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.
In the Song of Songs, Solomon’s shepherdess says “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” (2:16). A marriage works as each spouse not only is delighted by the other, but seeks to be a delight to the other.
We often think of how we are to delight in Christ, how we are to be pleased with all that Christ is to us and for us—“He is mine”. But have you ever stopped to consider that you can be a delight to him—“I am his”?
That sounds perhaps an impossible burden—but back to our passages. Do a search for all the passages that talk about pleasing God. Make a list! What you will find is that God finds pleasure is all sorts of obedience, from witnessing, to praying, to sharing and much more! (Tip: search for ‘pleas’ on BibleGateway.com and look at the NT references—that will locate for you pleased, pleasing, pleasure etc)
It seems to me that our Triune God is saying to us—whether as God our Father, or as Christ our Lord, or as the Holy Spirit our sanctifier—that it is easy for his people to bring him pleasure.
Some have had parents who never expressed delight in them, never said “well done”—we do not have a God like that. Instead we have one to delights in our obedience, and tells us so! He doesn’t take our obedience for granted, but instead motivates us with his delight.
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.
How that changes our motivation, does it not? To know that at any given moment as you seek to obey, you are actually pleasing God! That God is looking at your actions and life and saying “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
How that lifts the pressure—our God knows that we sin. It isn’t a surprise to him, but as he watches us taking those faltering steps, or those persevering steps, or those picking yourself up steps of obedience, he tells us of his pleasure. This in no way minimises our sin, or excuses us from battling, but let us hear God’s perspective when Satan would point out all our faults, or when our own temperaments would highlight the our failures.
There is much gold in this mine—but I’ll let you have the joy of discovering more in this rich vein of truth.
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.” 1 John 3:21,22