You—yes, even you—can please God

Paul believed that God takes pleasure in actions that conform to God’s will.

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.

2 thoughts on “You—yes, even you—can please God”

  1. I connect Paul’s declaration in Romans 8 of our ability to call God; Abba, Father to Romans 12:1-2 where Paul shows that if we are willing to live dedicated lives, we can live transformed lives. While the concept of a living sacrifice seems odd, it illustrates what our Heavenly Father would like to receive from us. I know I was always pleased by the “gifts” offered by the grubby hands of my children, (even when I couldn’t immediately identify the gift’s utility). While it is hard to concieve that I could do anything that would be of value to Him, I believe God has to be pleased when I attempt to harness the power of the Holy Spirit to give Him my all. When, however haltingly, we make our lives a living sacrifice, offering everything we have and everything we are, with grubby hands to our Heavenly Father, we worship Him and He is pleased.

  2. I think that merely because you are supposed to do something does not mean that the person for whom you are doing it is not “pleased” by what you have done. Professional pass receivers really should catch every pass that gets to them, but nonetheless we are ecstatic when one makes the big catch that wins the game. We really should be perfect, but nonetheless God, who knows our infirmities (we are but dust and ashes), is pleased when we really do step up to the plate with some great act of faith or some particularly tough act of obedience. (Consider Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac.) God does occasionally brag on some of his saints (see Job; also Noah, etc.). I have a right to expect obedience from my kids, but nonetheless I am pleased when they actually do obey, especially when it is something hard. Probably you agree with all this, but I guess my point is that though we should always act perfectly, it is pretty hard for us to do so lots of the time, so God is pleased when we really make a special effort in that direction.

    Might I also note that it is in fact the very effort we make toward obedience and faith that God is looking for? (As well as the humility and “apology” we make when we do fail, just as with our “loved ones.”) In other words, God is not judging GOD based on what God is doing for or within us. WE should certainly be thankful to God for what he does, but from GOD’S perspective he is looking at what WE do. I would go back to my 90%/10% illustration. We should be thankful to God for the 90% of all success that he contributes toward, but what God is looking for is the 10% that WE add (or, don’t add). I think this is what is being pointed out by the parable of the talents. God provides the “talents,” but he is looking at what WE make of them.

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