7. Pleasing God

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 7.  Pleasing God

Heb 11:5,6   For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

The fact that the Lord took Enoch directly to heaven appears to be the evidence  or reason that the writer said he was “commended as one who pleased God.” This leads him on to make this simple statement about faith that without it, it is impossible to please God. What a devastating blow to the self-righteous and the person who would do good and be religious in order to please God! For at its simplest, faith is simply responding to God, but all these other things are attempts to get to God and manipulate God to approve us, but that never works. He is not impressed by all our self-centred efforts, they are not faith, simply further expressions of our sin.

How terrible to suggest that the nice ladies who ‘go to church’ because it is the socially respectable thing to do, are sinning in their behaviour. How terrible to suggest that the MP (or Senator) who goes to church to win the approval of his constituents is sinning.  But both are true. Religion that stems from our thinking, our ideas of what is right and proper is meaningless in God’s eyes. The Bible says “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer 17:9) The inner workings of our mind and will (the heart) are a constant expression of self-centred godlessness. They are self-centred because they start with what we think. They are godless because they do not pay attention what God thinks.

So he makes this ‘outrageous’ statement that without faith it is impossible to please God.”  But that is not the end of it for he gives us the reason why that is so, starting with that word, ‘because’. Note the sentence that follows and then we’ll look at it in parts: “because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” There are four elements to that that tell us a lot about faith.

First, it starts, “anyone who comes to him,” not anyone who gets all philosophical and not someone with a great social conscience and not someone taken up with the wonder of religious sacraments or ritual, but someone who comes to Him. Faith is found in those who come seeking God – and only them. Turning up in church every week can easily not be faith if it is pure habit motivated by social niceties. Faith is found in seekers of God. Are you and I seekers after God?

Second, there is a belief element to it: “must believe that he exists”. That sounds so obvious but it is fundamental. Faith starts with belief in God. I would like to add, “must believe that he exists here and now in this room” I say that because I think many Christians, if only they were able to be honest, would have to say that they believe in God, but most of the time He’s in the next room. In their thinking they focus on themselves. In their reasoning they focus on their own intellect, in their planning they think for themselves about themselves, if considering pleasure they think what they can do to make themselves feel good. God is not in the same room. If you say ‘He exists’ it doesn’t mean He exists in the Andromeda star system. It means He exists, here on this planet, in this country, in this town, in this home, in this room, with me. Nothing less than that fits this statement by the writer to the Hebrews.

Third, there is a ‘living God’ element to it: “and that he rewards.” i.e. He does things  This is not a passive God model, this is a God who interacts with human beings and says things to them and responds to them. But it’s massively bigger than just that – see that word ‘reward’.  A reward is something good, something of value given in response to something (yes, we can talk about rewards of evil as well) and so yes, we usually look forward to a reward. This speaks about a giving God, a God who wants to do good by us, who wants to bless us, decree good for us. I am convinced that many of us have the “hard man” mentality of Jesus’ parable (Lk 19:21).  One of the greatest changes that can come about in a church is when we realise that God actually IS a good God, a giving God.

Fourth, there is our response to that Good News, “those who earnestly seek him.”  You will seek after God for one of two reasons and both are good. First, you sense your need that you feel only God can meet, a yearning that only God can satisfy. Second, you start to really believe He is a good, loving God who has good plans and purposes for you and you want to enter into those plans and purposes but you can only do that by coming close to Him and hearing from Him.

But note also the word ‘earnestly’. This means not half-heartedly. Do you remember in the first study in this particular series we examined James’ teaching where he said, “when he asks, he must believe and not doubt.” (Jas 1:6) It’s the same sort of thing. If you don’t seek God earnestly, it means you are not sure about why you are doing it, you are not sure He is a good and loving God who rewards His children, and so God waits, holding back His blessing until you come close to Him, which will be when you seek Him earnestly.

So what have we learned about faith in this verse? It is a whole-hearted seeking after God and responding to God which pleases Him. Anything less than that…..

19. Pleasing God

Meditations in Colossians: 19. Pleasing God

Col 1:10   And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way:

The idea that we can please God is, I believe, alien to many people. We are more conscious of failure than success and of guilt, blame and possible judgment that of forgiveness, cleansing and blessing. So is pleasing God a possible reality?

Jesus said, I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (Jn 5:30). This was Jesus’ intent in respect of all that he did, but then we find something strange happening BEFORE Jesus started his ministry: “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) Admittedly he was about thirty years old at that point and therefore the Father’s words could seem to be approval of how he had lived so far, but there appears something more than that, especially we you put it alongside the Father’s words on the Mount of Transfiguration: “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Mt 17:5)

In both those instances the approval word, ‘pleased’, comes after a declaration of love. In both cases the Father speaks of His Son, “whom I love.” The sense of being pleased with His Son is more simply, “I am pleased with him because He is my Son”. He is pleased with Jesus’ existence, his presence as the Son, and that before he does anything in terms of ministry. I have two sons (and a daughter and it apples to her too) and when they were both young, I would look at them and, although I did not look at them in this way, I realise that it was true – I was pleased that they were my sons, even though they were childish, even though they sometimes said and did things wrong.  When I see them today, I am always pleased to see them – before they even have a chance to say or do anything in my direction; I am simply pleased that they are first and foremost, my sons!

Now the New Testament tells us that we are sons of God, children of God (see Rom 8:14,19,23) It is all very clear: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,”  (Gal 3:26 – see also 4:5,6. Heb 12:5-7)  First and foremost God is pleased with us because we ARE His sons. That is the starting place. We please God by who we now are.

Of course it wasn’t always like that. In the writings of the New Testament there are various warnings but they also remind us what we were once like, for example, “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” (Rom 8:8) That’s what we were once like, controlled by the sinful nature, but no more!  Then Paul makes it even more clear: “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:8)  Moreover, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6)

But all that has now changed, when we came to Him and were born again, it all changed. We are no longer those controlled by the old nature, but those controlled by His Spirit and His word. We now live to please Him and as we are led by the Spirit, we are people of faith. Like the apostle Paul we are able to say, “So we make it our goal to please him’” (2 Cor 5:9) and, “We are not trying to please men but God,” (1 Thess 2:4) Now our desire to please Him comes not from some craven fear of a scary God, but from Spirit-filled hearts that love their heavenly Father and want to bless Him.

Listen to what Paul said to the Thessalonians: “we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.” (1 Thess 4:1) Yes, the way we live pleases God. He is blessed that we have returned to Him like the prodigal son, He is blessed that we have joined His family and He is blessed as He watches us, as He sees we seek to conform to His will and His word, and live out these new lives, led and inspired and empowered by His Spirit. When the Thessalonians turned to the Lord and were born again, Paul instructed them as to the sort of lives they were now free to live, lives that would indeed please the Father, not only because they were simply His Sons, but also lives that were showing the fruits of being those sons, and that blessed him. So now when Paul writes to them, he reminds them of that early teaching and is blessed that they are now following it through.

So here now to the Colossians he prays, “that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.”  We’ve also seen the motivation of seeking to be ‘worthy of the Lord’ and now he adds this further motivation of pleasing God “in every way”.  We don’t aim to please Him just on Sunday mornings, or at the prayer meeting or at the Bible study. No, we are sons of God all the time! Let’s live as His sons (and daughters), let’s bless Him, not just by being, but also in our doing.