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Sometimes Christians can give the impression that pleasing God is a sub-biblical motivation.

“We’re totally justified,” someone might say. “We’re totally accepted. If we tell our kids to please God, we are just giving them more law. We are training them to be little moralists. We’re discipling them to think of God as a kind of Santa Claus keeping a naughty-and-nice list.”

Obviously (or maybe not so obviously), that’s not how God wants us to parent, because that’s not what God is like with his children. But don’t let the potential abuse of this “pleasing God” language lead you to suppress what Scripture clearly says. One of the principal motivations for holiness is the pleasure of God.

Over and over, more than a dozen times in the New Testament, we have this motivation. We ought to be generous. We ought to be godly. We ought to love and live a certain way because it pleases God.

Some of us have taken justification to mean we no longer have a dynamic relationship with our heavenly Father, as if God is indifferent to our sin and our obedience. But Scripture says we can grieve the Holy Spirit, and in Hebrews 12 we see that a father disciplines those he loves. God is not pleased when we sin. Or, as John Calvin puts it, God can be “wondrously angry with his children.”

This doesn’t mean God is ever against us as his justified people. He is always for us. But just as a parent can be upset with a child, so God can consider our actions grievous and discipline us accordingly.

If that kind of dynamism discourages you, consider the flip side. We can also please God with our efforts. Through the finished work of Christ, our good deeds are rendered delightful to God. When we hear the language of “pleasing God,” some of us panic because we only relate to God as a judge. But he is also our Father.

If you think, I have to please God with my obedience because he is my judge, you will undermine the good news of justification by faith alone. But you ought to reason this way: “I’ve been acquitted. The Lord is my righteousness. I am justified fully and adopted into the family of God for all eternity. I am so eager to please my Father and live for him.”

It’s good to want to protect justification, but don’t do it at the expense of a dynamic relationship with your heavenly Father. There is a difference between saying to your child, “God is watching over you, and when you don’t share your toys, you make baby Jesus cry,” and saying, “God is our Father, and when you listen to what Mommy and Daddy say and you try to do what they want you to do, it makes God really happy. He gets a smile on his face when he sees you trying to do the right thing.”

That’s what a dozen New Testament texts teach us. It’s how God means to motivate all of us.

This article originally appeared at Desiring God.

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23 thoughts on “Yes, You Can Please Your Heavenly Father”

  1. Ali says:

    thank you.
    “suppressing what Scripture clearly says” = unbelief?

    “a dynamic relationship with your heavenly Father” : “You (Jesus) are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” (Jesus) who kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously

    Not a dynamic relationship : with most of them God was not well-pleased (1 Cor 10:5a) – we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief(Heb 3:19)
    And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Heb 11:6)

    it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil 2:13)

  2. Renee Byrd says:

    Please next time consider people who have bad fathers.
    Especially consider women.
    Especially consider women whose fathers were elders.
    When you’re 15 and ask your dad how his day was and he pushes you so hard against the microwave that you break your arm and he lies and tells the doctor you fell . . .
    I gave up pleasing anyone a long time ago.

  3. Hugh McCann says:

    Two four-letter words come to mind in reply, Mr D: Good luck.

    Good luck with (a) the hamster-wheel of running yourself to death (your reasonable service to our King) trying to keep ahead on the “pleasing God curve,” and,

    (b) good luck avoiding phariseeism (the inevitable result of such “dynamism”), as you try to add to Christ’s perfect work to please God, while attempting to avoid sins so as not to displease him.

    Luck is you have in such a crude endeavor.

    Then, by faith receive the truth
    of there being now no condemnation for us,
    of all of God’s wrath being spent on Christ at Calvary,
    of our being accepted in the beloved. Accepted.

