I want to read from the Word of God, Colossians 1, beginning of verse 9. Let me pray for us.
Our Father, we give you thanks for your words which have been committed to Scripture and we pray, our gracious God, that you’d be our teacher. We’re so grateful to you for speaking. We know that hearing is something else, and we ask you, Lord, you’d enable us to do that. Thank you that you love your Son and that you love the image of your Son in us. And so we pray, reproduce that image in us, and we ask in Jesus’s name, amen.
This is God’s Word:
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with a knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:9–19).
God’s own Word.
ARE WE ABLE TO PLEASE GOD?
There are people, it seems, that we can never please no matter what we do. I had an English professor, English teacher, don’t use the word professor, that’s not true of professors. I had an English teacher in 7th grade who was always suspicious of me. Most of the time it was with good reason, but from time to time I was accused of things I didn’t do, and it didn’t matter what evidence I brought; it made no difference. I was in the bad book, and so I couldn’t please her. And maybe you’ve had someone like that in your life. Maybe you had a parent that was that way or a boss, and it’s utterly discouraging because no matter what you do there’s always a flaw, and that flaw is all that the person sees.
Now many of the people that we serve, that we minister to, have come from homes like that, and they will probably struggle to believe that God accepts them. I think in the Reformed Church we have a special difficulty with this, not because of the homes but because of, well, it’s our doctrine of sin which we affirm and believe is necessary. People are completely depraved. They are tainted so they can’t please God; they can’t do what pleases God. And that’s true of all of us until we’re in Christ. And that’s part of our way of life. It’s part of our way of thinking, and whenever the church has let go of that profound doctrine of sin, it soon after loses a profound doctrine of salvation. So it’s not as though you’d sort of modify things according to the effect. But, are we able to please God?
That’s the question. And I think many, many people in our churches probably wouldn’t be confident at all saying that we’re able to please God in our lives. But what I want us to hear today is that God accepts our service, not grudgingly and not with reservations, but with real pleasure. The obedience of the believer in Christ is pleasing to God. And I want to build up our faith, if I can, because I think we need to have more vigorous confidence in God’s grace at work in us day to day.
THE BIBLE CALLS DIFFERENT ACTIONS PLEASING TO GOD
Verses 9 and 10 again. The Apostle’s prayer for the church at Colossae:
From the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with a knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
So Paul is asking for the Spirit to give them understanding of God’s will so that their lives may be very, very fruitful. And the latter part of this letter, Paul describes that will of God, that imperative that he’s calling them to do, and “walk” is a metaphor for living. So he’s talking about the daily movements, actions, choices, words that we speak and right there in verse 10 he says that he prays that they “might walk in a manner worthy of the Lord fully pleasing to him.” Now we are to see that Paul is not involved here in some kind of overstatement or rhetorical exaggeration. He frequently describes the Christian life in this way. In 2 Corinthians 5, speaking about his own ministry, verse 9, he says, “We make it our aim whether at home or away, to be well pleasing to him.”
So that’s the desire of an apostle. But is it real in the lives of all Christians? Well, Paul says it in other places too. In Philippians 2:13 he says, “God is at work in you, both to will and to do his good pleasure.” Then later in the letter, he thanks the Philippian church for the gift that they sent. After he went on from his ministry there, they sent a missionary support, some other sort of gift, rather mundane thing, but he says in 4:18, he says, “Having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
To the Thessalonians, he says that they are doing well. He says they’re doing great in their obedience to God’s commands, but then he says, verse one of chapter four, “Finally, brothers, we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus, as you received from us how you ought to walk and please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.”
So it’s the lifestyle, the way of living, that gives pleasure to God, that gives pleasure to the Lord Jesus Christ in the life of believers.
] Later here in Colossians he writes to the church and he’s urging covenant children to obedience. And here’s what he says in 3:20: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” It pleases the Lord Jesus. And he summons believers in Rome, again formerly Gentiles, formerly living in disobedience, to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Romans 12: Holy, well pleasing to God by the renewing of their mindset, approve what is the good and well pleasing and perfect will of God. He writes to former pagans in Ephesus, now believers, and says, “Prove or test what is well pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10). So they’re to work out in their lives, think it out, figure it out, in such a way as to live as to please the Lord.
So all across the Mediterranean world, where the gospel is going, believers were pleasing God in Colossae and in Ephesus and Philippi, Thessalonica, and Rome. The gospel is bearing fruit and growing.
