The Pleasing and Displeasing of God.

Part One – The Inward Attitude

 

By I Gordon

 

Eph 5:8-10 ‘You are light in the Lord; walk as children of light…trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.’           

 

Have you ever thought about what most pleases God? Or what things He most desires to see in the lives of His believers? Important question wouldn’t you think? For many in the world, in all religions, desire to please God, but their zeal and commitment are not accepted for they are not based upon the solid truth that God has revealed in His word, the Bible. So what pleases God? And what displeases Him? Take a moment to think about these questions before reading another line. Ready? For while God knows all things before they even come to pass, scripture does not teach that God is emotionless as to how we live, but clearly shows us the attitudes and actions which delight His heart. The following study then, is on what scripture reveals, pleases God. It is a simple study and far from exhaustive, but it is an important one to consider, for we are instructed by the Apostle Paul to ‘learn what is pleasing to the Lord.’

 

The Inward and Outward Studies

 

Phil 2:13 ’…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.’

 

This study will be in three parts. This first part speaks of the inward transformation that pleases God. It examines the condition of our heart and what God is both looking for, and wanting to work, in us. The second part will look at the external working of this reality. How, and in what ways, our outward lives should please God. God is interested in both of these factors - the inward and the outward, and they go hand in hand in the life of a true believer. Just as it says in the above verse – God is working within us, and we are working it out! And combined it leads to ‘His good pleasure’ - that which He is pleased with.  The third part will simply break down the above verse, Phil 2:13, into its different words and components because there is a lot in that one verse!

 

 

1. Faith - The over-riding principle!

 

Hebrews 11:5-6 ‘Enoch… obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.’

 

I have put this verse first for a very good reason. First and foremost God is pleased by faith. Faith is that attitude which believes that God exists, and on the basis of that belief, takes God into account through the daily outworking of our life. And yeah, this pleases God, for humankind was not created to be independent, but dependant upon its creator! In fact, scripture goes further than this saying that without this attitude, it is impossible to please Him. Apart from a living faith and dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ, all of our goodness equates with that which the nation of Israel saw when they declared ‘all our righteousness are like filthy rags.’ (Isaiah 64:6) Scripture tells us that ‘whatever is not from faith is sin’ (Rom 14:23).[1]  Nor can faith be based upon our own ideas, but must have the truth revealed in God’s word as its foundation.[2] The beginning of a life pleasing to God starts then with that child-like faith which believes that Jesus is God manifested in the flesh and progresses on to take Him into account on a day to day basis. Trust, faith, and dependence upon the Lord Jesus form the over-riding principle in pleasing God. You cannot please Him without these. Note also that this verse in Hebrews isn’t just speaking about our initial salvation for the entire context of this chapter is about living by faith. We are told to believe that ‘God is!’ and that He rewards those who seek Him. It is this present tense of our Lord that we often forget.[3] So bear this in mind for the entire study that follows, for, as Jesus declared, ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5) Only Jesus can live the Christian life, and only you can allow Him to do it! Without this attitude of faith it is impossible to please God. You can preach a sermon, perform good deeds, or do whatever you may think is ‘godly’. Everything not done through faith is ‘a missing of the mark’.

 

 

2. What are the desires of your heart?

 

1 Kings 3:10 ‘At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon answered, “…I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.

 

The second inward attitude that can be pleasing or displeasing to the Lord is the true desire of our heart. From the verse above, Solomon had to face this in an awesome way. Wow! What would you have asked for? God turns up, and says to you ‘I will give you whatever you like. Just name it!’ What would you say? Think about it. Let me put it another way - how interested are you in spiritual riches compared to the temporal earthly riches? We seem to live in an age that desires and equates the blessing of God with how much money we have, but in reality, like the Laodicean church, we can be very poor. Jesus said to that church You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich.’ (Rev 3:17-18). So what would you ask for? Maybe good health, or a well-paid job? Maybe a lottery win, or even three more wishes! Solomon saw his inadequacy and asked for wisdom and understanding that he may govern God’s people correctly. And it pleased God! And it pleases God today, when His people desire to have a true understanding and knowledge of Him so that they may walk in His ways and accurately testify about Him. I have a feeling that the most pleasing answer in the ears of God would be that we want to truly know and love Him. That we desire Him more than any gift He would give us. This was Paul’s desire and everything else stems from that. (Phil 3:8-10)[4] 

 

 

3. An inward awe at the majesty and faithfulness of God.

 

Psalm 147:10-11 ‘His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.’