  4. Aaron says:

    I agree with this article, it’s excellent! I’m just wondering, from a practical perspective, if the example at the end is a wise way to describe this concept to my kids? (“God is our Father, and when you listen to what Mommy and Daddy say and you try to do what they want you to do, it makes God really happy. He gets a smile on his face when he sees you trying to do the right thing.”) Maybe I’m not thinking it through correctly but there’s just something a little off about explaining it like that.

  5. Hugh McCann says:

    Kevin,

    Luck is all one has in such an endeavor. But the gospel is different. And we cannot improve upon it or add to it.

    We please God because we’re in Christ. 24/7.

    Sure, good works are pleasing to the Father. But they don’t add to God’s delight in us, since he cannot be more pleased with us than he is with us IN HIS SON.

    And our sins both of commission and omission are covered in Christ’s blood (as well as our pathetic good deeds, “filthy rags”), and hence, CHRIST BORE ALL of the Father’s displeasure toward us; there is none left in God to share, except upon the reprobate.

    There is no such “dynamism” or change in God’s perspective of us, or disposition toward us. Such a notion is Romish, noxious, and dangerous. Please beware.

    God is immutable (Mal. 3:6), eternally loving and drawing us (Jer. 31:3, Eph. 1:4, 2:4, et. al.). This doesn’t change into displeasure or anger.

    In the gospel, Christ was MADE SIN for us, and “hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” That we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Completely righteous, sanctified, washed, wise, justified, redeemed (1 Cor. 1:30, 6:11).

    And, If you think, “I have to please God with my obedience because he is my judge,” you will undermine the good news of justification by faith alone. But you ought to reason this way: “I’ve been acquitted. The Lord is my righteousness. I am justified fully and adopted into the family of God for all eternity. I am so eager to LIVE FOR HIM, BECAUSE I DO ALWAYS THOSE THINGS THAT PLEASE HIM.”

    Your final paragraph is a distinction w/o difference: You load the language with a sad baby Jesus, but it’s just the flipside of the same coin. You have the saints displeasing and pleasing God above and beyond the work of Christ.

    Works of supererogation? Apparently so. Bad show.

    “God is our Father, and when you listen to what Mommy and Daddy say and you try to do what they want you to do, it makes God really happy. He EVER HAS a smile on his face when he sees you trying to do the right thing.”

    And, God is our Father, and when you don’t listen to what Mommy and Daddy say, and you don’t try to do what they want you to do, God’s still really happy with you in Christ. He ever has a smile on his face as he sees you doing the right thing, trying to do the right thing, or when you’re doing the wrong thing! His love and his pleasure for all of us are IN CHRIST, in whom he is ever well-pleased, and never displeased.

    Read more Luther and maybe less Calvin. :) And beware of Chandler, Lent, etc.

    Colossians 2 proves that Psalm 51 is passe for those in Christ Jesus.

  6. D.J. says:

    Great article Kevin. I was wondering if you could comment on the following:

    I’ve always struggled in my walk with the “tension” between knowing I am fully justified through Christ and that He has pleased the Father, and the notion that anything I can do, even in Christ, has the potential to please the Father.

    Where I struggle with this most is in answered prayer. I always have the nagging sense that if I’m praying for something, and I happen to sin while waiting for the answer, that because my sin displeases God, then He won’t answer the prayer.

    But then I think, how can that be since the only basis for my pleasing God is in Christ. So then how does that work in regards to us getting answers to prayer? I think that’s why many Christians feel we are on the so-called “performance treadmill” because we believe that “if we regard iniquity in our hearts” then the Lord won’t answer our prayers. But obviously our sin goes MUCH deeper than we even know, so…

    Anyway, can you speak to that? Thanks.

