September 5: Pleasing God (or stop trying to be Abel and just admit your Cain)

2 Corinthians 5:9. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

What pleases God?

Faith pleases God.

Hebrews 11:6. And without faith it is impossible to please God.

Pretty simple right? Except that whole faith thing.

Those of us that are in Christ should have no problem saying with the Apostle, we make it our aim to please him. But this simple idea gets complicated when we forget the previous thought in verse 7: we walk by faith and not by sight. We cannot please God without faith.

This should radically change how you see pleasing God.

If I said to you, “try to please God today” what would come to mind? You would think of all the ways to be obedient, and do more, and be nice, and witness, and share, and give people your stuff. You might go to church, or wake up early and pray, or even call your mother. But what about faith?

I know what you’re thinking. Your thinking, “right, these things are actions, and good works do not please God.”

Nope. We’re still not there. Why? Because we are segregating faith and works. If we do good deeds without faith, or if we have “faith” without good deeds, in both cases we fall short.

Do you remember Cain and Abel? Abel had faith that pleased God.

Hebrews 11:4. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. 

Cain and Abel are the first two people born into sin. They were trying to figure out how to relate to God after the vertical relationship between God and man had been broken by their parents. How will they please God? How will they be found righteous?

Both brothers offer a sacrifice to God. But God only accepts Abel’s sacrifice? Why? We can’t simplify the answer down to lambs verses crops. Nor can we simplify it down to works verses faith. Both believed something. Both did something. Both had faith, both had works. One pleased God. One did not.

The question is “what was the object of their faith?” Once we can identify the object of faith it will change the nature of our faith, and the nature of the works that flow from faith.

Cain’s sacrifice in and of itself was not the problem. It was the object of his faith. The object of his faith was himself. This made the nature of his faith visual. That is, he believed only in what he could see. His compared how he saw his own performance and his brother’s performance. He began to see Abel as the enemy. He couldn’t see “sin crouching at his door.” He saw his sacrifice as a way to control God (typical human). This is what law keeping will do to us. It will change the object and nature of our faith and make it impossible to please God.

If you are focused on trying to please God, there’s a good possibility that you’re not. Why? Because most likely you are turning into a law keeper. When we focus on pleasing God the focus is usually just on ourselves and how often or not we get it right. We know why Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted – he was a law keeper. He thought he could earn God’s favor. His faith was focused on his own self-justification and performance. But our performance apart from faith will never ever please God. And for the record, if you’re trying to please God in order to pay him back – stop it!

God is pleased by our faith when it is focused on God’s grace alone. When it is focused on carrying the cross and depending on God. Of course, this means seeing yourself as Cain and not Abel. Chances are you did a lot of things so far today to try and earn God’s favor, and that is faithless. But if you can admit that you spent your day that way, well now you just took a step toward God-pleasing faith.

“To live is Christ” is not living a life trying hard to please God, and trying even harder to not screw up. It is a life of faith in the grace of God. A life that embraces the reality that we are both wicked and loved at the same time. A life of doing that flows from a life of recognizing our dependence upon God and his indwelling life.

When you think about pleasing God what comes to mind? Where does faith in God’s grace fit in? How does union with Christ allow us the faith to first receive grace and then allow Christ to work through us?

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