 

Learn this and learn it quick. The Lord is not looking for those who are naturally strong, nor does He delight in the legs of a man (not surprising!) as the scripture says. He is not impressed when Peter gives that great oath of dedication saying, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matt 26:33). It is not on account of that statement that Jesus told him to ‘feed my sheep’. It was on the basis of that other statement that Jesus commissioned him to be a shepherd of the sheep. Which statement? You know, the one where a broken Peter cannot even bring himself to say that he loved (agapao – an unconditional love) the Lord. (John 21:15-18)[5]. So if the Lord isn’t impressed with our vain boasts of self-confidence, what does please Him? Well, those who fear Him and put their hope in His unfailing love! It delights Him! To fear the Lord doesn’t mean that we are frightened of Him. In that great Old Testament prophecy about the Lord Jesus, it says that He will ‘delight in the fear of the Lord.’ (Isaiah 11:1-3). The Lord Jesus wasn’t scared of His Father, but delighted in fully depending upon God, putting His will first in all things. (John 5:19). This is what it means to fear Him. No wonder the Father would testify about Jesus that ‘this is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ (Matt 17:5) And this is exactly the same inner attitude that the Lord wants to work in us. So, as the verse says, ‘the Lord delights in those who fear Him’. But note also the second part of the verse – ‘the Lord delights… in those who hope in His unfailing love.’ This second part gives a characteristic of those who fear God – their hope has moved from their own ability to His unfailing love. Their confidence rests not in themselves but in a God whose very nature is to be faithful. So much so, that the New Testament even says ‘when we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot deny Himself!’ The true born again Christian is a member of Christ’s body, and a member of His bride and God has promised His faithfulness right unto the end.

 

 

4. Forget religion! Get real (with humility).

 

Psalm 51:16-17 ‘You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.’

 

Why would David say that about sacrifices and offerings, when God was the one who commanded that they be given? Or maybe more to the point, why would God repeatedly say the same thing Himself? (Isa 1:11-14, Jer 6:20, Amos 5:21-24) Because devoid of the right inward attitude these sacrifices are simply ‘religion’ and God can’t stand it. When we have lost the heart attitude towards God and merely carry on performing a religious duty then it becomes exactly that – a performance. Lights, camera, action![6] What are some of the sacrifices and offerings that God has commanded for today? Can’t say I’ve slaughtered any bulls lately but the New Testament does speak of other offerings such as our time, praise, money, prayer etc. All these things he has commanded, yet any, and all, of these things can become a routine in which God takes no pleasure. Who was it that most got up Jesus’ nose, so to speak? Was it not the Pharisees, those ‘separated ones’, who despite a zeal for the law of God (John 5:39-40), substituted outward conformity for inward reality and fully ticked Jesus off![7] In other words, religion, and it stunk as much then as it does today. They tried to be good, there’s no doubting them that! The thousands of extra laws that they added to God’s word were an attempt to be ‘outwardly correct’ in all facets of their life. Yet Jesus couldn’t stand it! Be real with God! Be real about your condition. Be real with other Christians. God is pleased with honesty and a heart that is humble and contrite before Him. At the end of his life, David uttered these words, which still ring true today. 

 

1 Chronicles 29:17 ‘I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent.’

 

 

Now this isn’t easy. The pressure to perform and look ‘spiritual’ amongst other Christians can be very extreme at times – especially if you are in any type of leadership role within the Church. For we all know that leaders don’t have problems, they don’t have any ‘down’ times, and are always ‘on fire’ for God, right? They’re invincible! That’s why we made them our leaders. Modern day gladiators! Ok, so I’m going over the top now. Nevertheless, it is sad but true that the extra pressure leaders face in being ‘spiritual’ does lead to ‘performances’ devoid of the right heart condition. But it’s certainly not just the leaders that feel the pressure. Let me ask you a couple of questions – when was the last time you sat in a home group setting and felt you just had to pray because everyone else was and if you didn’t, people would think you are ‘un-spiritual’? (Always a worry if you’re one of the last to pray and all the best ‘Christian’ lines and phrases have already gone!) What about worship in Church? When was the last time you lifted your hands in worship to God while all the time you were just thinking of what’s for lunch, or maybe even, who was looking at you? Should we not rather remember the words of David that the Lord ‘tests the heart and is pleased with integrity’? Come on. If you are feeling dead as a hammer then that is what the Lord would like to hear. The Holy Spirit doesn’t work the reality of His presence into our life while we are still just putting on ‘a show’. But He does delight in those who are honest about the condition of their own heart and in humility, look to Him for the reality of the Christian life. It’s meant to be about pleasing him, not other Christians!