But it’s not limited to Paul and his ministry. The writer of Hebrews says something like this, he says, chapter 13, “Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:16). And he gives this good word to them at the end of the letter, he says, “May God equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ” (Heb. 13:21). So Scripture teaches us (I hope it’s part of our thinking and part of our culture, but if even if it isn’t) Scripture teaches us that believers’ obedience pleases God.
Now how can this be? Surely Paul does not believe in sinless perfection. That’s really clear in Romans 7, verses 14 and following. He describes his own struggle with indwelling sin, and he describes it in a very pointed way and even cries out. And it’s just here I think that we can get into trouble because we do have conviction of our own sins. We do see our own shortcomings. We do see the mixture of our motives and how little we love God and how often we don’t obey his law.
GOD ACCEPTS OUR OBEDIENCE BECAUSE WE’RE IN CHRIST
But the answer I think is this, two things. He accepts our obedience in his grace because we’re in Christ. He accepts our obedience in his grace because we’re in Christ. The Father accepts our obedience, our walking in Christ, because of what he has done for us now motivated by his own love.
The love of the Father that sent the Son to be the sacrifice for our sins is purely self-motivated. It’s wasn’t provoked. It’s not something that God looked and said, “Oh, there’s a good person; I’ll give him my Son to save him.” Nothing like that. It’s completely out of his own heart. Self-motivated. So in verses 12 to 14, Paul puts it like this. He says, “The Father . . . qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
And in the twin epistle, twin to Colossians, Ephesians 1:7, Paul states it a little bit more fully. He says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” So whatever wrongs we have committed have been atoned for by the blood of Christ, and whatever debts we owe have already been paid. This is basic Christianity. You can’t be a Christian and not believe this, but it’s also a central part of the Christian life to know that God has given his Son for us. He’s done that completely out of his own kindness. He sent his beloved Son—the one he called “beloved” at his baptism—he gave him up for us all to redeem us, to bring about the forgiveness of sins. And his suffering and his death freed us, redeemed us, freed us from the curse of God.
I want us to think this: that we need to learn the value of Jesus’s blood, the value of Jesus’s death. His whole life was infinitely precious to the Father. Everything that he did, everything that he endured, because he is the beloved Son. And then what was his death worth to the Father? When Paul writes about the blood of Christ he’s talking about his death. What was the death of Jesus worth to the Father? Well, the Father gave him up. He gave him up to death for us all. And therefore, from that planned precious death arises the forgiveness of sins. So whatever our sins are, God knows them all. And God has paid a massive price for their forgiveness. He’s done this because of his love for us. It’s entirely from his desire to do us good, to love us.
OUR SINS ARE NO LONGER COUNTED AGAINST US IN GOD’S LOVE
But what about the sins of believers? And that’s what we’ve been talking about. Surely not everything we do is pleasing to God. And that’s certainly true. Our sins are real, and they remain. But the good news of the New Testament is that our sins are not counted against us anymore. They’re not counted against us anymore. Paul actually puts it exactly this way in Romans 4:8. He says, “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” So when we do sin against God, God does not count that sin against us at all if we’re Christian, if we’re in Jesus Christ.
We can take it a step further. The imperfections of our service are not counted against them. It’s not just we as persons who are accepted, it’s also our deeds that are accepted.It’s not just we as persons who are accepted, it’s also our deeds that are accepted. Here’s Calvin writing about this. He says, “A work begins to be acceptable only when it is undertaken with pardon. Now whence does this pardon arise, save that God contemplates us and our all in Christ? Therefore, as we ourselves, when we’ve been engrafted into Christ, are righteous in God’s sight because our iniquities are covered by Christ sinlessness, so our works are righteous and are thus regarded because whatever fault is otherwise in them is buried in Christ’s purity, and is not charged to our account. . . . By faith alone, not only we ourselves but our works as well are justified.” That’s 3.17.10 in the Institutes if you want to go back and look at them.
So God is reconciled to us. God is not wrathful; God is not vengeful; God is not opposite to us. He is our Father. And we confess our sins, but we don’t confess our sins to become Christians, we confess our sins with faith that he forgives our sins. We pray, “Father, forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).
