This question has two answers. In one sense, yes, believers are called to please God, which is described in multiple verses. However, this effort to please God is never to earn favor or to be accepted by Him, since those who place faith in Christ are already pleasing to Him.
In another sense, though, people are not called to please God because no one can please God on their own. Unbelievers can never be pleasing to God and believers are only able to please God because of Christ working and living in them. How to please God with our actions, can we do such a thing? Let's find out.
What Does it Mean to Please God?
No one can please God on their own. Humans are dreadfully wicked and sinful (Romans 3:10-18). Even the good that people do cannot bring pleasure to God, because such deeds are like filthy rags in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6).
People in their natural sinful state are incapable of pleasing the Lord, since “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8, ESV). Therefore, the thought that constant effort and work at accomplishing good deeds brings God pleasure is wrong.
Instead, the Bible teaches that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Because of Jesus’ work in His followers, believers are accepted by God and are pleasing to Him (Psalm 149:4; Hebrews 13:21).
The Father declared that He found His Son pleasing, which is why believers can be accepted by Him through Jesus (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). By trusting in Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, a person becomes a new creation and receives the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
At salvation, Christians become beloved children of God whom He delights in (John 1:12). Christians are able to be acceptable to God because of their faith in Jesus, which is why believers must continue to walk by faith to please their Lord and Savior (2 Corinthians 5:7).
How to Please God Every Day
Scripture does encourage Christians to be pleasing to God in the way they live. Paul spoke about living his life to please God instead of men (Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). He also said that “we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it” (2 Corinthians 5:9, NIV).
In context of the verse in 2 Corinthians, Paul specifically had in mind the judgment seat of Christ, which is where believers will receive rewards or loss of rewards according to how they lived. This judgment has nothing to do with their salvation. Thus, the apostle was motivated by the future judgment to seek to live in such a way to please the Lord.
To hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” was motivation for the apostle and should be a powerful motivating factor for Christians today as they go about their everyday lives (Matthew 25:23, NIV).
Believers are called to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, which is acceptable to God (Romans 12:1). Learning what pleases God is something Christians, as children of light, need to grow in doing (Ephesians 5:8-10).
Once Christians know what pleases God, they should want to live in such a way that makes God glad (1 Thessalonians 4:1). Just as a child wants to make their mother and father happy, so also should Christians want to make God their Father proud.
Those who live in sin do not bring pleasure to God. He is not glad when His children disobey and sin against Him (Psalm 5:4). Instead, the things that give Him pleasure are when Christians walk by the Holy Spirit and live in righteousness, peace, and joy (Romans 14:17-18).
Walking, or living, by the Holy Spirit will protect the believer against living in the flesh, thus enabling them to make God proud of their actions (Galatians 5:15, 25).
How to Please God and Get the Motivation to Do So
While seeking to please God in the way one lives is taught in the Bible, the aim to be pleasing is rooted in a deep love for God, not as a way to earn His favor or acceptance.
Jesus’ loving sacrifice to die for mankind’s sin should urge believers to live a life worthy of their Savior out of love and gratitude for what He has done (Colossians 1:10).
In truth, there is no other way to be pleasing to the Father apart from Jesus, which is all the more reason why love should spur Christians on to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.
Exerting oneself to be pleasing to God to earn favor or acceptance will only cause exhaustion and spiritual dryness. In contrast, living the Christian life as an overflow of love for God and a deep understanding of His love for His children will bring spiritual fullness and joy.
In the Old Testament, followers of God thought they could earn God’s approval through external religious practices. For instance, people would bring sacrifices to the Lord to earn His favor (Isaiah 1:11-13). God, however, does not delight in people trying to earn His favor through works (Hosea 6:6).
Instead, God looks at the heart of man and accepts the sacrifices of a person with a broken heart aware of their sin and need of a Savior (Psalm 51:17). Christians can choose to run on the hamster wheel of seeking acceptance and love from God, or they can realize that they already have His love (1 John 4:19).
As Kenneth Boa states in his book about spiritual growth, “The more we come to grasp and enter into this divine love, the more we will want to reciprocate by loving and honoring the eternal Lover of our souls” (Conformed to His Image: Biblical, Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation, Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
Once a believer realizes God’s love for them, they will grow in love for God and thus live in a way that makes Him glad.
As is shown, people cannot be pleasing to God apart from their salvation in Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit. While unbelievers cannot be pleasing to God, believers can seek to please the Lord as they are motivated by their love for Him.
Through their identity in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives, a believer can live in a way that brings great pleasure to the Lord. Truly, believers will find great joy and spiritual fullness in living to glorify God.
Hebrews 11:6: "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him."
Proverbs 16:7: "When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him."
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Ministry, she is passionate about the Bible and her faith in Jesus. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.