  7. Kevin says:

    Some of the comments on these types of articles/blog recently are very concerning. The Bible is very clear about that face that believers, while justified before God’s tribunal and adopted into his family, can still displease him in a sense similar to how a child can displease his parents. God wants you to act in a particular way and to care about acting in that particular way, making effort to to do so as the Spirit of God works in you. If you don’t do that at all, there is reason to believe you are not saved. If you truly are saved and you fall into sin, Scripture clearly states that you fall under God’s fatherly displeasure. There is also a clear principle of rewards in heaven based on our obedience in this life as well. God never says in Scripture. “Now that you’re in Christ I don’t care one whit in any sense how you act.” That makes no biblical sense whatsoever. It also betrays a misunderstanding of what God does for us in the grace of the gospel. The grace of the gospel should cause us to love God’s law and delight to do what pleases him, because, by definition, our acting according to the law pleases him more than our not breaking the law. Yes, those in Christ are still justified despite their continued sins, but God is never pleased when we sin. I don’t understand how this principle could possibly be called unbiblical.

  8. doug sayers says:

    Hugh, your replies serve to illustrate Kevin’s point, in that you fail to distinguish the contexts of pleasing God in order to be saved and pleasing God in order to honor Him as Lord and Savior.

    Forget Luther. Forget Calvin and Chandler and….

    Read the the texts that Kevin showed and especially the Apostle John’s first epistle on the role of obedience in our assurance of the new birth.

    Q: What do many call a man with faith and no works?
    A: Eternally secure.

    We must distinguish between our doctrines of salvation and our doctrines of assurance of salvation. They overlap but are not identical.

  9. Richard F says:

    I agree with all those posts (bar one perhaps).

    KdY slips between you ‘ought’ to please God, and you are ‘so eager’ to please God.

    If the latter is true because of the transformation slowly (not instanteously) worked in the believer, then it need not be said; indeed to say so instantly drags the old man back into the ascendency. And if transformation is lacking, then saying that it ‘ought’ to be there simply adds another burden to the obligations that I thought the cross relieved us of. The gospel (of freedom) is needed for the ongoung life of the Christian; why is it that I have no sense that GC understands this?

    Indeed why is it that all, or at least most, roads at GC lead either to legalism, or more accurately to ‘covenental nomism’?!

    I agree that we need more Luther who understood the chasm between law (including GC soft law) and gospel, and less sub-Calvinism. I don’t even believe that Calvin, with his high sense of union with Christ not just for justification but for the Christian life thereafter, would go along with GC’s offering. Even Calvin’s third use of the law is not intended the way GC use it

    The apostle Peter wrote about placing burdens on people that even ‘our’ forefathers could not bear.

    What is it with GC?

  10. Hugh McCann says:

    Kevin, Doug, you’re either in Christ, or you’re not.

    His record of 100% Father-pleasing obedience is yours, or it is not.

    Grease the wheel and get to work.

    If the Puritans seem too wimpy, Ignatius de Loyola had a good routine, too.

    All the best; as I said, good luck, ’cause you need a ton.

    Then, repent and believe the gospel.

  11. K Collins says:

    Thank you for this article. I find that when I read scripture this is the conclusion I come to (Kevin’s article), then I read what others say ( that seems honoring to God) and it causes confusion. I do enjoy reading articles and others thoughts but I find it can lead to confusion when they contradict what I see so clearly in the whole of scripture and yet are displaying such a high view of God. I totally agree that is is Christ’s righteousness that I am dependent on, and I also agree that I can’t help but want to please my heavenly Father. I desire to know what pleases Him, I want to know about Him, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming love for Him, it just seems foreign to me to not care to please Him. I can’t imagine that is what is being said here, but instead you all are wanting to defend the fact that we are justified by Christ alone, right? I am with Kevin on this and can’t understand how we could differ on this biblically. How can we do anything other than desire to please Him? I am not saying we don’t sin, just that our heart’s desire seems now to want to know and do those things that we see in scripture that he loves- isn’t that sanctification- being made like Christ? This reminds me of conversation I have with my kids or husband where we are agreeing yet disagreeing. It can be so frustrating!

