While I was reflecting on Romans 12:1-2 for my sermon this Sunday, I had a startling realization: I don’t really believe that I can do anything to “please” God. To be sure, I’m quite convinced that I regularly disappoint God, but please him? To do something that brings God pleasure? Who can believe such a crazy thing?
After all, when we do what God wants us to do, aren’t we merely meeting God’s minimum requirement—what he already expects of us, and shame on us for failing to do it before? Isn’t that like getting an “S” for satisfactory conduct instead of an “N” for needs improvement? (When I was in elementary school, I got lots of N’s in conduct!)
So who believes that we can do something to please God? Well, St. Paul does, for one. Twice in these two verses Paul says so. In N.T. Wright’s reflection on these verses, he deals nicely with my incredulity:
Centuries of post-Augustine and post-Reformation thought have quite rightly emphasized the free, unmerited grace of God, and the response of faith alone, as the basis of the Christians’ standing in Christ, his or her membership in the family whose sins have been dealt with through Jesus’ death. But this tradition, precisely in order to avoid the impression of compromise at this central point, has often failed to give due weight to the proper and regular Pauline emphasis that those who are justified in Christ and indwelt by the Spirit can, should, and regularly do “please God,” that God is delighted with them not merely because they appear “in Christ” but because of what they are, and are becoming, and are beginning to do.[†]
† N.T. Wright in “Romans,” New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 707.