This may be the single question that most affects our view of God, life on earth, and the life hereafter. It’s the question we all need to know the answer to. If God is going to judge me at the end of my life, what will I have needed to do to make him happy?It’s a simple question, really, asked in various aspects of life. Sometimes it’s asked differently, like “What does God really want from me?” and “What is good, really?”
What makes the question we’re asking particularly interesting is the words we’ve chosen. Words like “need” and “please.” Let’s take a second to unpack those words.
What do I need? is a sensible, if not responsible question. In the American bubble I grew up in, sensibility and responsibility are not mere ideas. They are ideals, buried deep into our sub-conscience, germinating ideas of worth, value, reward, and justice. “What do I need…” is a question that seeks to take control over one’s own fate. To reject the very notion of such frowned upon ideals as handouts and “free lunch,” of which, we’ve been told, there are none.
The concept is simple. Everything costs. We’ve been conditioned to believe we are largely responsible for coming up with what’s needed to cover costs. If we don’t, we are either freeloading or in debt. Neither of which settles very nicely.
Aside from this, there is a certain pride in feeding ourselves. There’s a feel-good about cashing the check we worked hard for and, in essence, reaping what we have sown. The Bible does run parallel with this thinking… to a point. You bible-heads out their know that “reaping what you sow” is a very biblical concept, coming straight from Galatians 6:7. Jesus talks a lot about how we can know a tree from the fruit it bears… which is to say that the effect of “good fruit” is from the cause of the “good tree.” At least that may be the way some choose to see it.
So then we are on good ground, or at least heading the right direction, when we start to think about what we “need” in order to please God.
This is perhaps the more tricky part of the question. To really understand our motives behind wanting to please God, we might need to rephrase the question.
If I want to please my daughter by giving her that toy kitchen she’s been eyeing for her birthday, what I’m really hoping to accomplish is her momentary happiness. In this sense, her pleasure is the goal. Period. However, if I go into a merit review meeting on my job, or an interview for a job, I’d also want to please my boss or the interviewer. In that case, I’m not satisfied with their momentary happiness. I want more money, or I want the job. In this sense, how pleased they are with me plays into my chances of getting what I really want. In a sense, my desire to please that boss or interviewer begins and ends with whatever I hope to gain.
So then, in the former sense, I’d ask, “What do I need to do to please my daughter (on her birthday)?” because there’s nothing more to it than that. However, in the latter case, the real question is not, ” What do I need to do to please my boss (or this interviewer)?” Instead, the real question is, “What do I need to do to get a raise?” or “What do I need to do to get the job?”
Do you see the difference in these two approaches?
So which approach do you take with God? Are you interested in knowing what pleases God because you want him to have moments of happiness with your choices, or because you are looking for something to gain from him? Could it be that the real question is, “What do I need to do to get to heaven?”
Maybe. I do know this for certain. The answers to what pleases God (Hebrews 11:6), and what you need in order to get to heaven are very different. Once question is personal, and the other is transactional.
For this blog post I will assume that most of the questions about pleasing God has to do with getting into Heaven. And to that question, I’ve got good and bad news. The bad news is, you can’t do anything to please God enough to go to heaven. In fact, there will never be anyone who can stand before God and say, “Hey I was good enough! You owe me entry into heaven!” Sorry to bust your bubbles on that, but it’s true. It’s impossible.
The good news, however, is that Jesus Christ came to cover all that for us. I guess you could rephrase the question this way, “What’s it going to cost me to go to heaven?” And Jesus will step in and say, don’t worry about it, I’ve already paid the cost. Despite our need to be sensible and responsible, “free” is still one of the top marketing words in our society. And free is what Jesus gives us. Free to enter. Free to live without measuring sticks. Free to love God in relational ways and not in transactional ways. This is the great gift of God, and all we need to do is, as Hebrews 11:6 says, believe it is true. When we do, the world changes, and we can begin truly living.
Which approach have you taken? Do you really want to please God, or are you trying to figure out what you need to get to heaven?
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