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?