The Judaizers in the apostle Paul’s day hated it. They feared what it would do if it got loose. “Paul, you can’t tell them this!” they said. “These people are immature, lazy and have little religious background. They’ll abuse it as soon as they can. They’ll live Christianity-lite. These people are weak and want to do whatever they want. And believe me, what they want is not good.” Paul responds, in essence, this way: “You’d have a great point, if it wasn’t for two truths. First, these people have a new nature. They have Christ in them. They’re not who they were. They don’t want to get away with anything. They want to enjoy Him, and can’t find a way to do that within your ugly system.
“Second, they have the Holy Spirit, who is able to correct, encourage, rebuke, and challenge. They have God, you know.”
If you’re looking for compliance, you can get that without God. Just wield enough power and people will do what you want them to. At least as long as you’re around. But when you’re out of sight, eventually—inevitably—they’ll revert to what they’ve been denied. The real trick is to allow the desires of the new heart to come out and have a run of the joint. We’re hardwired for heartfelt obedience. We have to be religiously badgered into compliance, which leads to eventual disobedience. Only bad theology can do that. Sin and failure is all we think we have until new life is wooed forth. We need others to show us God beautifully, without condemnation, disgust, and unsatisfied demands. We long to obey Him. It makes our souls sing. We’ve just been goaded so long; we’ve learned to shield ourselves from religion. We’ll fight that kind of authority just for the fight. It’s what the Law does in any form. It makes rebels of people who want to love and be loved.
There’s an incredible phrase in Hebrews: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” This statement shows us the path we must take.
There’s an incredible phrase in Hebrews: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” This statement shows us the path we must take. Only by trusting can we truly please God! If our primary motive is pleasing God, we’ll never please Him enough and we’ll never learn trust. Pleasing God is a good desire. It just can’t be our primary motivation, or it’ll imprison our hearts. If all we bring to God is our moral striving, we’re back at the same lie that put us in need of salvation. We’re stuck with our independent talents, longing, and resolve to make it happen. This self-sufficient effort to assuage a distant deity—it nauseates God.
When our primary motive becomes trusting God, however, we suddenly discover there is nothing in the world that pleases Him more! Until you trust God, nothing you do will please God.
At that point, pleasing God is actually a by-product of trusting God. Pleasing is not a means to our godliness. It’s the fruit of our godliness, for it’s the fruit of trust. Trusting is the foundation of pleasing God. Lacking that basis of trust is like trying to build a house without a foundation.