[Editor's Note: The following excerpt is taken from Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison, ©2015 by Heather Holleman. Used with permission of Moody Publishers.]
Question Three: “Is there anything in my life that doesn’t please God?”
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This question helps me daily as we’re told in Galatians to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). When I’m choosing to live according to my “flesh,” I’m choosing thoughts and activities that do not please God. In Romans we’re told that the “mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” but that “the mind governed by the flesh is death” (Romans 8:6). I know that I can hardly trust my own ways as described in Proverbs 14:12 where even the wisest king wrote, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”
I know my capacity for self-deception and going my own independent way. I know that there’s a part of me—my flesh—that desires things contrary to God’s ways. As I meditate on Galatians 5:16–25, for example, I see examples of the acts of the sinful nature that still dwell inside of me.
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As we grow in maturity in Christ, we’re able to more and more keep in step with the Spirit and turn from the flesh by the Holy Spirit’s power. But at no time are we living under condemnation.
In my early twenties, I lived under so much guilt and condemnation for the sinful choices I made though I was a believer. I was clearly—in many forms—living out the acts of my flesh. I could recite 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” but when I asked Jesus to forgive me, I didn’t really know how to experience that love and forgiveness. I often quoted Romans 8:1 to myself that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Over and over again, I mentally repeated this truth.
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When we’re seated with Christ, the difference is that Jesus is with us, and we are looking at our sin together. He is giving us power to change. He isn’t shaking His finger or turning His face away when we come to Him with a repentant heart. He’s ready to embrace us in the midst of our sin. He loves me. He loves you. He delights in us. We are seated in this delight and acceptance.
The question “Is there anything in my life that doesn’t please God?” is one designed to cleanse the heart and help us deeply abide with Jesus. Since I know my sin grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and that it harms my sweet intimacy with Jesus (Psalm 66:18), I carefully consider my attitudes and behaviors. I’m also aware that sin brings “trouble and distress” into my life (Romans 2:9), so I’m eager to examine my heart for any areas of sin.
We know that, although we are saved from the punishment of sin and that our sins are not held against us, we still battle the sin nature within us. But Christ sympathizes with us in our struggle with sin (Hebrews 4:15). I am seated in Christ, together with all the saints and with a God who understands, and now I can examine my life to grow into godliness
Growing in godliness, however, requires knowledge of the ancient paths that God lays out. He designs life to work best within certain parameters, but many people do not know what these boundaries are. They don’t know how to live uprightly because the culture has so diluted what it means to live a godly life. We need help to understand these paths.
Consider this wonderful promise from Isaiah 48:17: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”
When I ask myself, “Is there anything in my life that doesn’t please God?” I’m asking God to show me what is best and to lead me into the right kind of living. I want a life “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11).
So I examine my life carefully and pray as David did:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)
All day long, we’re assaulted with different messages from the media and culture that can distract us from God’s best ways. A few years ago, I compiled a list of ten questions to help me, like Paul prays, “to discern what is best” (Philippians 1:10).
I want to know “what is best.” Here are some questions that guide my life even today:
1. Does this activity bring me closer to Jesus or further away?
2. Is this activity against the law or another authority?
3. Is this activity forbidden in Scripture?
4. Does this activity help others know Jesus?
5. Would I be embarrassed if Jesus arrived and saw me doing this thing?
6. Is this decision more likely to bring me into temptation or into godly choices?
7. Do people I respect and admire agree with this activity?
8. Does this activity bring me under its power where I can’t control myself?
9. How do I feel about myself and my relationship with God after doing this thing or being with this person?
10. Is the Holy Spirit saying no, and am I ignoring Him?
I’ve turned off certain movies, closed certain books, ended various dating relationships, took different jobs, stopped certain addictive behaviors, and even moved because of these questions. I hope they help you as you begin to make godly choices for your life.
As we grow as Christians and learn to make these good choices, we must remember that we are always accepted and loved by Jesus. To help direct my soul into these truths, I remember the day a mentor asked me, “How do you think God feels about you right now?” At the time, I said—like so many of us might—that Jesus was surely embarrassed, disappointed, and sad about me. Not true! I learned to take those condemning lies and say, “I know that Jesus is absolutely delighted by me. I am His chosen princess at the royal table.”
If you ask women what God feels about them, I highly doubt you’ll receive this kind of answer from many. So many of us believe Jesus doesn’t really love us. Weimagine a frowning, angry, and disappointed face when we think of Jesus. When did we start imagining Jesus as disappointed and ashamed of us? I began to wonder if we lose the truth as we age, so I asked a small child—my own daughter—the question.
I asked my younger daughter, “How do you think Jesus feels about you?”
She smiled and her eyes lit up as she answered quickly and without a bit of hesitation, “Oh, He is so happy about me!”
We need to recapture the little girl inside us who knows Jesus is so happy about us.
Because I’m seated in Christ, when I look at the ways I must change, I don’t feel condemned. I feel excited to grow. I feel thrilled that Jesus would continue to refine and shape me into His image.
When I first began asking God the question, “Is there anything in my life that doesn’t please you?” the answers were obvious. I knew that many things about my life went against God’s word. I felt the deep conviction of the Holy Spirit about various behaviors and attitudes. I confessed those things, and I began to avoid places and people that encouraged me to compromise. I learned to sow to “please the spirit” instead of my flesh.
I read in Galatians 6:8 that “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Sowing to please the Spirit meant doing things that helped develop the parts of my life that were God-honoring. It meant spending time in prayer and Bible study. It meant connecting with like-minded people. It meant finding mentors who could help me grow and hold me accountable for temptation areas of my life. I learned to stop doing things that were “sowing to please my flesh” including certain books, movies, parties, and communities that only pushed me away from God. I didn’t want anything to come between Jesus and me. I wanted, like David prayed in Psalm 86:11, “an undivided heart” so I could praise God and walk closely with Him.
But is it worth it? Is a godly life that great that it outweighs the pleasures of sin? I will tell you this: Nothing—nothing!—compares with the peace of the Holy Spirit and knowing you are experiencing a close relationship with Jesus. Anything that would hinder you from God’s ways is a temporary happiness that will eventually reveal itself for what it is.
Think of Paul’s great question in Romans 6:21: “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” When I look back on my life, I can tell you that sin offers no benefit. It only brings pain and suffering and loss and shame. But the times I spent journaling my thoughts to Jesus, praying, and studying my Bible? Those times have generated more wisdom, fruit, and well-being than you can imagine. God’s word, as it says in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 “continues to work in those who believe.” God’s word will work within me to lead me away from sin and toward godliness.
Today, I love asking Jesus, “Is there anything in my life that doesn’t please You?” This is a joyful, not condemning or depressing process. I’m seated in Christ, covered by Christ’s righteousness, and fully accepted. Therefore, the reason I aim to live a godly life isn’t out of a “works” mentality or any kind of legalism. It’s because I want to continue to allow God to shape me into a woman who’s more and more like Jesus. My motivation isn’t to please God or to earn His favor; that’s already decided. My motivation is to enjoy Jesus more and more and to allow His Holy Spirit to lead me into deeper freedom and intimacy with Jesus.
This article is part of a 3-question series, read Question 1: Is knowing Jesus better than anything? here and Question 2: Will I live the life God asks me to? here!
Heather Holleman, PhD, is the author of Seated With Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison. She is a speaker, writer, and college instructor and serves on the staff of Faculty Commons with Cru. Heather lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and their two daughters. To learn more about Heather, visit her at http://livewithflair.blogspot.com/