Can We Please God?
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
- 2005 Nov 10
So often Christians gravitate toward one end of the spectrum or the other rather than seek biblical balance when it comes to certain dynamics that are pervasive in terms of pop theology. For example, too many Christians believe that it is impossible for the Christian not to please God. Some are so wrapped up in themselves and the notion that God saved them to alleviate His loneliness that they cannot conceive of the fact that God has never been lonely and needs nothing outside of Himself. Furthermore, they cannot conceive of God being displeased with them: after all, they did God a favor and accepted the helpless Christ who stood there waiting on their decision and fellowship didn't they?
Other Christians cannot conceive in any sense that they could ever please God. Sometimes these individuals are introspective and self focused, even if in a loathing way. Others however, are acutely aware of the sinfulness of man, the biblical teaching concerning human depravity, and their own ungodly inclinations. For them, the real question is how a perfectly holy God who saves by free grace could ever be pleased with sinners, even sinners who have been redeemed?
God is more to be preferred than anything in the universe. Those who find God come to know that Christ completely satisfies. All other objects of affection and sources of pleasure pale in comparison to the thirst quenching water that is to be had in Christ. As John Piper has interpreted the Westminster Shorter Catechism, "the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever." That truth is grounded in the reality that the chief end of God is to glorify Himself by enjoying Himself forever. The reality is that God is pleased with Himself and can never be pleased with anyone or anything else in an ultimate sense. If He could, He would either not be God, for there would be something greater than Him that satisfies, or He would be an idolater for finding pleasure in an object other than Himself. God's goal is to glorify Himself. His goal is to reflect His glory because He alone is glorious. When He is on display, then He is pleased. Thus, the question is raised, how can God be pleased with us?
In Heb 11:6 we read, "But 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 diligently seek Him." This text says that without faith it is impossible to please God. That very language implies that with faith we may please God. The verse also says that God rewards those who seek Him. The implication is that He is pleased in some sense and grants a reward to those with whom He is pleased, that is, to those who have faith.
That dynamic, of course, raises the question of faith in what. In other words, what is the object of our faith? Can saving faith be in anything or must it be in something specific? Of course, saving faith has Christ as its object. Those who are saved look to Christ alone for their salvation. Because Christ is the object of our faith, the implication is that God is pleased with those who have faith because their faith in connected to His Son. In fact, it is through faith that believers are justified in God's sight. Through faith, the very righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner's account. God no longer views the sinner as one who is guilty and dead in sin but as one who is clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
As Christians look to Christ, they are saved, and, sanctified. Christians grow in grace. They grow in the fear and admonition of the Lord. They grow in the knowledge of God's will. In fact, Paul prays that the believers at Colosse will be filled with a knowledge of God's will, which of course, is appropriated through faith, that is, through faith in Christ and His word.
Let's tie the above together. Paul says that being "filled with the knowledge of [God's] will" enables the Christian to "fully [please God] (Col. 1:10)." God is pleased or satisfied with His child as His glory is reflected. The reason for this dynamic is two-fold. In the first place, God delights in His children as He has set His love upon them and sees them in Christ. He cannot delight in them apart from Christ as they have no righteousness apart from Him. Secondly, God ultimately delights in His Son. Christ is the Son of His Love (1:13) and God has purposed that Christ would be glorified by all things.
In an ultimate sense, God delights in Himself because He alone is God and worthy of worship. Thus, a mere human being, in and of himself, cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). To say then that the Christian can please God is to say that God is pleased in His Son as He is glorified in the life of the Christian. Moreover, there is a sense in which God is pleased with the Christian as He sees the Christian in Christ. God is pleased with us only by way of our connection to and our union with Christ. Again, practically speaking, as we walk in God's will, God is pleased with us because the glory of Christ (His power, character, grace, etc.) is on display in our lives.
Can the Christian please God? Yes, when God is glorified in us. In terms of justification, God can never be more pleased with us than He already is. But, in terms of the practical dynamic of pleasing God in the Col. 1:10 sense, as we are increasingly filled with the knowledge of God's will, we can walk in a way that increasingly pleases Him. We have Piper to thank for helping us to understand something about God when he says that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." I might add that God is most satisfied with us when we most glorify Him.