Due to rather poorly developed “teaching” (mostly unfounded statements) about “works,” there seems to be a serious level of popular opinion that one’s behavior is unimportant when speaking of salvation. The “we’re not saved by works” mentality has led many to discount the importance of obedience, at times making it seem like an undesirable form of self-righteousness. Of course, there are many ways to promote and practice imbalance in this regard. One might attempt to earn God’s forgiveness with certain religious activities or one might assume forgiveness is simply handed out like candy at a Halloween parade. However, the point of focus here is growth, maturity and increasing in favor with God. The word “favor” has a number of nuances. It involves goodness bestowed but does not exclude behavior associated with this bestowal. For example, Jesus revealed a spiritual principle that emphasizes that there are appropriate times and conditions for making provisions when He stated, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Mt.7:6). This is not to be seen as earning something as much as being of a maturity level to be ready for the next stage of growth. One might work for a wage and at the end of the week earn a paycheck, totally wasting the money on foolish activity. He earned the money but was like a pig with a pearl. Jesus was not saying, “Do not give a person what they earn,” He was saying, “Do not give a person what they are not prepared to handle properly.” I am suggesting that this is an evaluation that enters into God’s interaction with human beings during the growth process. His “favor,” in this sense, comes to us at appropriate points of development – not that we earn it, but that we are, in some sense, ready for it. This, of course, does not guarantee that one will make proper use of the provision.
As did Jesus, we are to increase in favor with God. Consider the following proverbial statement, paying attention to verse four (in bold).
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones. Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine. My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD or loathe His reproof, for whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights” (Pr.3:1-12).
Here we see the relationship between taking a certain approach and being prepared to “find favor.”
The apostle Paul speaks of taking a certain approach (quite contrary to a “works” approach) and being “acceptable to God,” when he says, “For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Ro.14:18). The word acceptable conveys the idea of well-pleasing.
I would like to suggest that a proper heart attitude, leading to proper behavioral change and obedience, is the purpose of pleasing God as an expression of our love for Him. The following list of passages draws attention to the importance of having the goal of pleasing God – not earning His favor by obedient behavior but receiving favor as we aim to please Him, which alters our behavior and produces increased obedience.
“And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (Jn.8:29).
“Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Co.5:9).
“…you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ep.5:8-10).
“Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord” (Col.3:20).
“For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (1Th.2:3-4).
“By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God” (Heb.11:5).
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight” (1Jn.3:21-22).