“. . . so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” Colossians 1:10
We should not be afraid of this clear biblical teaching. It does not counteract the gospel in our lives; it is the sweet fruit of the gospel in our lives.
The good news of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from all our works, is thrilling. The message of forgiveness, acceptance, adoption, all by radical divine grace — I never get tired of hearing it and preaching it. It is oxygen to me. Every day. I hope it means that to you too.
But this grace is also a power that transforms. It both reassures us and changes us. Both/and. How else can we account for the New Testament?
“Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:10
“We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:1
“Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” 1 John 3:22
This is not legalism. The One whose mercy flows freely to the undeserving is not a machine. He is not a mechanical Grace Dispenser. He is a person. His smile is not an all-approving grin. He has moral sensitivities. We please him, and we displease him, moment by moment. Within the gospel framework of his grace, inside the relationship of his fatherly acceptance, he is fully capable of confronting us. Not rejecting us, not casting us off, but correcting us. Because he’s a good Father.
I’ll take it further. The One who is for us (Romans 8:31) can also bluntly say, “I have something against you” (Revelation 2:4, 14, 20). The One who will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) is also quite capable of saying to us, “We need to have a serious talk. It’s time for you to make some changes. If you will listen and follow, I will continue to use you. If you turn away, I will set you aside.” All he wants to take from us is “what is dishonorable” (2 Timothy 2:21) anyway – the things in ourselves we can’t approve of either. What’s so bad about that?
But here is what I’m wondering. Is the only message we’ll hear and receive the word of justification and acceptance and affirmation? What if our Savior wants to get up in our faces about things in us that displease him? Will we dismiss that message as legalism? We can turn it into legalism. If we respond to the rebukes of Scripture as occasions for self-invented virtue, discounting the finished work of Christ on the cross, then it is legalism. But that is not what the Bible is saying. The Bible is alerting us to the heart of our Father, a heart that is wounded by our sins and follies, a heart that is pleased with our humility and obedience. He feels the one, he feels the other. This is part of the New Covenant message to God’s blood-bought people. Will we receive it?
I remember my dad mentioning a close friend of his who was in spiritual trouble. My dad said something like, “I wonder if he has so offended the Lord that the Lord has turned his face away.” Only God knows what was really going on in that man’s experience. But my dad’s intuition may have been right. Our Judge who justifies us is also our Father who disciplines us (Hebrews 12:3-11).
If your theology includes the message of justification by faith alone, I hope you never back off from that. I hope you keep that message central. But I also hope your theology includes another message – the grace of obedience fully pleasing to the Father.