please him."

Therefore, with faith, it is possible to please him. :)

Steve Martin

January 19, 2012 at 06:56 PM

John,

I do think it's a matter of emphasis. People who are in Christ WILL DO God pleasing things, as the Holy Spirits works in and on them.

I think that emphasizing the 'doing' aspects of our faith and telling people that they need to be doing God pleasing things can lead to a self-focusing that may not be helpful and which can lead to despair or pride.

There's nothing wrong with reminding people that they are free, and that there's plenty to do in this world.

It's a matter of emphasis. Many place the wrong em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble.

Matti

January 19, 2012 at 06:18 AM

I think the woman described is the typical example of a person who has not awakened to the real meaning of our justification in Christ! We don't have to please God to be spiritual. We are already spiritual in Christ because we are a new creature in Him.

The struggle for us is to renew our wordly and religious set of believes we harbor in deep down in our hearts. We have to start get connecting to the reality of our identity in Christ.

And the ultimate goal of understanding our new nature in Christ is not primarily to live moral and holy life but just having friendship with God and that relationship starts affecting our behaviour.

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January 19, 2012 at 05:46 PM

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Bob Schilling

January 19, 2012 at 04:54 PM

John Piper:

"4. God's Commandments Are Not Too Hard

God's delight in obedience is good news because his commandments are not too hard. They are only as hard to obey as his glory is hard to cherish and his promises are hard to believe. Deuteronomy 30:11 says, "This commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you." And 1 John 5:3 says, "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome."

John Thomson

January 19, 2012 at 04:21 PM

Steve

I do know where you are coming from here. There is indeed something unstudied and uncontrived about obedience, almost unconscious. But I think we must balance this with the other side. If I do things for my wife because I love her and want to please her surely this brings her pleasure. In my very desire to please her she finds delight. If my son consciously does what he knows will please me because in love he wishes to please me then I delight in this. As in the natural so in the spiritual.

I do think we forget that there is a roundness to relationships, including our relationship to God. We tend to be reductionistic about our relationship with God and limit it to a few wooden principles that we have grasped forgetting there are rich and complex dimensions to relationships. We forget much that is common to the everyday relationships of life is true of our relationship to God and Christ.

Johnny Cannuck

January 19, 2012 at 02:49 PM

I think the crux of the matter is this: is our obedience to NT imperative a matter of legal/law obedience OR a matter of Gospel-centred grace-obedience to Christ, by the empowerment of the Spirit??

bjl

January 18, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Part of loving God is the desire to please Him, in that we rejoice in being Christ-like and rejoice in His Goodness that He might live out in us. I know it 'sounds' hard to hear someone seemingly say stop trying to 'please God' but I believe it is the 'context' that is the issue. Please Him so He won't 'reject' or punish us? or be angry ? That is NOT the gospel. But to honor Him, to show His love and goodness in our walk because WE TRUST HIM and realized HE is our SOURCE and STRENGTH and HELP brings us joy and encourages our gratitude (No good thing in me-- it is ALL Jesus) and so we can know that our attitude pleases Him! Preach Christ, crucified...seek His Kingdom and HIS righteousness (not your own) and all this (joy, peace, strength) will be added to you (by HIs power)
blessings to Pastor T and the blogger!

Mike

January 18, 2012 at 12:17 PM

I think this is true in my own experience and in the people I minister to. In many cases they live their lives trying to achieve favor with God by what they do and then someone quotes 2 Cor 5:9 and now they just try to achieve favor with God by doing different things.

Vinny McMullen

January 18, 2012 at 11:47 AM

"Here I go again, on my own. Goin' down the only road I've ever known." ~ WhiteSnake :o]

Johnny Cannuck

January 18, 2012 at 11:37 AM

The Gospel indicatives are the living Vine to whom we branches are attached – and from whom we receive life to produce the abundant fruit of obedience to Gospel imperatives. Our obedience to NT commands and imperatives, then, is not legal. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the category of ‘law’. Rather, it is grace-transformational. Our obedience to NT commands flows out of Gospel grace and all that Christ has already accomplished in himself . . . and is continuing to accomplish on our behalf.

