When talking about His Father in heaven, Jesus said, “I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29). Because Jesus was the Son of God, of one nature with the Father, He knew what pleased God. But we are fallible human beings. How can we know what pleases Him?
God has always made it clear to His people what it takes to please Him. He is not random or arbitrary in His judgments: “To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law” (Romans 5:13). Although humankind had been sinning since creation, God was patient because He had not yet given His written law to Israel (Exodus 25:22). But even without a written law, people knew right from wrong. Romans 1:20 explains: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse.”
We have a moral code written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). We know instinctively when we are doing wrong because we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). So when we choose against that inner knowledge, we harden our hearts, sear our consciences, and eventually cannot tell good from bad (Romans 1:28). As unregenerate sinners, nothing we do pleases God. Romans 8:7–8 says, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.”
The only way we can please God is to submit to His authority in our lives. We start by receiving His Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9–10). Only those who come to God through His Son can be forgiven and made right with Him (John 14:6). We receive salvation as a gift (Ephesians 2:8–9). It cannot be earned no matter how good we try to be. But it pleases God when we receive the gifts He offers us: forgiveness (Acts 2:38), eternal life (John 3:16–18), and a relationship with Him as our Father (Romans 8:15).
Once we’ve been born again as a child of God (John 3:3), we are pleasing to Him. We are “in Christ” and therefore seen by God as perfect, as Christ is perfect. The Lord’s righteousness was placed on our account while our sin was transferred to Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). We don’t have to work toward becoming pleasing to God. We are “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6, NKJV), cleansed and forgiven through faith in Jesus. Because of that great gift and the love poured out on us by our heavenly Father, we discover many more ways to please Him.
The concept of pleasing God can be compared to a marriage. A woman accepts a man’s proposal and becomes his wife because she loves him and he loves her. They are as married and in love as two people can be, yet they seek ways to continue pleasing each other. He brings her flowers, not so that they will remain married, but because he delights in pleasing her. She gives him a backrub and wears the perfume he likes, not so that he will love her but because she loves him. Likewise, once we’ve entered into a spiritual relationship with God, we want to do things that honor and delight Him.
Micah 6:8 tells us what pleases God, listing three basic actions: to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. When we live with integrity in both our public and private lives, when we show mercy to those who wrong us, and when we cling tightly to God’s Word and crave His presence, we will make choices that please God. We will never become perfect while living in this broken world, but we can aim for perfection as we model ourselves after Jesus (Romans 8:29). God was “well pleased” with His Son (Matthew 3:17), and the more we resemble Jesus, the more we will also please God.