During a Sunday morning service in St. Joseph, Missouri, a few years back, I asked the congregation how many of them really want to please God more than anything else. Every hand went up. Then I asked them, "How many of you think God is really pleased with you?" Out of at least 400 people, one 11-year-old boy and one 10-year-old girl raised their hands. That was all.
Very few believers actually believe that they are pleasing to God. Most feel some degree of forgiveness and maybe acceptance, but to think that the Lord is actually pleased with us is another matter. A person can choose to love you because of his or her own goodness, but to be pleased with you, they actually have to like your performance. Right?
With God, no one could ever be pleasing to Him based on performance. His standard is perfection, and no goodness on our part can ever compensate for our sins. We may please man with our actions, but "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). It takes the precious blood of Jesus to do that.
The way we receive the forgiveness that's available through Jesus' blood is by faith (Rom. 10:9-17). When we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior, we are pleasing God. Hebrews 11:6 says, "But without faith it is impossible to please him."
Faith comes from the heart (Rom. 10:10), and God looks on the heart - not the actions (1 Sam. 16:7). Of course, God sees our actions and will deal with us about them, but only because they are inseparably linked to our hearts (Prov. 23:7). It's our hearts that really concern God, and faith in Him (trust, reliance) is what He is searching the heart for.
A person whose actions are not right but who trusts the Lord is more pleasing to God than an individual who is doing the right things but has no faith in God. It's not a case of those who act the best will get accepted, and those who act the worst get rejected. That would put some of the followers of other religions ahead of many Christians, but that is not what the Bible teaches.
This is exactly the point Paul is making in Romans 11:6: "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." That's old English for saying, "It's one way or the other but not a combination of the two." We're either saved by God's grace through what Jesus did for us, or we're saved by what we do without Jesus, but not a combination of the two. The choice should be the obvious.
Elijah is an example of a great man who lived a holy life and didn't earn God's pleasure with his actions. He made some serious mistakes. He ran in the face of persecution and became so depressed over it that he asked the Lord to kill him (1 Kin. 19). The Lord gave him three direct commands in an audible voice (1 Kin. 19:15-16), and Elijah never did two of them (refer to my teaching entitled "Elijah's Downfall?"). Most people would think God couldn't have been pleased with Elijah, yet Elijah was translated.
Even though our heart conditions influence our actions, we all fail in our performance to some degree. Elijah did. If God used performance as the basis of whether or not He was pleased with us, no one would ever pass the test. "If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" (Ps. 130:3).
Satan used to accuse me and say, "What makes you think God will use you?" The truth is that none of us are perfect, we don't deserve the blessings of God. Now I put my faith in Jesus. It's hard for some people to accept this. It has been ingrained in us that if we aren't holy, God won't bless us. When God looks at you, He doesn't see your goodness - He sees Jesus.
If you're walking in faith, you use faith as the rate of exchange between you and God. God is pleased with you even though your actions don't measure up. Your life may be a wreck, but God is still pleased with you. Our religion says that is hypocrisy. On the contrary, the worst sin is self-righteousness - the attitude that God owes it to you because you've been good.
The difficult thing is that there are no role models for grace. Your employer hires you based on performance. The parent-child relationship is based on performance, even though it shouldn't be. When it comes to God, your performance can't earn you anything. If you sin, you need a savior. It is your faith in Jesus that will grant you access to God.
Most people accept this level of grace when it pertains to salvation. However, some of you may think that after you're born again, God expects you to pray and study; and if you don't do these things, God won't bless you. After you are born again, it doesn't change! Colossians 2:6 says, "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him." When we are born again, we come to Jesus just as we are. In fact, if a person has a lot of sin, it's even more reason to come to Jesus. When it comes to being healed, it's a different story with most Christians. They think if you haven't read your Bible today or you had a fight on the way to church, it will keep you from being healed. That's a double standard. That's saying that the way you approach God after you're born again is different. Your actions may not please God today, but you can be healed or delivered in spite of it.
Some of you may think I'm advocating sin. I'm not - your actions are important to you. Your holiness is important because it changes your heart toward God and not God's heart toward you. Unholiness will hurt you. Even though God will love you just as much, you won't love God as much. It will harden your heart toward God. It's like eating. You must eat to stay alive, but eating is not life. If you miss one meal, will you die? If you constantly live in sin and never feed yourself spiritually, it will kill you. I am not saying you should ignore your actions. You will never do everything perfectly, but don't let it keep you from receiving the blessings of God.
Luke 22 shows us an example of someone who had faith and pleased God. In verses 31 and 32 Jesus is talking to Peter before the crucifixion. "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." Peter did blow it tremendously. He denied the Lord three times. He cursed and blasphemed God, and yet Jesus prayed that his faith wouldn't fail. Jesus' prayers were always answered. Peter's actions failed, but not his faith. If Peter hadn't repented it would have killed him. He was restored to God and went on to become a pillar of the church.
Some of you may be thinking, This is great - I can live like the devil and still get what I want from God." If you think that, I'd say you aren't born again, because a Christian wants to please God. This word is for Christians who have a desire to serve God but who still sin. When that happens, you go on and catch up and stand there with confidence in your Savior. Your faith in Jesus pleases God. None of us get saved and head straight on the path to God. We bounce around, but we're still heading in the general direction.
"To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved" (Eph. 1:6). You do please God through your faith in Jesus as your Savior, and you must perceive that you please Him.