  12. In the greek the word wrath means distressed not angry. God is distressed over the consequences of our sin and its impacts on us and others. Christ broke the power of sin, satan and death on the cross so we would not be slaves to sin any more. That means we are free to chose Gods way or our way. Forunately for us Grace aboundes in our lives so works are not required. What pleases God is simple do as CHrist did announce and demonstrate that the Kingdom of God has arrived, through providing grace, mercy, forgiveness, justice and compassion to a dark world. You do this and all this debate slips away “and the things of this world will grow slowly dim in the light of His wonderful grace.

  13. John Anthony says:

    I know that those who follow the “rock stars” on GC eat up the “Law” and keep coming back for another helping day after day after day…but there is a much superior way: Christ ALONE. His finished work IS sufficient to satisfy the wrath of almighty God for my sins, and yours Kevin. Amen.

  14. Bill says:

    I agree with Kevin when he answers the question “can you please your heavenly father” with a resounding yes. But this answer applies to all Christians, God is pleased with every Christian all the time. An unbeliever cannot please God, but a Christian always pleases God. Even when we sin, God is pleased with us, and disciplines us in love. Hebrews 12:6 . Now, is God pleased with our sin ? No, he is not, but he is pleased with us Christians all the time, nothing can displease Him about us. Even when David sinned God was pleased with David and forgave his inequity, with that said God was extremely displeased with David’s sin (not with David whom God loved regardless whether David sinned or not) and his newborn child died as a result.

  15. Bill says:

    There is nothing I can do to get God to love me more. As a Christian whether I read the bible or sit in a strip club watching the strippers God’s love for me is unchanging, it is unconditional. This as I said in my previous post does not mean that God is pleased with my sin, but he certainly is pleased with me regardless how much I sin or do not sin. I cannot get God to be more pleased with me by me being more obedient, or by me tithing, or whatever. Nobody can buy God’s favor that is unmerited. Where sin abounded grace abounded even more, God was pleased. Luke 7:36-50 , where Jesus is anointed by a prostitute exemplifies this showing how pleased Jesus was with a prostitute.

  16. Bill says:

    God loves the sinner (the christian, the repentant sinner) but hates the sin is the right way to summarize what i wrote in my two posts above.

  17. Jenniffer says:

    Thanks for every other wonderful post. The place else may just anybody get that type of info in such an ideal way of writing? I’ve a presentation subsequent week, and I am on the search for such information.

  18. If some of the comments above are to be taken as indicative of a wider mindset, then may I be so bold as to suggest that you are a much-needed voice on these issues? Thank you for this and your wider work in getting us to think about holiness and the Christian life much more deeply and proactively.

  19. Jared says:

    Friends, we are fully accepted, fully loved, fully forgiven by God. There is now no more condemnation because God sees Jesus’ righteousness in us. He has made us His children, adopted us into His family, the church. As part of His family we always please God, yes. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t want us to be holy as we have been made holy in His eyes. God doesn’t want us to stay as we are like little babies (Paul uses this illustration in multiple letters). I expect more out of my 7 year old son than I do out of my 2 year old son. I am fully pleased with both sons though. I completely accept both sons into my unqualified love, but that doesn’t mean their actions do not grieve me sometimes or that their actions do not overwhelm me with pride at times. Do I love them any more or less? No. I completely love them both BECAUSE they are my sons. Yet I must discipline them to teach them, to help them mature. And when they disobey me it shows areas in their lives where they do not trust me. Likewise, because true trust always results in obedience, if I fail to obey God there’s an area in my life where I fail to believe (trust) His promises. God’s love for us is complete and full. There is now no more condemnation for us. He loves us because we are His sons and daughters, not because of our actions. However, that does not change the biblical texts teaching us His desire for us to grow, to become more like His Son. He loves us so much He doesn’t wish for us to stay as babies, wallowing in our own refuse. He wants us to grow. And this pleases Him. It gives Him Fatherly joy. And the alternative grieves Him. If my eldest son went to the strip club, Bill, would I love him any less? No I would not. And it is BECAUSE of my love that I would be disappointed and upset. Although I take pleasure in my relationship with my son, and I always will, I will most definitely be displeased to the point of grief if he was frequenting a strip club. Guys, isn’t this common sense? If God really loves us, wouldn’t He want us to me more like His Son, day by day?

