I’m catching a glimpse of this in parenting my two-year-old daughter. There is a static element of our relationship: Nothing she can do can make her less my daughter. She could run away, change her name, and say she’ll never talk to me again, but the fact remains — she’s my daughter. My love for her remains fixed and unchanged.
But there’s also a dynamic element in our relationship. When my daughter and I are playing together in the living room, my delight as a father is full. I have barriers in place for her and commands to be followed, but she can act like a wrecking ball in that fence of obedience, and it brings me incredible joy. And the more I laugh and delight in her, the more she works to keep me laughing. She’ll play the same games over and over again so that I keep playing; she’ll tell the same two-year-old jokes to keep me laughing.
My daughter sees that what she is doing brings me pleasure as her father, and so she wants to do whatever it takes to keep bringing me pleasure. Not because she’s afraid that I’ll stop loving her at any moment so she needs to earn my delight — I don’t love her any more during these high moments of joy — but because she is finding her own joy in my joy.
Grieved Because I Love Her
But then the dinner bell rings, and we need to shift from playtime to dinnertime. If my daughter throws a tantrum because she wants to keep playing, the joy that I had turns into grief. Why? She’s no longer concerned about pleasing me; now she only wants to please herself. No longer is she seeking to find her delight in my delight, but now she is seeking to find her delight at the expense of my delight.
As her father, I’m grieved at her disobedience — not because I love her any less — but because she has chosen to disobey one of my good rules (eating!) and has instead chosen to find joy in something that will not satisfy.
While my love is steadfast, my happiness with my daughter can ebb and flow based on her posture toward me. Her actions have potential to bring me delight, but they also have potential to bring me sadness.
Union and Communion
This difference between static and dynamic aspects of relationships is seen in how we relate with God.
Our union with Christ is static. Union does not ebb and flow; it does not waver; it does not increase or decrease; it is consistent. And praise God for this fixed element! We don’t need to lose our assurance as children of God every time we sin. We can look back to our union with Christ and repent, rather than question if we are actually saved or not.
Our communion with Christ is dynamic. Communion increases and decreases. If you are walking in habitual sin, your relationship with God may feel dry. If you are walking in regular obedience, your relationship with God may feel full. If you seek to please God — to find your joy in what he delights in — then your communion with God will be rich. If you seek to please yourself at the expense of God’s pleasure, then your communion will be dull.
The Pleasure of Pursuing Holiness
Pleasing God directly relates to our pursuit of holiness. When we say no to sin, and yes to righteousness, we do so as two-year-olds bringing their Father pleasure. God is not apathetic to our obedience; he has committed his own joy to it.
When sin sings its siren song, we can listen to another voice saying to us, “Well done; enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21), and that inspires the motivation that we need to pursue holiness. Knowing that our obedience has the ability to bring happiness to the God of the galaxies is incredible motivation. And knowing that our disobedience can bring God grief and sorrow keeps us from treating sin lightly.
Two Good Guides
When Paul looked to motivate his readers to obedience, he focused on the dynamic reality of pleasing God:
So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:9)
Walk as children of light . . . and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8, 10)
Finally, then, brothers, 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)
And when C.S. Lewis thought about the promise of glory that is given to believers, he looked at how it relates to our pleasing God:
The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses . . . shall find approval, shall please God. To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son — it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. (The Weight of Glory, emphasis added)
Every decision that you make, every choice that you have in front of you to pursue sin or to pursue righteousness, is a chance to bring happiness to God himself.
We need the static element of union to keep us from doubting. But we also need the dynamic aspect of communion to keep us pursuing. Both are for our joy. We make it our pleasure to please him.