There is a growing misunderstanding today in Christian circles where God’s pleasure in us is being linked to His acceptance of us in Christ. These two are very different subjects. While everyone who has come to Christ in faith is 100% accepted in the Beloved, we are NOT always well pleasing to Him.
Fortunately, this topic is very easy to understand and clarify from God’s word.
“Accepted” is term associated with relationship.
Even in English, our notion of being accepted by God means that we are approved by Him. This approval finds its expression in a state of relationship with God due to Christ’s redeeming work. Christ not only redeemed us (bought us back – paid the price for us), but has and is generating a trustful reliance in our hearts that we are now accepted by the Father through Him.
This is the way the words “accepted in the Beloved” are used in Ephesians 1:1-6,
“(1) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, (4) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, (5) having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, (6) to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
The word “accepted” here is the Greek word charitóō and usually carries a slightly different meaning. In this case however, charitóō takes on the meaning of being objects of grace. In charitóō there is not only the impartation of God’s grace, but also the adoption into God’s family in His imparting special favor towards us in Christ.
So in this one word we have a wealth of information and revelation of God’s love and provision for us. Grace is God’s influence over our hearts. It is the means by which He leads, guides and directs us. This word charitóō tells us that God lovingly directs and influences our hearts to trust that through Christ we have special favor with Him as our Father. This places us in relationship with God and fully, 100% accepted by Him even as Christ is accepted! How wonderful and amazing is that?
So it stands that by the work of Christ we are accepted by God the Father and therefore, enter into relationship with Him as dear children.
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”
Pleasing, on the other hand, is a word which focuses on actions which are consistent with the nature of a relationship. The very use of the word “pleasing” denotes a relationship which is already in place…an acceptance which is already enjoyed. Without a relationship of knowing and trusting, this word scripture uses for “pleasing” God, can have no meaning.
In the New Testament, the words translated as “pleased” have evolved from the passive, “being pleased”, to the active, “to please”. This effectively changes the word from a relationship to a behavior. (See Matt.14:6; Mark 6:22; Rom. 8:8; 1Cor. 7:32-34; Gal. 1:10; 1Thess. 2:15; 1Thess. 4:1; 2Tim. 2:4.)
In Rom. 15:1-3; Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4 it means to seek to please or gratify, to accommodate oneself to.
The present and imperative tenses denote intentional, deliberate, and continuous conduct and therefore separate themselves from having anything to do with verbs denoting states or relationships; yet the word involves a relationship prior to behavior.
It is actually behaving properly toward and thus satisfying the One with Whom we are related.
Now, just because he have relationship DOES NOT preclude the idea that we are pleasing to Him. This is made abundantly clear by the following verses – all of which attach God’s pleasure to our ACTIONS ‘in‘ relationship and not in the existence of the relationship alone.
“…for it is God Who works in you both to will and to DO for His good pleasure.”
Notice that what creates pleasure in our relationship with God is our heart attitudes and our actions. The next verse in this passage offers two examples of things which are DIS-pleasing to God in our relationship with Him.
“(14) Do all things without complaining and disputing, (15) that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, (16) holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.”
So here we see that God is clearly NOT pleased with complaining and disputing. Notice that by refusing to engage in complaining and disputing we do not BECOME children, but we become blameless and harmless children. It is not a condition for relationship it is a product of relationship.
Below, I have provided a list of verses with a brief commentary after each in order to illustrate the certainty of this teaching. In these verses I accentuate certain words for sake of clarity.
“(9) Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. (10) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
Notice that pleasing God is mentioned as a GOAL to achieve, not a current reality attached to our relationship with Him. Notice also the purpose for pleasing God is because all His children will one day stand before the seat where Christ was judged for us. At that time, we will receive reward or loss for those good OR bad things we did while in our physical bodies. This is fully described in 1 Cor. 3:11-15.
“(18) Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.”
In this passage Paul is praising the church of Philippi for the financial aid they sent to Paul by the hands of Epaphroditus. Paul calls such giving in support of the ministers of the Gospel, “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice which is well pleasing to God.”
Notice that it was the action of giving to the support of ministers, which God found well-pleasing, not the relationship alone.
“(9) For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; (10) that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;”
Again, the ABILITY to completely please God is being attributed to our actions empowered by prayer. A “walk” (or life) lived in a manner worthy of our Lord is what fully pleases Him. Paul prayed for the church of Colossae that they might live a life worthy of God by bearing “Christ-like” fruit in their conduct and by coming to know God more intimately (increasingly).
“(4) But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. (5) For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness. (6) Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. (7) But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. (8) So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. (9) For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. (10) You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; (11) as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, (12) that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”
Paul uses his own actions as pleasing to God, as the basis for behavior which is well-pleasing to God in the Thessalonian church. Paul is saying… “If you will not flatter others, nor act with covetousness, or seek glory from man – but be gentle and affectionate, imparting the gospel as well as your lives, being blameless witnesses who exhort, comfort and encourage God’s children, you will be pleasing to God.
“(20) Now may the God of peace Who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, (21) make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Our being made complete (or mature) is realized in good works consistent with God’s will. These ACTIONS, Christ produces through our union with Him – is well pleasing to God.
“(22) And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
We DO the THINGS which are pleasing in His sight. Actions are here producing pleasure in God towards His children.
In closing, I think it is a good thing to make something clear. It isn’t that God is not pleased with our being in relationship with Him…He is! It was by His good pleasure that He saved us and adopted us as His children.
“(5) having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”
However, now that we are IN relationship with Him, His pleasure in us AS children, is directly connected to our actions which either prove or disprove our claims to love Him in response. As the scriptures tell us, “God is not mocked”. If we claim to love God, yet fail to do the things which are pleasing in His sight, then our claims to loving Him are false. Relationship is NOT one way, it is bi-directional. We love God BECAUSE He first loved us, but we ARE to love God. Jesus Himself said, “If you truly love Me, then you will make it your habit to keep My commandments” John 14.