False substitutions for pleasing God typically fall into one of three areas:
- Performing to please God
- Practicing disciplines to please God
- Complying to please God
As you reflect on each of these three areas, consider whether you have substituted any of these faulty criteria for God’s declared standard of faith or trust. Review these three areas and take note as to which elements you resonate with.
In both Western and Eastern culture, almost from the day we are born we are subjected to forces of competition and performance. Elements of our core identity are formed (or malformed) by our success or failure in performing to win, to please, or to appease others—especially parents, teachers, and peers. By the time we’re adults, performing to win, to please, or to appease comes naturally.
Understandably, many Christians simply assume that putting forth the very best performance is how they will please or appease God. This is not the way things are with God, though.
God’s relationship with you is based on the performance of one, and only one, person—God’s Son Jesus Christ. You can enter into relationship with God solely because of the “performance” of Jesus on your behalf. Your performance efforts will always fall short. You will live your Christian life constantly feeling like a failure when you try to please God through your own efforts.
When you seek to earn favor with God in any way by performing and competing, you’re in effect “dissing” Jesus. You’re saying His work on your behalf wasn’t quite good enough. You’re saying you need to step in and add your own efforts to tip the scale and thus bring pleasure to your heavenly Father. Your effort to earn favor added to Jesus’ work on your behalf arouses displeasure from God.
- Jesus’ work = God’s pleasure
- Jesus’ work + my trust = God’s pleasure
- Jesus’ work + my earning efforts = God’s displeasure
It will become clearer as we progress in this Strength Journey, but self-effort in trying to please God is a factor in why we hide. We hide because we constantly feel like we fall short or don’t measure up.
Here’s the liberating truth: We don’t have to measure up. Jesus did that for us. It’s time to relax and let our trust in Jesus be the reason God wants us to cease our hiding behaviors. He can’t use us for His purposes if we’re hidden.
To do: Write down the ways you are hidden away and call a trusted brother or sister in Christ to talk about the root of your hiding.
Maybe you grew up in an environment where you were taught or encouraged to practice the Christian disciplines not only to grow spiritually, but to grow in favor with God. You may have been led to believe that if you prayed more, read your Bible more, went to church more, gave more, served more, and sinned less, then God would be pleased. The Pharisees essentially believed this; how’d that work out for them?
As well-meaning as you may be, God is not impressed with anything that you do whereby you try and earn favor with Him. You can quit laboring and frustrating yourself to try and please God with who you are and what you do. Only Jesus can please God.
Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” If you’re weighed down by performance duty in your Christian walk, you’re carrying things that God never intended you to carry beyond the cross. This song from Mercy Me reinforces this truth.
It’s a very sad picture to observe a child desperately seeking to win approval from a parent through compliance. Worse still is a parent who withholds love and affirmation to induce compliant obedience from their child.
Our obedience is important to God. How obedience is generated in our lives, however, is more important. If through forced self-effort we align our behaviors with God’s moral truths, we are not obeying; we are complying. For individuals and society at large, compliance is always a better option than anarchy, but it’s not how God desires us to live as Christians. He has so much more in mind. The following verse clarifies God desire:
For when we place our faith (trust) in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised [think any form of compliance behavior]. What is important is faith (trust) expressing itself in love.
Galatians 5:6 NLT
The following is a formula believed and practiced by many Christians. But it’s not true.
Again, the above formula does NOT lead to godliness. The formula that does in fact lead to godliness is:
Trusting God more and living life receiving and expressing love is how a desire to obey God blossoms naturally in our hearts and is then expressed in our behaviors. When we live our Christian lives according to the two criteria of faith and love—everything changes. We mature, and God produces spiritual fruit in our lives.
As we wrap up this first question, please reread Hebrews chapter 11 and reflect on all the lives listed that were characterized by faith as well as the important elements of faith conveyed in the same chapter.
Hebrews 11: 34, for example, teaches us that our faith or trust is the basis by which God turns our weakness into strength. What else is God showing you through this chapter?