And when we confess our sins, it’s not to become a Christian again. We don’t leave the state of grace and then return to it. And what if we don’t confess very well? Don’t you feel that way? I frequently feel that way, that I cannot confess adequately the turmoil that I’ve been going through, the frustrations, the sins just in my mind, even things that I haven’t done. I can’t even remember them all. What do we do if we can’t confess very well?
Whatever wrongs we’ve committed have been atoned for by the blood of Christ, and whatever debts we owe have already been paid, and that we must know. That’s simply God’s love, and we can maybe illustrate this with the forgiveness of the family. When my kids were little sometimes I would get in a huff or something and yell at them, you know, and my wife would say, “No, you need to make that right.”
So I go back and I’d say to a little kid, you know, an 8-year-old, 10-year-old, or 12-year-old, or 15-year-old, or whatever it was, “I’m sorry, I was wrong to get angry and to shout at you. Will you forgive me?” And they respond so beautifully, “Of course, sure, Dad, of course,” because they want that relationship. And my wife is the same way. You know you can’t get around it. You have to confess your sins, but when you confess your sins, what do you get?
You get love. You get forgiveness, you get immediate forgiveness. Well, that’s because that love is there.
That’s the bedrock, that love of kindness that self-motivated comes right out of God’s heart, not provoked by us, not drawn out by us. Nothing in us that accomplishes that, that provided the blood of the cross. That’s our hope. And without that we have no hope.
GOD DELIGHTS IN OUR SERVICE AND GROWTH IN THE KINGDOM
But there’s even more than that because God has transferred us into the kingdom of his Son. It’s a matter of transfer from one dominion to another. There was one lordship we were under, he says, the lordship of Satan, the lordship of darkness. Then that was flesh, rebellion. But the Father delivered us from that domination to the domination of the kingdom of Christ, he says. And that means that in your life there is a new power. There’s a new dynamic that was not there before and that dynamic, that power is the power of Christ who dwells in your heart. And that’s the power Paul prays will enable you to walk worthily of Christ. And as you walk worthily, his love of delight increases.
God looks at you; he sees the image of his Son. This is why God created the world. This is why God redeemed us. This is why God shed the blood of his own Son, so that he could reproduce the likeness of that Son in your life and my life. This is why God shed the blood of his own Son, so that he could reproduce the likeness of that Son in your life and my life.And when God sees that, even if it’s just a little bit and just starts to grow a little bit, his love of delight is drawn out. He loves. He is pleased. He is happy. We said we’re unmotivated to please someone who can’t be pleased because it takes our heart away. But what about somebody who dearly loves you? Someone who delights in your service? Isn’t it a joy to serve someone who loves you and who receives your service?
See, God set his love on you, has given his Son for you, has provided the life of Christ for you so that you can walk in a way that pleases him and so that he might delight in your likeness to Christ more and more. And the Father loves you in this way. The Son loves you in this way. Paul says to little children, “Obey your parents it everything; it pleases the Lord” (Col. 3:20). So little children: “Oh, Jesus is pleased with me.” What a beautiful thing that a little child could hear that and respond and say, “I obey my mommy; Jesus is pleased with me.”
God does welcome us and he delights in our service and yet, wonderfully, this pleasing obedience also is meant to grow. We have these riches in Christ, and they’re ours, but they can also be increased. So we are filled, but that fullness can grow. And that’s why Paul prayed, and that’s why we should pray too. Notice how many fullness words Paul uses. Verse 9: “filled with a knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks” (Col. 1:9–12).
It’s a beautiful picture. It’s a picture of those who are welcome in Christ because of the blood of Christ, who are indwelt by the Lord Jesus Christ, offering up a life that pleases God. We can please God. All your efforts and service in Christ’s name are a delight to God’s heart. When you seek him by prayer, he rewards you. When you repent of sin, the angels rejoice because he does. When you give a cup of cold water in his name, he lays up a reward. When you refuse to take vengeance or you exercise self-control or you ask for grace to face temptation, he rewards you. And when you come to his Word, he speaks to you. It’s a beautiful, beautiful picture.
So it’s not like, you know, I don’t blame Mrs. Butcher. I really don’t. She had to deal with 7th grade boys. What a thing to have to do. But our Father is wonderous in his grace, and he loves us and he delights in our obedience to him. So let’s pray together.
Our gracious God, we thank you that you’ve loved us so, and we’re so humbled to think that it was just in your heart to give your Son for us and that that blood . . . .