There’s a common misconception that if we act a certain way or check off the right rules on a list, then God will be pleased and accept us. In reality, it’s the other way around. The gap between God and humanity is far too large to be bridged by any set of good deeds. That’s why Jesus came, died, and rose again: to provide acceptability for anyone who depends on Him. It’s because Jesus has already rescued me (1 John 4:10), and because I’ve already been adopted into God’s family (John 1:12-13) that I behave differently than I would on my own.
When someone loves you and you love them back, you want to please them (John 14:15, 1 John 2: 3-6). A husband doesn’t take out the trash to cause his wife to love him; he does so because he loves her and wants to make her happy. His wife doesn’t take care of the house to gain his attention; making a nice home is a way she shows love to him.
(Please pardon the old-fashioned stereotypes. I do know that the division of household work does not always match 1950’s sitcoms! The point remains, though: Actions to please someone else can stem from love rather than from an attempt to gain something.)
When I acknowledge that God deserves obedience simply because of who He is (Romans 9:20-21), and that anything He wants is by definition perfect and for my best good (Romans 8:28), it only makes sense to do what he says. In the same way, it is reasonable to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on any product. That includes myself as a “product”: God created me; He knows my future; and He knows what is right for me in any situation (Psalm 139:13-16). Why deliberately do otherwise, and have less life than I could if I obey Him? (John 10:10b)
I mentioned that, once rescued by Jesus, I was adopted as a child of God (Romans 8:15). The natural result of such a relationship is to become more like Him as I get to know Him better. It’s appropriate for me to develop a “family resemblance”, to see and react to the world in the same way that He does (1 John 3:2-3).
The Apostle Paul used an analogy of the church as the “body of Christ“, each Christian an individual unique part combining to become a whole organism with Jesus as the head (Romans 12:4-5). He also refers to Christians as ambassadors, representing Jesus to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). Both thoughts should lead to acting as He would, being His “hands and feet” to share His love as He did when He was here in person.
As to why some things make God happy and others don’t, His “rules” aren’t arbitrary. They flow from His own character: Perfect, infinite love; perfect, infinite justice; perfect, infinite knowledge; perfect, infinite mercy; perfect, infinite power. He can’t be happy with anything that demeans or diminishes, or with anything that is unfair or hurtful, or with anything deceptive or selfish. He always wants me to be moving toward a closer relationship with Him, so He can’t be happy with anything that moves me away instead (Micah 6:8).
If my perception of “unfair” or “hurtful” is different than His, that’s a result of my inadequate perspective. Children think that their parents are “mean” when they make them eat their vegetables, do their homework, brush their teeth, and go to bed on time. The children can’t see the value of those things, but their parents do. I can trust that God’s way is right, even when I don’t understand it (Isaiah 55:9).
My question for myself is not “Why do I try to do what God wants?”. It’s “Why don’t I try harder and do a better job of it?”. I love Him; He deserves obedience; He’s right; I want to be like Him and be a good representative of Him. I don’t have to work to earn something from Him, but I do want to make Him smile (Ephesians 2:8-9). When I fail at that, it’s just because I’m still a sinner: Still rebellious, lazy, or selfish at times. It’s proof that I still need Him (and always will!).