Some people are hard to please, always critical, pointing out the flaw. Maybe you think of God like that—Like someone who has asked for an obscure out of print book as a present, that you can’t find anywhere on the web, and you have searched high and low in second-hand bookshops—you know they will be thrilled to get it, but it is nigh on impossible to find. When you collate those verses and see all the ways you can please God—it is more like the relative who has a wishlist on Amazon with the simplest of gifts, easy to please.
There’s a phrase I’ve read many times and never seen. It has registered on my retina, but not on consciousness. Yet it is used frequently enough to function as a motivation for all areas of Christian living.
And it is one of the sweetest truths I have thought on for a long time.
See if you can spot it:
Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”
Colossians 1:10 “…so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,”
In case you haven’t got it yet, this one should make it clearer:
1 Timothy 2:3 “This is good, and pleases God our Saviour”
This pleases God. Think about it: something you do pleases God. We are so used to thinking (rightly) of the righteousness of Christ being what pleases God that we can miss, or re-translate, or re-allocate these statements of God’s pleasure in the obedience of his people.
Before we go any further, let me clarify: You can’t please God or come to God without Christ’s perfect obedience covering all your flaws. If you haven’t yet asked Jesus Christ to cover all your sin—stop here. You need a Saviour.
And if you have trusted Christ, you know that you can’t leave off Christ’s righteousness when you have become a Christian, because you are still flawed.
But does that mean our lives are lived under a kind of begrudging acceptance on God’s part, him putting up with our flawed obedience until we get to Heaven? Not according to these and many other verses. Instead, he says, our obedience brings him pleasure.
“Ah hold on,” I hear you say, “there is a difference between something pleasing, and something giving pleasure.”
We can understand that our disobedience displeases God, and maybe we think that the absence of his displeasure is what it means when he says “he is pleased”. But it is far stronger than that. It is not simply that God approves in some distant way of our obedience, saying to himself “Well that’s what I told them to do,” rather scripture records God’s pleasure at our obedience.
In the Old Testament the language is very strong. God has a track record of expressing his attitude towards obedience in this wonderfully rich way:
1 Sam 15:22 “But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice””
Psalm 37:23 “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm”
Psalm 147:10-11 “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”
When it comes to the New Testament the language that God uses of his adopted children is the same as he uses of his eternal Son “This is my Son, with him I am well-pleased.”
(A different Greek word is used here from the earlier passages, but has the same meaning. One of the dictionaries writes of these Greek words, “The words of this group are predominantly used in the NT to denote pleasure in the sight of God or Christ which derives from a definite attitude.”)
English might make a difference between being pleased and having pleasure, but the biblical languages at this point don’t. God is determined for us to know that he delights/takes pleasure in the obedience of his people.