Fabio

January 18, 2012 at 11:30 PM

A Beautiful Example of Grace:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nwJ5o57rIA

I Pray that you will be richly blessed

God? Bless!!!

Shawn

January 18, 2012 at 11:03 AM

Amen! Like all natural born idolaters, I need daily (hourly?) reminders of the truth that I'm sanctified by faith in Christ just as I was justified by faith. All too easily do we slip back into a legalistic performance for God, and all too willing are many pastors to nudge us in that direction. Thanks for your efforts to pull us back to the antidote -- the power of the gospel!

Chris

January 18, 2012 at 10:08 AM

I liked the article very much.

As pastors, I do think we need to be careful how we write about sanctification. One one hand, we don't want to over-qualify God's grace. If we do people will miss grace! They won't "get it."

On the other hand , I think we need to need to be somewhat careful of stand-alone statements like "Pleasing God is not about what we do..." I am glad Thomas made clear what he meant by that, because there is some sense in which pleasing God IS about what we do. Obedience as the grateful-response of faith in Christ's imputed righteousness IS pleasing to God. It will be rewarded in heaven! And even when our motives are mixed; even when sadly there is some measure of merit-seeking with God in our "doing" (which is always)--God IS pleased with the mustard-seed of faith, given as a gift, that we do have.

I also think we need to be careful--there are many believers in churches that don't "get" grace. They don't get that sanctification is fueled by faith in Christ's active obedience, his death on the Cross etc...But that doesn't mean that their works in no sense are not pleasing to God. It doesn't mean that somewhere in there, there wasn't a mustard seed of faith - even in the example of Sandra - motivating obedience. Articles like this, in my view, can leave the impression that a believer in fundamentalist Baptist church or a legalistic Pentecostal church - has NEVER pleased God by their obedience.

I'd be curious to read Tullian's thoughts on what I've said here.

Taylor

January 18, 2012 at 09:51 AM

Does part of the response to my faith in God include a desire to please Him?

The Danger of Trying to Please God « Luggaged

January 18, 2012 at 06:33 PM

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Jack Miller

January 18, 2012 at 05:58 PM

I don't think the question is whether Sandra's obedience is pleasing to the Lord or not. In and of itself it isn't. We know that God is pleased only with righteous obedience. And for us sinners that comes only by faith and not by any works... Her lack of awareness or understanding of just how good and gracious the gospel is may mean she is missing that comfort and assurance which comes in knowing that by grace through faith in Christ she really is pleasing to God. And thus on that ground her obedience is acceptable through Him. It has more to do with her misperception of what she thinks she "needs" to do or be in order to measure up than a question of God's acceptance. As is her person, so also her works are covered by the blood through faith in Christ alone. That's liberating good news.

Susanne Schuberth (Germany)

January 18, 2012 at 05:47 PM

Correction!

I meant, "we have to receive from Him 2 Peter 1:1 through hearing" instead of "2 Petr 1:1" ("Petrus" would be German resp. Latin).

Thanks.

Susanne Schuberth (Germany)

January 18, 2012 at 04:51 PM

Without faith it is impossible to please him. – Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)

That's so true. Faith is nothing we can achieve and multiply by ourselves, it is a spiritual gift of God (1 Cor 12:9 + 2 Cor 4:13) we have to receive from Him (2 Petr 1:1) through hearing the word of Christ (Rom 10:17). As far as the spiritual part of our life is concerned, we have to be "in Christ" to please God, and it is Christ's Spirit dwelling in us (Rom 8:9) who enables us to be spiritual* because "those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:8)

* "spiritual" (German Luther Bible 1984) = "in the spirit" (ESV)

But what about our doing that pleases God?

"IV. Now every one can note and tell for himself when he does what is good or what is not good; for if he finds his heart confident that it pleases God, the work is good, even if it were so small a thing as picking up a straw. If confidence is absent, or if he doubts, the work is not good, although it should raise all the dead and the man should give himself to be burned. This is the teaching of St. Paul, Romans xiv:
'Whatsoever is not done of or in faith is sin.' Faith, as the chief work, and no other work, has given us the name of 'believers on Christ.' For all other works a heathen, a Jew, a Turk, a sinner, may also do; but to trust firmly that he pleases God, is possible only for a Christian who is enlightened and strengthened by grace."

