You need to know this otherwise you will spend your life trying to earn what you already have. You’ll fall prey to those who say, “You need to improve yourself to please the Lord.” Or “You need to clean yourself up before God will be pleased with you.” Such messages will distract you from God’s grace. They will draw your attention to your sin instead of his Son. They will cause you to fall from grace into dead works.
This is no small issue. The following extract, which comes from pages 82-84 of The Hyper-Grace Gospel, reveals a huge division in the church as to what pleases the Lord. While some, like me, preach unconditional love and say things like “It’s impossible for you to disappoint God,” others, like Dr. Michael Brown, worry that we can displease the Lord and become unpleasing to him.
When God looks at you, does He love what He sees?
Is God always pleased when He looks at us? Is He ever disappointed with us? These are the sorts of questions that divide those who preach radical grace from those who oppose it.
Hyper-grace preacher: “We are totally pleasing in our Father’s sight.”
Dr. Brown: “It is absolutely false to claim that when God looks at us, He always ‘loves what He sees.’” (page 112)
The difference is the hyper-grace preacher is talking about you, while Dr. Brown is talking about the things that you do.
“Paul, isn’t this just splitting hairs?” No. It’s the difference between life and death! It’s the reason why so many believers are messed up, worn out, and confused.
The issue here is identity. The relevant question is, Who am I? Your answer to this question will shape your life. For instance, if you define yourself by what you do, then your identity will only be as secure as your behavior. You’ll think, “If I do good, God will smile at me, but if I don’t, He won’t.”
This is an inferior way to live. You are not what you do and your value to God is not defined by your productivity or performance. You may be a pastor or a professor or a prostitute or a pill-popping prodigal but that is not who you really are. You are much more than that. You are a beloved child of the Most High God. This is the stunning revelation of the gospel.
And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17, NKJV)
Before Jesus had done a blessed thing—before He had preached the gospel or healed the sick or raised the dead—He received the loving affirmation and pleasure of His Father. How God relates to Jesus is how He relates to you. He loves you without any regard for your behavior. Your good deeds don’t make Him love you more, and your bad deeds don’t make Him love you less.
Identity vs behavior
This issue of identity is so important, that I wrote a whole book about it. I wrote The Gospel in Ten Words so that you might know that your Father loves you 100 percent and is thoroughly pleased with you. He never changes His mind. Just as your behavior does not alter the sunlight falling on the earth, your behavior cannot alter the white-hot love of your Father for you. This is the gospel that Jesus preached:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:9)
The danger is not that God will change His unchangeable mind and start hating you. The danger is that you won’t remain in His love. If you’re constantly hearing that God’s approval of you goes up and down like the stock market you may begin to doubt His goodness. You may think, “I did good today, He loves me,” or “I did bad today, He loves me not.” You’ll become an insecure and unstable believer.
It is critically important that you draw a big fat line between who you are (your Father’s dearly loved child) and what you do. Dr. Brown appears not to make this distinction for he says “our heavenly Father … does not always take enormous pleasure in us” (page 120). This is not true. He may not take enormous pleasure in your choices, but you He loves.
You only need to look at your own children to know this is true. I look at my kids with 100 percent, undiluted pleasure. My kids are the greatest kids on earth. I almost feel embarrassed that God gave me such great kids because the rest of you are missing out. Does this mean I am 100 percent happy with the choices my children make? Not at all. Was I pleased yesterday when my young son disobeyed his mother’s command and ran onto the road? No, I was very displeased with his behavior. But with him I am and always will be well-pleased.
How is this not obvious to every father?
As much as we love and appreciate our own kids, God loves us even more—much, much more. He’s not coming second in any Father of the Year competition.
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