HOW TO PLEASE GOD
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, July 26, 2020.
Part 7 of HUMAN. Various Passages.
THE CORE OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
At the core of the Christian faith are Christ and the Gospel or Good News about him. We profess that Jesus lived, Jesus died for our sins, and Jesus rose to make us right with God (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-9).
The simplest way I know to state the Good News/Gospel is this: We are made right with God by grace alone, received through faith alone, in Christ alone. This beautiful truth is found in passages such as:
(Ephesians 2:8-9) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
So, we say that salvation is God's pure, free, gift. We don't deserve it and we can't earn it by our good works. This means that the Good News is for everyone. No one is excluded by their status or their background. On the other hand, the Good News will change everyone. God loves us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us as we are.
WE ARE SAVED FOR GOOD WORKS
We may not be saved BY good works, but we are most definitely saved FOR good works. The next verse in Ephesians 2 explains this:
(Ephesians 2:10) For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
The grace that makes us right with God also changes how we live. Genuine followers of Jesus are committed to live a godly lifestyle. That distinct way of life is motivated by love for Jesus:
(John 14:15) “If you love me, keep my commands."
Godly living flows out of our experience of God's saving grace. Paul prayed for the Christians in ancient Colossae:
(Colossians 1:9-10) ... Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work,.
God's goal for our lives is that we live to please him through our good works.
HOW TO KNOW WHAT PLEASES GOD
If we're going to do good works that please God, we have to know what God wants, what his will is. How do we discover this?
In his prayer, Paul ties together the work of the Holy Spirit in us and the knowledge of God's will. The Spirit of God tells us God's will and the lifestyle that pleases him. How does the Spirit of God do that? These days, his primary way is the Scriptures. If you want to know what pleases God, the best way to find out is to read the Bible. Paul emphasized this to his co-worker, Timothy:
(2 Timothy 3:16-17) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The Bible is breathed out by God's Spirit so that the Bible prepares us to live right and to do every good work.
Before you dive in, I have two words of advice:
Read the Bible in light of how Christian teachers down through the ages have understood and interpreted it. You'll avoid a lot of bad theology and dead-end thinking that way. The cheapest and most convenient way to do that is to use a Study Bible, such as the NIV Study Bible.
Read the Bible according to the rules of correct interpretation. When we don't follow this advice, we come up with crazy stuff. Again, one way to stay on track is to use a Study Bible, such as the ESV Study Bible.
I believe that the best place to begin the search for God's will is in the teachings of Jesus in the four Gospels of the New Testament.
WHAT JESUS TAUGHT
Jesus spent a good part of his public ministry teaching people how to live in relation to the Kingdom of God.
The Gospel of Matthew, for example, is organized around five collections of Jesus' sayings and teachings. The first collection is known as the Sermon on the Mountain and it is found in Matthew, chapters 5-7.
Jesus was based in the fishing village of Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. To the west of the village are rolling hills and one day, he walked up one of those and a crowd gathered.
When Kim and I were there in January, our guide told us that Jesus probably walked from one group of people to another as he transitioned from one section of the Sermon to another. Maybe his inner group of twelve followed him and that's why Matthew was able to recall so much of it for his Gospel.
Here are three examples from the Sermon on the Mountain:
Love your enemies: (Matthew 5:43-45) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven."
Replace worry with trust in God: (Matthew 6:25, 32) “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear ... 32 For the unbelievers run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them."
Do not be critical of others: (Matthew 7:5) “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
This is God's will for our lives. These are the kinds of practices that please God.
Did you notice anything about those teachings? Jesus always did this: he challenged our "normal" ways of life and proposed a new lifestyle. His insights are about real life, and they are very specific, and he meant them to be obeyed and applied to our lives.
The teachings of Jesus are blueprints that tell us how to do the good works that flow from saving grace.
Jesus meant his teachings to be the foundation for our lives. He told a parable about two builders. One built on sand and his home collapsed. One built on rock and his house stood firm. Jesus interpreted:
(Matthew 7:24) “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock."
