What Does It Take to Please God?
I tried my hardest to live out what I believed. I had a quiet time every morning. I prayed often. I memorized Scripture. I led a small Bible study group. And I never missed Sunday school or church. But it never seemed like I was doing enough, and I kicked myself for it.
What would it take to please God? What else did I need to do?
One day I asked my pastor these questions, and he had some encouraging words:
"If you're a Christian, God is pleased with you," he said. "It sounds like you're looking at your relationship with God as a to-do list. That's what's stealing your joy."
He pulled out his Bible and turned to Galatians. He told me how the people in the Galatian church felt a lot like me.
"Some people convinced the Galatians they had to keep a list of rules, too. So Paul wrote them a letter to remind them that God accepted them by grace, not because of anything they did.
"Now, don't quit having your quiet time or leading your Bible study. Those things are evidence of a changed heart. But you mustn't think that God's approval rests on how well and how often you do them."
That conversation marked the beginning of my journey toward freedom. I continued studying Galatians, which became a rediscovery of the gospel of grace. Growing up in the church, I had heard the message so many times—that God sent his Son to die for my sins—that eventually I began to tune it out. Yeah, I understand all that. Now let's move on to something else, I would think. But evidently I didn't understand it, because I began to believe that God's acceptance of me was based on my ability to do the right things.
I thought if I studied my Bible and prayed, God would be more pleased with me and more likely to use me than on a day when I overslept and missed my quiet time. But as the gospel became more clear to me, I began to see that even on my best day, when I seem to be doing everything right, I'm still a sinner. I never keep God's commands perfectly. That's why I needed God's grace in the first place.
I think what I lacked in the first few years of my Christian life was the understanding that God is infinitely pleased with me, not because of what I do but because of who I am—his child. Through his grace, I am "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). That means when God looks at me, he doesn't see my sin, he sees the perfection of his Son.
This truth finally clicked when I heard a pastor tell a story about his daughter, Robin. During high school she was enrolled in an honors English class. The first day of class the teacher talked about her expectations and handed out an overview of what they'd be studying.
Robin was completely overwhelmed. She came home and told her father he had to go talk with the teacher to get her out of the class. He agreed to set up a conference during which he and the teacher struck an agreement. The teacher wanted Robin to remain in the class, so she offered to give her an "A" from the very beginning, with the understanding that Robin still do the work and participate in class discussion. Robin agreed to the arrangement. And do you know what the teacher found? Robin turned in "A" work anyway. The teacher removed the threat of failure, and in its absence, Robin excelled.