  20. Bill says:

    Jared, a couple of points here. I will put in quotes what you say and then comment on it:

    1) “And when they disobey me it shows areas in their lives where they do not trust me. Likewise, because true trust always results in obedience, if I fail to obey God there’s an area in my life where I fail to believe (trust) His promises.” This is correct and true of all Christians. None of the elect have perfect faith, they are all of little faith as Peter in Matthew 14:22-33 . Only Jesus has perfect faith and can walk on water, none of the elect can. This why nobody can have assurance of salvation by looking at his faith, the assurance of salvation comes from firmly trusting in the promises of the gospel that solely on account of Christ’s merit we are freely justified. Romans 4:5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, Saving faith is devoid of any merit, it has no bearing with obedience to God’s law of commandments, quite the contrary it acknowledges our disobedience and inability to obey God’s law of commands and looks up to Christ and away from ourselves.

    2) “Although I take pleasure in my relationship with my son, and I always will, I will most definitely be displeased to the point of grief if he was frequenting a strip club.” I do not think the christians grieve the holy spirit, the old Adam and sin that dwells in us constantly grieves the holy spirit, but the holy spirit fights and prevails by reminding us that this sin no matter how big is not imputed to us. The holy spirit in the Christians triumphs over sin time and time again by assuring us that no matter how ungodly our actions are, grace (the free gift of the forgiveness of sin) always prevails and overcomes sin, where sin abounded grace abounded even more Romans 5:20-21.

  21. Bill says:

    And a third point that Jared brings is, in quotes:

    3) ” If God really loves us, wouldn’t He want us to me more like His Son, day by day?” The answer may surprise you but it is NO. We are like his Son in that we are pare partakers of the divine nature of Jesus 2 Peter 1:4. There is nothing I can do to be more like Jesus, I already am his brother (Jesus is a begotten Son of God and I am adopted), already am Jesus friend John 15:13-15 , and James 2:23: And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” John Newton said it perfect in his hymn Rock of Ages: “Nothing in my hand I bring, only to thy cross I cling”. Martin Luther was blunt, God does not need my good works, my neighbor does. Hebrews 12:2 mentions that Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before him, even though it was painful suffering that Jesus sustained, he did for the joy set before him. Jesus loves when I approached his throne of grace empty handed, with no good good works or obedience whatsoever on my part, he loves a sinner that brings his sin to the cross and lays it on him. Matthew 11:28, I do not see any grief of the holy spirit when I come heavy laden with my sin to Christ for rest. A christian does not grieve the holy spirit when he sins, far from it, nothing pleases Christ more than exchanging his righteousness for my sin.

  22. Bill says:

    And let me be clear, further to my last two posts in reply to Jared. I am not against good works. The new testament mentions many times good works. However when we say that our works, good, bad, or ugly have any bearing in our relationship with God then I have a serious problem, and this is where I disagree with Jared. Works are not in the equation in my relationship with God, they contribute nothing and they subtract nothing, what I do does not matter to God. The perfect perfect obedience his Son which I receive by faith did and I receive by faith and is credited to my account is the only thing that matters in my relationship with God. God is pleased with me, because he is pleased with his Son, Colossians 3:3 says my life is hidden with Christ, so my sin cannot possibly cause grief to God.

  23. Bill says:

    Now my sin causes me grief, for sure. Romans 7 shows that our sin causes us Christians grief. But it does not cause God grief, God overcomes our grief, by giving us his Spirit who comforts us that our worst transgressions have been taken care by Jesus on the cross and God loves to the utmost in our sin, because Christ has overcome our sin as the first verses of Romans 8 teaches. Christ does at Calvary what we cannot do in our own flesh, he condemns sin in the flesh.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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