 

 

Other Bible Studies in the Pleasing God Series


[1] The Greek word for sin is ‘Hamartano’ and it literally means ‘to miss the mark’. It was used in archery where shots not hitting the bulls eye where called ‘Hamartano’, ‘Sin’, a missing of the mark! The emphasis wasn’t on how much it missed by, but on whether it hit the target. Shots that missed by a millimetre were ‘sin’, and shots hitting the wrong target where still simply, ‘sin’. I believe this is the context of this verse. Everything that doesn’t stem from a faith and trust in the Lord is sin – it’s a missing of the mark! And that includes a lot of religious activity!

 

[2] Like I had said earlier - For our lives to be pleasing to God, they have to be based on truth. People in all religions try to please ‘God’, but it doesn’t impress the one and only true God for He has revealed what He accepts in His word. Those that worship God, Jesus said, must worship Him in spirit and in truth. He doesn’t accept it otherwise, nor does it please Him. Worship that He accepts comes from those spiritually alive, and based on Biblical truth.  

 

[3] Just thinking about some things that Major Ian Thomas said when I heard him recently. He talked about the forgotten tense of the Lord Jesus. That is, we talk about what He did (on the cross), and that is good. We talk about what He will do (at the return) and that is exciting! But we must never forget who He is for us right now. The faith that is pleasing to God believes that ‘God is!’ and takes Him into account in our daily lives. ‘My grace IS sufficient for you’, God told Paul. Not was, not will be, but is right now.

[4] I’m not just talking about knowledge here. Lots of people are knowledgeable about the bible yet miss the centrality of Jesus in the whole thing! Paul was extremely knowledgeable even before his conversion. He was taught the ways of his fathers by the highly respected Pharisee, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3, 5:24). Yet he still didn’t recognise the Messiah! But listen to his testimony in Philippians 3:7-10 for in it we see the true heart and desire of this man - ‘What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord….I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…I want to know Christ…’ Is that your desire?

 

[5] You probably know the story. John 21:15-19. After Peter has denied the Lord three times and seen what he is capable of, the Lord asks Peter three times whether he loves Him. The Lord asks ‘do you ‘agapao’ me? (which means to totally and unconditionally give yourself to something or someone). Before the denials, bold confident Peter would have said ‘You bet I agapao you! More than anyone, I’m your man.’ Now he can only answer ‘Lord, you know I ‘phileo’ you.’ (Which means to have a friendship love.) A second time Jesus asks Peter the same question, and a second time Peter replies using ‘phileo’. The third time Jesus asks whether Peter has that friendship love for him, which grieves Peter because he is a broken man, knowing what he is capable of. But never forget that it is on the basis of this confession where Peter knows himself and can’t even bring himself to say that he will totally and unconditionally give himself over to Jesus, that Jesus commissions him to be a shepherd pf the sheep. And in verse 18, Jesus indicates that Peter will, one day, have ‘agapao’ unconditional love for the Him even to his own death.

[6] Watchman Nee in his book ‘Sit Walk Stand’ say this – ‘Too many of us are caught acting as Christians. The life of many Christians today is largely pretence. They live a ‘spiritual’ life, talk a ‘spiritual’ language, adopt ‘spiritual’ attitudes, but they are doing the whole thing themselves. It is the effort involved that should reveal that something is wrong… Nothing is so hurtful to the life of the Christian as acting; nothing is so blessed as when our outward efforts cease and our attitude become natural… an unforced expression of the life within.’

 

[7] Boy the Pharisees looked good didn’t they? With their grand announcements when they gave to the poor, and their pious prayers on the street corners so everyone could hear them… Or even their gloomy unkempt faces so that everyone would know when they are fasting (a nice touch!). Surely they were the definition of ‘godly’ and exactly what God was looking for right? Don’t just think it happened back then. There is a Pharisee in every one of us that desires to be seen by men. Know anyone who just can’t say anything without adding ‘the Lord told me…’? A sure sign that they are trying to impress and be thought of as ‘spiritual’! Get real. Be normal. Be honest! Through the Lord’s grace we have been given a gift of righteousness so that the theatre masks of religion and performance can come off!