(Martin Luther, A treatise on Good Works, 1520)

John Thomson

January 18, 2012 at 04:48 PM

I think that in thgis girl's case pleasing God was not the pastoral need. She needed to be secure in his love. But this is not every pastoral situation. Indeed many of us need the exhortation to please God and it is amply given in Scripture.

1Cor 7:32-34 (ESV)
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.

2Cor 5:6-10 (ESV)
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Col 3:20 (ESV)
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

1Thess 2:4 (ESV)
but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

1Thess 4:1 (ESV)
Finally, then, brothers, 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.

1John 3:21-22 (ESV)
Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.

Of course, all activity to please the Lord arises from faith. It is not an attempt to be accepted or loved. It is the desire of: the loved to please the beloved; the voluntary bondslave to please his Master; the child to please the parent; the soldier to please the one who enlisted him... it is the response of gratitude to grace.

Tullian Tchividjian

January 18, 2012 at 04:44 PM

Well said Jack! Very well said!

Chris

January 18, 2012 at 03:09 PM

I liked the article very much.

As pastors, I do think we need to be careful how we write about sanctification. One one hand, we don’t want to over-qualify God’s grace. If we do people will miss grace! They won’t “get it.”

On the other hand , I think we need to need to be somewhat careful of stand-alone statements like “Pleasing God is not about what we do…” I am glad Thomas made clear what he meant by that, because there is some sense in which pleasing God IS about what we do. Obedience as the grateful-response of faith in Christ’s imputed righteousness IS pleasing to God. It will be rewarded in heaven! And even when our motives are mixed; even when sadly there is some measure of merit-seeking with God in our “doing” (which is always)–God IS pleased with the mustard-seed of faith, given as a gift, that we do have.

I also think we need to be careful–there are many believers in churches that don’t “get” grace. They don’t get that sanctification is fueled by faith in Christ’s active obedience, his death on the Cross etc…But that doesn’t mean that their works in no sense are not pleasing to God. It doesn’t mean that somewhere in there, there wasn’t a mustard seed of faith – even in the example of Sandra – motivating obedience. Articles like this, in my view, can leave the impression that a believer in fundamentalist Baptist church or a legalistic Pentecostal church – has NEVER pleased God by their obedience.

I’d be curious to read Tullian’s thoughts on what I’ve said here.

Jack Miller

January 18, 2012 at 02:50 PM

Does part of the response to my faith in God include a desire to please Him?

Some thoughts:
I think certainly yes, but with the qualification of why or towards what goal is one seeking to "please the Lord?" By her own works, Sandra was implementing any number of Christian duties and disciplines in order to ultimately gain or keep God's good pleasure towards her. For her, to please God was really a means of measuring up in order to "please" Him, something no man can do, save for Jesus.

Whereas, trusting in Christ alone with nothing to gain nor lose (having been given by grace the pleasing obedience that Jesus has earned), the believer has a basis to "be free from cares" and "please the Lord" (1 Cor 7:32) with a grateful obedience. That obedience, faith working through love, is pleasing to the Lord as it seeks nothing for self and glorifies Christ as the one who alone has obeyed and pleased God for us, even in our imperfect works. For the believer pleasing the Lord is, at its core, an act of thankfulness.

Mikee

February 16, 2012 at 08:48 AM

Well I revisited this after a chat with my pastor last night. I think most of the comments here have been helpful, but I agree that we ought to obey because God commanded it. He commanded that we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and He's explained that we only love Him because He first loved us.

The child who obeyed their parents because they wanted candy did not please God. Paul didn't view 1 Cor 7 the way many people talk about pleasing God because in the same chapter he told people to get married even though the single person is the one that thinks about "pleasing God" more.

As I counsel people I always start with motivation - otherwise it's just hoop jumping. That being said, not everyone is motivated by people pleasing and are apt to transfer that approach to God pleasing and it would be dangerous to paint everyone with one brush. Personally I am quite the opposite and someone counseling me like Rick counseled Sandra would probably not be so successful.

Three Good Things « hupokaris

February 15, 2012 at 03:45 AM

[...] also addresses whether or not we should obey God’s commands out of an effort to please Him, or if we should obey God’s commands out of a response to [...]