By Brad Rogers
“Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:1
“How often do you think about pleasing God?”
I like to ask people this question to help them reflect on who they are aiming to please in life: friends? parents? a boss? a spouse? a child? a crush? themselves?
I hope that this question encourages people to consider the motives behind their actions, because living to please yourself or others often leads to fear and anxiety while living to please the Lord is vital for true peace and freedom.
This is what I believe and teach, and it is all well and good. But deep in my heart I wonder if it is really possible to please God.
Personally, the biblical commands that call me to please the Lord feel more like a crushing burden than the keys to freedom and peace. Self-serving motives that I can’t seem to shake and my general clumsiness make pleasing the Lord feel impossible to me.
I easily find faults in my motives and in my service, so surely God, in his omniscience, who knows my heart, sees these faults too - and then some. So how could God ever be pleased with me or my actions at all?
My (not so) filthy rags
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” Isaiah 64:6a
I have heard it taught, and I’ve taught it myself, that this verse from Isaiah means that God sees everything I have done (all my righteous acts) in obedience as a follower of Christ “like filthy rags” because, regardless of how great and helpful those acts may have been, there was still sinful self-serving mixed in.
However, I learned that this is not what the prophet Isaiah is addressing. Instead, Isaiah is taking the Israelite's to task for performing religious rituals in the hope of receiving God’s blessing while continuing to live to please themselves. Their “righteous acts” were merely lip service, and so God rejected their sacrifices since they were not offered by faith, in love, for God.
So, if all my righteous acts aren’t filthy rags, is God pleased by them? Find out. Read part 2 of this series, What Pleases God?