For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
To please God by what you do, apart from faith in Jesus God’s Son, is impossible to do. To be sure, there are those who seek to please God only by what they externally do, erroneously believing that they will please God if they only try to be good on the outside. Such is a main characteristic of all false religion—seeking to please (a) God only by what one does, apart from true faith in Christ. However, the Bible states that, “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 diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). And Jesus Himself says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
God is only pleased, according to Scripture, with one who first has faith in His Son. If there is no faith first here, any works, though considered good by the world, are not considered so by God, not having been covered and cleansed by Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:7). Of ourselves and apart from Christ, you are not pleasing to God, sinners as you are. By yourselves, you cannot hope to attain God’s favor, for as Isaiah writes, “We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
But you do have God’s favor through faith in Jesus Christ, having Christ’s righteousness credited as your own through that same faith (Romans 3:22). Thus, it is not by what you do that you have God’s favor. It is rather through faith in His Son that you are pleasing to God (Romans 14:23).
Does this mean, then, that having faith, you do not do good works? Do you then just serve yourselves and not concern yourselves with anything else, but do everything only out of self-interest because everything is now “right with God” because of Christ?
Some might immediately assume this. But the way of true and genuine faith has faith to God and love for neighbor. Salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and Christ having fulfilled God’s Law (Matthew 5:17) in no way abrogates God’s command to keep the Law; not that you do this for God, as if God needs anything from you, but because God commands it, and for the sake of your neighbor.
The weakness of Christians in serving their neighbor should not be attributed in any way to God, as if God is to be blamed for Christian hypocrisy. Rather, the burden remains on the Christians themselves, who continue to struggle with their flesh. Though many readily acknowledge the weaknesses of Christians everywhere, those many also use the weaknesses of Christians as an excuse not to seek the truth and to reject God’s Word entirely. But the Christian’s failure to “be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) does not at all negate the responsibility of nonChristians to also hear and believe the clear teachings of Christ.
As Christians have Christ’s righteousness covering their own sin so that their sinful actions or inactions not be counted against them, so also nonChristians, not having faith in Christ, will have all that they do on their own head. They themselves will have to bear the consequences of their faithlessness, whereas the Christian, on account of Christ, remains forgiven.
It doesn’t matter not how good you are or how good you try to be in life for the inheritance of heaven. God calls you to believe in His Son, and through God’s very Word, God creates and sustains such faith. And having such faith, you are already pleasing to God because of Christ, and will all the more seek to live according to what God says; asking for forgiveness of your sin where you have done wrong and trusting in God’s absolution, therefore seeking to continual amend your sinful ways.
Seeking to live this way as a servant of God and pleasing God rightly first has to do with faith. If faith be absent, any service of God is not in service of God, but is in service of self or pleasing others. Thus do you see the myriad of Church bodies, congregations, preachers, and people who demonstrate the absence of true faith. Though many may and do indeed use biblical language and verse, their meanings are devoid of the true biblical doctrine. What they seek to do and to accomplish, as well as what they teach, is contrary to what God clearly says in His Holy Word. They themselves will use Scripture to their own ends, working the text to fit their own conceptions. They do not let the text change them. Rather, they themselves seek to change the text (and its meaning).
Such activities are welcome and pleasing to men. Such activities also are pleasing to the world, for then they do not have to hear about the extent of their corruption and man’s need for a Savior. Sinners do not like to hear about their sin. They do not like to hear how God condemns what they do and how their corrupted nature moves them away from God. Sinners mistakenly believe that they understand and know God apart from His Word and apart from His Son.
Saying otherwise and speaking according to the truth, however, does not at all please the world, or the unrepentant sinner. Such preaching of the truth brings the world’s wrath and displeasure.
For those of the world, acceptance and tolerance is the gospel. Such things characterize the desire to please men. Yet characteristic of the desire to please God is faithfulness to Christ and His Word, come what may. Such faithfulness will bring persecution in its myriad of forms, but having peace with God for all eternity through faith in Christ is immeasurably greater than the acceptance of a temporal world.
“Today you will find many who try to please men. In order to live in peace and in the smugness of the flesh, they teach human doctrines, that is, impious ones. Or they approve of the blasphemies and wicked judgments of our opponents, contrary to the Word of God and their own consciences, just to be able to retain the favor of princes and bishops and not to lose their property. On the other hand—because we try to please God and not men—we bring upon ourselves the envy of the devil and of hell itself. We bear the slanders and curses of the world, death, and every evil.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p60).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for my weaknesses and for seeking the acceptance of the world. Keep my eyes firmly fixed on you, that I find in you my life, strength, and peace, now and always. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.