Actually, the question was, “Are you pleased with my results, Dad?” Earlier that day David had heard my compliments on his last two English tests, but he obviously needed some extra reassurance. Well, he surely got it, but his question almost made me chuckle. My 13-year-old son had no way of knowing that at the very moment he asked this, I was wrestling with some Scripture verses about pleasing God. The wrestling match was caused by a phrase I’d read earlier that day in a book on parenting.
Up to that phrase, I’d enjoyed the book a lot and had no problem agreeing with the author’s ideas. For example, that we should raise our children the way God raises his, i.e. in grace; that the deadliest enemy of grace is legalism, which makes children rebel against parents, and eventually against God; and that kids get their idea of God by observing the way their parents treat them. However, I almost jumped out of my seat when I read this: “I didn’t want my children to grow up in a home where they felt that God’s pleasure was determined by their behavior.”
That statement got me thinking, and I started an imaginary conversation with the author that went something like this: “Sir, you are saying that God’s pleasure is not determined by my behavior? Nice! That means he won’t get mad at me if I make a mistake; not even if I repeat it over and over again. I might as well give up trying to do it right, since his pleasure is not determined by my behavior. Hallelujah! In fact, replace ‘mistake’ with ‘sin’ – and he is still pleased with me. After all, he is pleased with me no matter what!
“But is that biblical? Hardly, I think. True, God is not a cosmic policeman ready to shoot us at
any moment for any mistake. True, he is so much more patient with us than we are with our children. In his infinite mercy, he does forgive us daily – often for repeated sins. However, I hope we also agree on a vital condition for receiving that forgiveness: fleeing sin, struggling against it, and working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Heb. 12:4; Phil. 2:12). Otherwise we will sin deliberately, and bring upon ourselves a most severe judgment (Heb. 10:26–31).
“And here is something else, on a more positive note. We can and should please God by our acts of faith – at least if Paul wasn’t off big time when he wrote: ‘So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad’ (2 Cor. 5:9–10).
“Sir, you must have meant to say that God’s love and grace toward us are not determined by our behavior. Then I am with you. Yes, we are his beloved children only because of his love and grace. And the good works for which we were created should only be done out of this deep sense of belonging to the Father, out of a sure and secure knowing that we are his and he is ours just because of who he is, not who we are or what we do.”
Having said all that in my imaginary conversation, I asked myself: Should I write him an email, write my own book on the subject, or just finish doing the dishes and go to bed? The third option looked best.