Sometimes in Christian circles we toss around and repeat phrases that have nuggets of biblical truth, but is misleading if taken on its own. One such line we often hear is “there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.”
The truth at the core of this statement is that Christ has paid for the believer’s sin on the cross, and the righteousness of Christ, everything that Christ has earned, has been transferred to the believer (II Corinthians 5:21). So when God looks at a Christian, He doesn’t see his or her sin, but Christ, because the Christian is “clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:27 NIV). This is true and central to our faith. And so far as the phrase above is used to reinforce this truth to a struggling Christian, it is well and good. But we should never have the idea that there is nothing we can do to please God; this is unbiblical. In fact, a Christian’s deepest desire should be to please God, and more and more as he or she grows to maturity. Christ’s life, death and resurrection enables us to please God, and also gives us the motivation to do so.
Paul writes in Ephesians 5:8-10 “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light . . . and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” Now if it were not possible to please the Lord, the Bible would not tell us to try to do it. But note the motivation: it is not to become light, but because “you are light in the Lord.” Why should we try to please God? Because He has already accepted us, in Christ. Or as God commands in Ephesians 5:1: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
The perfect illustration of this concept is a family. Why would a child try to please his or her parents? To earn the way into the family? Do the parents keep score of their children before they bestow love upon them? Of course not! But was your father pleased when you brought home a good report card? Was your mother proud when you did your chores without being asked? Yes!
In a marriage, too, the commitment is made on the wedding day. One spouse doesn’t then have to surprise the other with flowers or a compliment in order to remain married. No, these are the kind of things done freely as we learn what is pleasing to our spouse. If the husband and wife signed the marriage contract and gave up all romance, it wouldn’t make much of a marriage. In the same way, if we are saved by God’s grace, but afterwards don’t strive (by that same grace) to find out what pleases God, we won’t have much of a relationship with Him.
So how do we find out what is pleasing to the Lord? Ephesians 4 through 6 are chock full of suggestions. If you think a relationship with God is worth your time, why not put in a little work and find out more about what is pleasing to Him, and by His grace, make an effort to do it? As God’s child, you have nothing to lose!