In Ephesians 5:10 Paul wrote “… try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord,” and it is a clear indicator that we are making progress in the Christian life if we feel the desire to do exactly this. But what is pleasing to God? Is it simply becoming saved, or are we given more specific instructions? If the answer were obvious, Paul would not say “try to discern what is pleasing to God.” So sometimes we must search to find the answer.
The Bible actually lists a good number of things that God finds pleasing, and this is an extremely worthwhile topic for a careful study by searching “pleasing” in a Bible concordance or, more easily and effectively, by searching “please + God” (which will pull all expressions with this root, such as "pleasing God" and "God was pleased") on BibleGateway.com – which covers many translations and allows much more flexible searching. Doing such a study turns up many results, and in this article we will look at some of the more important ones.
Faith that produces good works. It is fundamental to realize that we cannot please God without a living faith and its resulting obedience, as the New Testament clearly shows. Notice first regarding faith: “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6) and “God was pleased . . . to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Good works are the natural result of that living faith (see the article “Faith that Works” on our sister site) and are also pleasing to God, as we also find in Hebrews: “…do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16) and in many other places such as in the Epistle of James: “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead …You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone” (James 2:17, 24).
An ongoing attitude of praise and thanks. Notice also the ongoing nature of the need for offering praise and thanks if we are to please God: “By Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name… for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:15-16). We have already seen the injunction to do good above (in point 1), but notice that the author of Hebrews also includes praise and thanks as pleasing sacrifices.
Offering ourselves as a living sacrifice. The concept of sacrifice runs through many of the points we are considering here. Paul tells us that offering ourselves as a living sacrifice is also fundamental to pleasing God: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). We must spend time thinking in what ways we can be living sacrifices beyond simply living with an attitude of repentance, praise and thanks. God makes it possible for us all to sacrifice of ourselves in different ways.
Being transformed in our minds. In the very next verse in Romans, Paul goes on to tell us: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). This verse shows that being changed in our minds according to God’s will is pleasing to Him. We do this by following Paul’s instructions in Romans 12, and by replacing our negative and wrong thoughts and actions with those in harmony with the mind of God.
Revealing the Son of God in our lives. This final point is of tremendous importance because it might be possible to think of the previous points as simply ways in which we come to some pleasing level of goodness in God’s sight. This should hopefully occur, of course, with His help, but this final point shows that God is not just interested in our somehow becoming “good enough” to please Him. No matter how good we might become, we still need the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to us (2 Corinthians 5:21). The truth is, God also has another purpose in changing our lives — as Paul affirms: “When it pleased God, who … called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me …” (Galatians 1:15-16). The Bible does not tell us which aspect of our Christian life is most pleasing to God, but this must surely be very high on the list – when our lives do effectively reveal His Son to others. If this is one of our central goals in life, we will be doing His work both in helping others and in helping others to Him.
If we are striving to live in such a way as to please God in these things and in other ways in which the scriptures tell us God is pleased, we can have confidence that our Christian lives are moving in the right direction and that we do, in fact, please God. If these are our true goals in life, that God’s pleasure is fulfilled in us, we need not worry about where our lives are going or fear for our futures. God will fulfill His purpose in those who strive to please Him – it is His pleasure to do so as Jesus assured us: “Do not fear … for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).