For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
I used to read and blog on this passage frequently. As I have found that many of us are motivated by pleasing people. And taken out of context, this passage seems to suggest that we are supposed to please God and not man.
What I have discovered though is that trying to please God is yet another misdirected sin. It is saying that we have the power, capability and strength to earn God’s love. It allows God’s love to be a tap that we can turn on and off as our behaviors permit.
However, I have come to see that is a complete misreading of the Gospel text as it perpetuates our compulsive need to earn God’s pleasure. Which, ironically, is precisely what Paul was arguing against in Galatians.
God’s pleasure in me does not (and cannot) reside in me.
However, we as preachers often treat our text as though it does, and so I am sorry to our listeners for stunting the power of the Gospel.
As Tim Keller in his book Preaching points out, when focusing on the Beattitudes, most preachers fall into mere moral exhortation: “Be Like this—try quite hard—and you become Jesus’ disciples.”
However, if we read them not as moral exhortations, but as Christ-centered demonstrations of gracious sacrifice we see that we are blessed not through our actions but through Christ alone.
Matt. 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Because Jesus became poor on the cross, we receive the kingdom of heaven.
Matt. 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Because Jesus wept over Jerusalem, we are comforted through His love.
Matt. 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Because He was stripped and beaten and humiliated on the cross, we shall be given life.
Matt. 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Because He was thirsty on the cross, we are satisified by the living water.
Matt. 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Because he showed mercy by not rejecting us for abandoning him at his hour of need, we do not receive the punishment we deserve.
Matt. 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Because only Christ is able to have a pure, unadulterated heart, we see God in Him alone.
Matt. 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Because He made peace through his violent death, we are able to be called children of God.
Matt. 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Because he was persecuted for our transgressions, we have entrance into heaven.
Most of the time, preachers are teaching sin management and providing practical application. In doing so, we stop short of the Gospel, and stunt its impact. While these may be successful “tools”—like how to be a good husband, how to prioritize your day, how to pray more—these are not to be confused with the Gospel.
These tools should simply leave us at the foot of the cross, worn-out, hungry, and desperate As tools, what they should do is convict us actually that no matter how much we try hard enough, we will not earn God’s pleasure. No matter how hard we try to please God, it just won’t work. How poor, how meek, how pure do we have to be to really impress God? But thanks be to God, we don’t have to.
Look at how God is even pleased with Jesus before his mission even started: “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”
So I have decided to stop trying to please God, and marvel that God is already pleased with me through Christ alone.