How to Please a Holy God
Do you live a life that is pleasing to God at all times? What are your aims and goals for this year with regards to your walk with the Lord? If you are like me, you likely desire to please God in all you do. As much as I desire to please God with all my actions, there are the looming reminders of my weaknesses and just how impossible it is for me to please God. The writer of Hebrews offers hope, asserting that God is ultimately pleased by his work in us, and not our tainted “good” deeds, though they are necessary to prove our relationship with him.
At the close of his letter, the author prays,
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21)
First, the author prays that God would grant the believers every good thing so that they may do God’s will. What are the good things with which God equips believers and how does God equip believers with those good things?
The word “good” occurs two other times in Hebrews, all in the plural, referring to all that God has accomplished for believers in Christ Jesus. In Hebrews 9:11–12, the author, contrasting the work of Old Testament priest with Christ, says,
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
It seems clear that the “good things” in verse 11 refer to all the promises of the new covenant fulfilled in Christ.
Hebrews 10:1 defines “good things” in the same way, saying, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” The good things here also include the once for all sacrifice of Jesus (Hebrews 10:8–14).
Based on this understanding, the author of Hebrews prays that God would equip us with all good things, the precious promises and benefits of Christ in the gospel.
The Work of God That Pleases God
God equips us by working in us that which pleases him. The participial phrase “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” (Hebrews 13:21) defines how God equips the saints to do his will. God does not equip us by giving us equipment to go work for him; rather, he equips us by taking residence in us and himself working his will in us. Not only that, he takes pleasure in what he does in us. The work that pleases God is the work of God in us (Philippians 2:12–13).
What is the thing that God does in believers that pleases him? Hebrews 11:6 gives us insight into that work. It says,
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.
If without faith it is impossible to please God, and there is something that God does in us in which he takes pleasure, it follows that the faith without which we cannot please God is what he works in us. Thus the author is praying that God would work faith in the good things of the gospel in our hearts so that we may be able to do his will.
According to Hebrews 11:2, it is this faith that will commend us before God as it did the saints of old. When we come to the end of the age, it will be our faith, God’s work in us, that will commend us before God. God saved us, works in us, takes pleasure in that work, and commends us based on that work.
Why Did God Do It This Way?
Is it right for God to be pleased mainly by his work in us and to commend us because of that? Yes, because he is doing so “through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:21). God is just to commend us, not based on our performances, but on his performance in us. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
God fulfilled his new covenant promises in Christ, which bring us all the good things found in the good news of salvation. God saved us through faith through “the good things” laid out for us in the gospel. God works faith in us constantly. God takes pleasure in that faith. And God commends us before God based on his own work in us.
Why design it this way? No other god works like this. African deities expect you to work for them after they “save” you, but not so with the Christian God. He works from beginning to end. Why do it that way? The last part of Hebrews 13:21 gives us the answer: so that to him “be glory forever and ever. Amen.”