“Therefore, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to Him.”
II Corinthians 5:9
“Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and justification before God through obedience to God. A legalist is anyone who behaves as if they can earn God’s forgiveness through personal performance.”
C. J. Mahaney
Living the Cross Centered Life
When we think about living lives that please God, there can be a big temptation to draw definitions of what that means that, quite frankly, are not biblical. Because of the incorrect ideas that people carry of what it means to be in relationship with God, their motivations and foundations for a God pleasing life are faulty. Two issues must be kept in mind when we begin to consider a God pleasing standard for living.
The first of these is remembering how one is brought into relationship with God. C. J. Mahaney, former pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, reminds us rightly that it is not our performance that makes us right with God. However, if we think our ability can somehow make us right with God—bring forgiveness of sin and earn God’s favor—then we believe “in essence that the death of Jesus on the cross was either unnecessary or insufficient. [Legalism] says to God, in effect, ‘Your plan didn’t work. The cross wasn’t enough and I need to add my good works to it to be saved.’” (Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life, 113)
Some people come to believe that their rule keeping is good and should be praiseworthy of others as they show, through their effort, that they are surely right with God. Many of the Pharisees that we wee in the Gospels come to mind. Jesus was constantly railing against these folks and their false beliefs that their efforts made them right with God. If anyone looked religious in Jesus’ day, it was the Pharisees. Yet when speaking of their scribes, Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:46-47)
This focus on self-effort to be made right with God and its faulty basis is clearly pointed out by Jesus in the parable he tells in Luke 18:9-14. The basis of his teaching is to warn those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” (v. 9) He tells the story of two men who go up to the temple to pray. The first, a Pharisee, begins to thank God that he is not like other men as he tells God all the fabulous things he does: fasting twice a week and giving tithes on all that he gets. He is especially glad he is not like the tax collector! On the other hand, the tax collector can not even look up to God and begs him to be merciful to a sinner like himself. Jesus is clear in stating that the Pharisee was not made right with God even in light of all the religious stuff he was doing. Why? “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (v. 14)
It seems that we must always remember that not all people counting on their good work to be made right with God appear so prideful or audacious. They are “good” people that consistently do good-looking and church things. However, their belief system is focused on God accepting them because they are good. They might even believe that God will take the entirety of their lives at the end and hope the good either outweighs the bad or that the good things they did merit extra points. In reality, they might be the hardest worker in the church—this is particularly true if they believe their work gains God’s favor—but they misunderstand the reality of the human condition. As Paul states in Romans 3:10, “None is righteous, no, not one…”
One is Christian not because of what he does but because of what has been done for him. Remember Paul’s powerful words in II Corinthians 5.
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this:
that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all,
that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him
who for their sake died and was raised.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has
passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who
through Christ reconciled us to himself…that is, in Christ God
was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their
Trespasses against them…
(vv. 14-15, 17-19)
This leads us to our second consideration. Living a life that is pleasing to God flows out of the reality of thankfulness and praise because God has done what was necessary to place us in right relationship with himself. It is not a life to earn God’s favor, but is a life lived in response to having received God’s favor through the Gospel. This is where Paul’s statement in
II Corinthians 5:15 is helpful: “…and [Jesus] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Living a God pleasing life is centered on the one who has rescued us from our sin. Our desire then becomes to make him look glorious in our living—again, not to earn his favor but because we have received it.
So what are some qualities of a God-pleasing life? Let’s consider a few passages of Scripture in order that we might think rightly about what it means to please God.
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as the instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Romans 6:12-13
Here we are directed in the area of our passions. When a person becomes a Christian, it certainly does not mean that he will never sin again. (See I John 1:9) However, being in relationship with Christ leads us to look at sin differently. We understand that it is the enemy of our life and does not honor Christ. Therefore, daily we submit ourselves to Christ and pray and ask him to fill us with hate for the things that dishonor him. Consider these examples.
-We know that gossip can have destructive consequences for our life and on others. If I have a tendency toward it, I must pray that God replace destructive gossip for a God-pleasing desire of promoting peace and speaking the truth in love.
-If I am tempted to be sexually gratified by lust or adultery, I must pray that God cause me to love his good standard for sex and to enjoy it wonderfully in the marriage relationship. Sexual sin that fills the mind with unhelpful images or expresses itself in premarital or extramarital affairs does not please God. Enjoying God’s gift as he intended brings him honor and therefore, pleases him.
-Worry can drive a person crazy. Worry can lead you to thinking wrongly about circumstances. We tend to worry when we feel out of control or do not know how a circumstance is going to turn out. Worry is an affront to God because he is control of all things—even your life! If I am tempted to worry over things of which I have no control, I must bring that before God’s throne of grace and I ask him to replace my worry with confidence in his control. Worrying less leads me to please God more.
One way we please God is by seeing sin as the life-wrecking, joy-stealing, fellowship-killing and God-dishonoring force that it is and pursue the complete opposite by God’s strength and grace.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” Philippians 1:27-28a
Living a life worthy of the gospel would certainly be a way to please God. And in this passage, Paul defines living a worthy life, especially for a group of Christians that make up a local church, as living together in unity, striving in being an on mission gospel sharing people and not being afraid of your church’s enemies. So a Christian desiring to please God with their life must be about praying and asking God to make them a person that works for and promotes unity in the church, is committed to sharing the gospel with those apart from God and receiving confidence to fear God and not people. As a follower of Jesus, we please God when we walk more faithfully in doing the things that Paul speaks of to the Philippians. It is worth noting that in this passage Paul obviously has the corporate idea of many followers of Jesus working together to do these things. It is not about being a Lone Ranger to please God, but together praying and living to bring God joy through our living. This is especially encouraging news for two reasons. One, in our American I-can-do-anything culture, corporate living for the honor of God stands as an attractive counter cultural witness just as God intends. Two, it is encouraging when we know that all Christians are in this together.
“Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them.” Psalm 119:129
Though this “aiming to please God qualities” I have given are not exhaustive, there is one quality that makes it possible for us to even know that God wants to be pleased and how we are to go about doing it—the Bible. The psalmist proclaims that God’s word is wonderful and because it is, he loves to do what it says. Ultimately, if you want to please God you must pray for and develop a greater love and delight for God’s word. The more you know of God from his word (by reading it yourself*, hearing it taught, reading the teachings of others about it) the more you will love and worship him and the more you will desire to obey him. When a follower does what the master has commanded, he is pleased. The joy of following Christ is that we need not be a begrudging follower. As we see the sweetness of God’s word, understanding that it is in keeping the word that we find our greatest joy that the Father is brought much delight.
*The Bible is written in order that it might be understood.