As I skimmed through Twitter recently, I saw a tweet from someone I didn’t know who asked, “How do you know if God is displeased with you?”
I didn’t have time to read all 60+ responses, but I scrolled through several. I was astonished to see that no one appealed to the Bible or prayer.
One mentioned a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. Another cited a vague uneasiness. One said that everything going wrong in life was a sure sign of God’s displeasure. But those can all be caused by any number of things.
God uses our consciences to convict us sometimes, but conscience has to be trained. Some people have no conscience about cannibalism or genocide. Others’ consciences trouble them over every little thing.
So how do you know if God is displeased with you?
Ask Him. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Read His Word. There He tells us what’s right and wrong. Of course, we have to be careful to read in context, consider who is saying what to whom, and interpret it with some common sense principles.
Paul says, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7b). The Bible gives us the ten commandments (Exodus 20), a list of things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19), lists of things to put off and put on (Ephesians 4:17-32), the difference between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26), as well as other instructions.
The Bible doesn’t just tell us what not to do: it also tells us what we should be doing. So we could also displease God by failing to do good in some area.
The more we read the Bible and grow in the Lord, the more we grow in our understanding. For instance, we might read early on that we shouldn’t steal. That seems pretty straightforward: don’t take anything that belongs to someone else. Then later we realize that if we goof off on the job, we’re stealing from our boss the work he has paid us for. Then even later we come across Ephesians 4:28: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” We realize that not stealing isn’t an end in itself: we need to replace theft with honest work not only to provide for ourselves, but to help others.
Besides general right and wrong, the Bible shares some specific things that God is pleased with:
Faith. “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” Hebrews 11:6).
Fear (reverence): “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:11).
Spiritual sacrifices: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16).
Obedience: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). Wait a minute—I just mentioned sacrifices were pleasing to God, and now I am saying they are not? The sacrifices in this verse were part of the OT system of worship. Too often people fell into religious ritual without their hearts being in it (we still do that, though our rituals are different). God was saying through Samuel that it doesn’t do any good to perform religious rites without obeying Him. That’s the height of hypocrisy. But the spiritual sacrifices that please God, mentioned above in Hebrews, were ministry to others at cost to ourselves from a heart of love and worship of God.
Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). “And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29). Jesus is more than just an example, but God does want us to listen to Him and live like Him. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
One problem with trying to please God is that we can’t in our flesh.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:5-8).
That’s dire. What’s the remedy?
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:9-11).
How does that happen? When we believe on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and turn from our sin and trusting in ourselves or anything else, Jesus and the Holy Spirit live within us. Jesus lived a perfect life of righteousness, which we could never do. He took our sins on Himself on the cross, so that when we repent and believe on Him, He puts His righteousness on our account. We could never be good enough on our own to please God. Even if we could from this moment forward, we have a past of not pleasing God. The only way He can be completely pleased with us is through Christ.
We can be saved in a moment. But then it takes a lifetime to grow in grace and Christlikeness. One former pastor used to say that “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) meant not to work for salvation, but to work it out like a math problem: take all those lofty truths and principles and work them into your everyday life.
But we do stumble and fail. When we believe in Christ, God becomes our Father.
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).
Over and over in the Bible, God is described as longsuffering, slow to anger, merciful, ready to forgive, ready to help. If our heart is with Him and our desire is to walk with Him and do His will, we don’t need to walk around with a vague feeling of spiritual uneasiness. As a loving Father, He will show us right from wrong, forgive us when we fail, and enable us to live for Him.
But some walk in blatant disregard of the Bible yet think God is well-pleased with them. Or they think they know who God is and what the Bible says, but they’re misinformed. We shouldn’t be presumptuous. How we need to read His Word, come to Him with a humble spirit, and seek His grace to live for Him.
Early in my Christian walk, I probably had more of that vague uneasiness that something was wrong spiritually. A former pastor used to say that when we come to God and ask Him to search our hearts, then we wait and deal with whatever He brings to mind. He likened it to opening a box, dealing with what’s there, opening another box, until there are no more boxes—nothing else that God brings to mind. I still do that sometimes. But now, after 45 years of reading His Word and walking with Him, usually conviction is immediate. Often, right after I do or think something wrong, God will remind me of what His Word says about what I just did or thought. Then I try to immediately ask His forgiveness. But it’s still good to ask Him to search our hearts in case we’re overlooking something.
Sometimes it takes a while to sort through whether we’re feeling false guilt over a man-made principle that goes beyond the Bible. But the more we read His Word and walk with Him, the more familiar we’ll be with what pleases and displeases Him.
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).
(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul,
Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday,
Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Faith on Fire,
Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network)