A few years back, Kim and I were house hunting. We saw some really awful homes. We had a running joke about the conversation between a couple planning to build. The woman says, "Honey, we should buy some plans. That way we know we'll have a good design." The husband says, "Nah, let's save time and money and design it ourselves." If the husband gets his way, the results are terrible looking houses. Unfortunately, we saw our share of husband-designed projects.
Life is the same. Many people think they can do a better job of designing their lives than Jesus can. They want to be in charge of deciding what is right and wrong, good and evil. The terrible results are all around us.
Healthy Christians have a plan to study and learn and apply the teaching of Jesus to their lives. In this way, they do the good works that please God.
A MISTAKE TO AVOID
Sometimes, we forget that grace changes how we live. We think something like this, "It doesn't matter how I live because I am saved by grace not by works." That's a huge error since, as we saw in Ephesians 2, we are saved by grace so that we will do good works that please God.
When a professing Christian lives a godless life, the results are terrible:
God is dishonored. We rob God of glory.
Unbelievers think Jesus and his teachings are weak and irrelevant.
Believers lose close fellowship with God. They experience God's fatherly discipline, and they miss out on eternal rewards.
Lethargy is lethal to faith. It robs us of joy and spiritual power. When we stop living to please God, it saps our zeal and quenches the fire of the Holy Spirit. So, don't go there.
Instead, study the teachings of Jesus and work with the Holy Spirit to understand and apply them to your life. Glorify God by living a life that pleases him.
A FINAL PRAYER
Let's finish this teaching with a prayer. It is found in Hebrews 13:21 and it is a request that God would work inside us to produce a lifestyle that does his will and pleases him:
(Hebrews 13:21) (May God) equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Join me next time for the next part of our series on being a human. We'll look at God's Word on human sexuality and gender. So, nothing controversial :).
In order to discern God's will for our lives we must adopt a counter-cultural attitude. God does not want us to follow the moral and ethical standards of the world.
(Romans 12:2) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
When we base our ideas about true and false, right and wrong, good and evil, on opinion polls, TV shows, latest fads, what other people are doing, and so on, it blinds us to God's will. Therefore, the first thing we must do is to clear our minds of the cultural chatter. Only then will we be open to what God says.
When I was a teenager, my family went camping along the Loire River in France. My brother and I had an inflatable row boat and we used to paddle down river to the nearest town. Going with the current was easy, but paddling back against the flow was really hard.
In the same way, it's really hard work to be counter-cultural. We're paddling against a very strong current of popular opinion. The culture drowns out God's voice unless we make a firm decision not to listen.
COMMITMENT TO APPLICATION
Knowing is not the same as doing. Agreeing is not the same as doing. Teaching is not the same as doing. Pointing out what other people are doing, is not the same as doing.
God wants application. Jesus demands obedience (See John Piper's book, What Jesus Demands from the World).
Multiple times a day, we all arrive at a crossroads. We have a choice to make about what to say or do. Will we follow God's blueprint and apply the teachings of Jesus? Or will we join the crowd and flow with the culture?
The apostle Peter wanted to persuade Christians to live godly and holy lives. He used multiple motivational methods. I found eight motivations to obey Jesus in the first two chapter of First Peter:
Obey because you will meet with Jesus: (1 Peter 1:13) ... Set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.
Obey because you belong to God: (1 Peter 1:14) As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
Obey because you are called to be like God: (1 Peter 1:15-16) Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.
Obey because you will be judged by God: (1 Peter 1:17) Since you call on a Father who judges each person's work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.
Obey because you are set free by God: (1 Peter 1:18-19) For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ
Obey because you have been transformed by God: (1 Peter 1:22-23) Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God
Obey because you've experienced the goodness of God: (1 Peter 2:1-3) Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Obey so unbelievers will glorify God: (1 Peter 2:11-12) Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.