It Can't Please God

It would be reasonable to ask: “Since God created us with flesh so that we would survive, and even thrive, in this world without His constant intervention, then why isn’t He pleased with us in our natural state?”

It’s because our purpose is to be Jesus’ helpmate—doing what He wants done.

Pleasing God is accomplished by giving up our naturally independent, self-serving, self-sufficient ways after accepting our eternal King’s marriage proposal. (I use the word naturally throughout to highlight the way we are through our own efforts.)

So what are we supposed to do with this rebellious nature? Let’s begin by understanding how it works.

Our Flesh: The Judge

To this point, the laws that we have looked at are the law of sin and death and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. They showed us our original condition (citizens of death) and the resolution (becoming citizens of life as the bride of Christ). Then there was the Law of Moses. It predicted how Jesus would be our Savior from death—and it uses our behaviors to prove that everyone needs the life that He offers.

But there is another law to seriously consider. I call it the law of the flesh since it describes “why we do the things we do.” It’s the gold-standard that we use for making decisions.

All day long we judge; it’s natural for us. The things we like, we rank as good, better, best, wonderful, awesome, magnificent. What we don’t like, we rank as bad, worse, worst, terrible, horrific, catastrophic. Unwittingly, we have taken it a step further by misappropriating His word good to mean what is valuable to us—and His word evil to direct attention away from ourselves and onto some dark, nebulous force.

Most of our childhoods are spent learning what to do when our senses are aroused, or when memories spring up, or when thinking about future possibilities. Over time, our flesh learns what responses yield the best results. The accumulation of those cause-and-effect pairings become its law.

As new circumstances are encountered, we make (supposed) improvements to our laws—even by adapting bits and pieces from moral and legal codes and maybe part of what is in the Bible. These laws are the basis for what we believe is right and wrong. It’s what Paul wrote about in Romans 2:14-16.

Here’s a sample of some causes and desired effects. The first part is from a secular setting and the other is from church.

  • When danger looms, we quickly look for help from any source—to regain a sense of security. Seeing people with detestable bodies leads us to change our habits—to not be like them. When criticized, we berate the critic—to maintain our reputations. Upon routinely seeing beggars on street corners, we pretend they don’t exist—to avoid feeling guilty for not helping them all.
  • After hearing a condemning sermon, we try to change our behaviors (through anger-management, addiction-control, financial-planning)—to appear godly. When in public, we present ourselves as kind, gentle and caring (more so than usual)—to appear spiritual. We stay on our knees in hopeful prayer for hours, we financially and personally help with the needs of the church, and we witness to strangers—to please God.

Your flesh has a law that includes things comparable to these and so does mine. That verse in Romans chapter two states that our consciences are familiar with our laws (with what we believe is right and wrong)—and our thoughts waiver between condemning and defending, accusing and excusing us.

The heart is that intangible place within the mind where our laws are kept. Sometimes it’s defined as our “core principles” or “central being.”

Being just like Eve, we naturally attempt to fulfill God’s role. The flesh has been fooled into thinking that its law (its ability to judge) is perfect. So when it’s confronted with another law that someone else has elevated above its own (the Ten Commandments or practices for godly living or doing the right thing) our flesh brazenly rebels against it—and more importantly, against the authority that made it.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; (1 Corinthians 15:56)

But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me. (Romans 7:8-10)

What is it that enables and gives power to our rebellious ways? Isn’t it someone else’s law that is forced upon us—a law that is esteemed above our own? Our jealous flesh wholeheartedly believes that it is God: the Absolute Authority of what is good and what is evil. Of course it’s going to rebel.

These laws of ours are what we use to judge—and not just for evaluating how pleasant or harsh circumstances are. We use them to judge the value of people (including our own worth to God). Jesus was speaking about this when He said “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (from Matthew 7:1-5).

Our flesh naturally establishes its law to judge who is valuable or worthless. It’s offended by, and spontaneously rebels against every opposing authority: the power of rebellion is someone else’s rule; “The power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56).

Designed to Fail

Even though we are saved (and waiting for the heavenly ceremony), most of the time we still operate independently, relying on our own strength, endurance, intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, wealth, ability, tenacity, charisma—all the while saying that God gave them to us so they must be good.

That is how we go through each day, just like the one before, delusionally thinking that we are being moral, doing good, faithfully following the Ten Commandments, gladly tithing, attending worship services. We are not even conscious of the fact that these attempts to be good are what our flesh routinely does to gain adoration.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63)

We might naturally live out our days contently with just our flesh in control—being our own gods and working according to our laws. But God doesn’t leave us that way. He deliberately frustrates us. Romans 8:19-21 (through the end of that chapter) explains that He has subjected His whole creation to futility to reveal our salvation and that includes providing all of our adversity to accomplish it.

For example, He created well-being and disaster (from Isaiah 45:7); the calm and the storm (from Psalm 148); good health and sickness (from Job 33); speech, muteness and deafness; sight and blindness (from Exodus 4:11); all of the angels, including helpers and adversaries (from Hebrews 1:13-14). He created all things and nothing exists that He didn’t make (from John 1:1-5).

Our flesh relishes taking credit for trying to make this world better: restoring the environment; eliminating poverty, disease and hunger; and making people moral, law-abiding and kind.

But He broke the creation so that its state will frustrate us and we will turn to Him for help. It’s not ours to somehow fix what He has put in place to draw us to Himself—and grow us into maturity.

It’s when our world falls apart, when we realize that we can’t really make things turn out the way we want, when emotional peace can’t be found, when our own resources are exhausted—then we might seek God to fix the things in our lives that we can’t. That is the Holy Spirit systematically interrupting our routines to point out our flesh’s limitations and each time He does it a little more conspicuously.

If we made this place into “heaven on earth,” there would be no reason for the kingdom of God. And if this body wasn’t failing, we wouldn’t need eternal life through Jesus’ resurrection. And if life was easy, we wouldn’t crave the Holy Spirit’s peace that surpasses understanding.

Every day the Holy Spirit confronts us with opportunities to either trust our flesh or to trust Him. Those really are our only two guides for direction.

In hindsight we can look back at the times that we relied on our flesh and see that He has even worked out those bad choices for our good. Progressively, He demonstrates that He is the only One who is trustworthy. That is how He builds the perfect bond with us—proving His compassion with peace that surpasses comprehension.

Although circumstances might be heart-wrenching or appalling, since God is working all things together for our good (from Romans 8:28), what sense does it make for us to call any of them bad?