How can I know what pleases God?For generations the people of the world have tried to worship and appease gods and often they do so with great confusion and trepidation because their gods and their wills often seem unknowable. But the one true God has made Himself and His will known. He does this through creation (Psalm 19; Romans 1:20), through His Word, and most evidently in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:1–3 tells us, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (See also Colossians 1:19–20).
The Bible is clear that apart from salvation in Jesus Christ we cannot be pleasing to God. All humans have gone against God (called "sin") and, as a result, are deserving of His punishment. There is nothing any of us can do in our own efforts to make ourselves pleasing to God. Romans 3 and Ephesians 2 make that evident. Equally evident, however, is the reality of God's grace and His forgiveness. Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, lived a perfect life and died on a cross as a sacrificial substitute for our sins. He then rose back to life, proving He is who He says He is and that His sacrifice was sufficient. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." When we admit our sin and turn to God in faith, Jesus' work on the cross is applied to our account and we become children of God (John 1:12). We are granted eternal life (John 3:16–18). Not only that, but we are given the indwelling Holy Spirit who works to transform us. We are saved from the consequences of our sins and also given freedom to live in a way that pleases God (Philippians 2:12–13). We are not saved by our works, but good works do result from salvation (Ephesians 2:8–10). Once we have become children of God, we desire to live in ways that please Him. Because we know God and love Him, we seek to live lives that please Him and glorify Him (Philippians 2:12–13; 1 Corinthians 10:31).
So how can we know what pleases God? We look to God's Word (the Bible) to tell us about who He is and what pleases Him. We also look to Jesus who not only is our Savior, making a way for us to be forgiven of our sin, but who is the perfect model for living a life that pleases God.
Even before the birth, life, and teachings of Jesus, God was making it plain to people what it means to please Him. Romans 1:20 talks about the reality of God's existence being evident to all. Romans 2:15 talks about an innate conscience. The Old Testament explains how God chose the Israelites to be set apart both for the physical ancestry of Jesus and as an example to the world of who He is. The Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy include hundreds of teachings on how the Israelites were to behave and in doing so please God. These teachings range from observing important dates such as the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:17), to the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), to how to treat immigrants well (Leviticus 19:34), and instructions on integrity in money and banking (Deuteronomy 23:19). We are no longer bound by Old Testament laws, but they speak to us about God's character and demonstrate to us the attitudes and actions that please Him.
God also spoke through the prophets to tell His people who He is, what He is doing, and what pleases Him. The prophet Micah wrote, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). These simple statements encompass so much of what God desires from us. When we pay attention to these overarching ideas in all of our actions—justice, mercy, and humility—that pleases God.
Jesus knew the heart and mind and will of God. When speaking of His relationship with God, the Father, Jesus said, "I always do the things that are pleasing to him" (John 8:29). Jesus is the perfect example of how we should live and please God. Matthew 3:17 records what some say is the commissioning service of Jesus, the beginning of His earthly ministry. He had lived for thirty years and was just now beginning to formally teach the ways and will of God. This commissioning took place at Jesus' baptism when God spoke from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Jesus had not started teaching, had not performed any miracles, had not yet healed anyone, or given up His life on the cross. Still, at this point in time He had been faithfully doing the will of His Father, and that is what pleased God.
For us, the best way to know Jesus, our perfect example, is to read the Bible. The four books, known as the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—introduce us to who Jesus is, when and where He was born, what He taught, how He died on a cross, and how He returned from the dead and ascended to heaven. The book of Acts is the story of how the early church believed that Jesus really did die and come back to life, and how that forever changed their day-to-day living. The New Testament epistles give some more specific information on what salvation entails and how, when we are in Christ, we are transformed by the Holy Spirit. We learn about remaining in God's truth and avoiding false teaching. We see how to treat fellow believers as well as unbelievers. We are also told of the importance of sharing the gospel. The New Testament assures us about salvation in Jesus Christ. As stated above, while Old Testament laws were written for the Israelites for the time before Jesus, the Old Testament tells us about the history of humanity, the reality of human sin, the coming Savior (Jesus Christ), and the grace and mercy of God. It speaks of God's character and is instructive for us to know who He is and what pleases God. Additionally, the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament offers daily wisdom on how we can live according to God's will and in doing so please Him.
A popular phrase within the church is, "How then shall we live?" Romans 12:1–2 offers a clear and concise summary of how we can live in a way that is pleasing to God: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." We are changed men and women when we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9–10; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Again, this is a gift from God and we can do nothing to earn it (Ephesians 2:8–9). When we are saved in Jesus Christ, we are secure in that status. God's love for us will not change and the promise of eternal life holds true. But, due to the inner transformation that occurs when we are saved, we begin to want to do what pleases God. And He helps us to do so. When we are living in the saving grace of Jesus, when we are "in Christ," it is then that we receive wisdom from the Holy Spirit and can live our lives as a sacrifice to God and we can "discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable…" (See also 1 Corinthians 2:6–16).
Yes, God is mysterious, but He has done everything we need Him to do to remove the veil so we can see clearly. Jesus summarized all of the teachings of the Law and the saying, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37–39). He told His disciples, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34–35). Jesus makes it very clear that what pleases God is loving Him and loving others.
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