Delighting in God, Delighting in Godliness

We are called to obey God’s will out of gratitude because we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The Heidelberg Catechism famously describes its third part as “how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance” (Answer 2), and Lord’s Days 32–44 are a detailed explanation of our walking in gratitude toward the Lord. This is indeed our chief motivation for obedience.

The confessions and Scripture, however, do not talk only of gratitude. They also talk about delight, joy, and love. Here are some examples with emphasis added to identify some key words:

  1. What is the quickening of the new man?
  2. It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works. (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 90)
  3. What doth the tenth commandment require of us?
  4. That even the smallest inclination or thought contrary to any of God’s commandments never rise in our hearts; but that at all times we hate all sin with our whole heart, and delight in all righteousness. (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 113)

The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing in themselves, with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure, the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God—such as a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc. (Canons 1.12)

We beseech Thee…that they may daily follow Him, joyfully bearing their cross, and cleave unto Him in true faith, firm hope, and ardent love. (Form for the Administration of Baptism)

We beseech Thee, show him Thy mercy, that he may become more and more assured in his mind of the remission of his sins, and that he may receive from thence inexpressible joy and delight to serve Thee. (Form of Readmitting Excommunicated Persons)

It is appropriate for these documents to mention joy, love, and delight. In fact, it is possible to be grateful to someone without necessarily delighting in or loving that person. In contrast, believers walk in the way of holiness because we love holiness, as it deserves to be loved. We love holiness because God is holy. More than that, God is holiness. And we love and delight to walk in godliness because it is in the way of our obedience that the triune God has been pleased to transform us by his Spirit. We walk that way out of love for and delight in God in addition to our gratitude for his great saving benefits. We do this just as a faithful son obeys his good father, not simply out of gratitude (which ought certainly to be there), but because he loves his father and rejoices and delights in obeying him.

We have every reason for delighting in God’s beautiful holiness and in practicing godliness. God is beautiful. Even more than that, he is beauty.[1] It is right to rejoice, love, and delight in our God who is true beauty. This beauty explains why God is attracted to and loves himself above all else: he is the standard of love and beauty in his own being. Prof. Herman Hoeksema states: “As an attribute of God, grace is that divine virtue according to which God is the perfection of all beauty and loveliness and contemplates himself as such with infinite delight.”[2]

Related to this idea of beauty, we understand that God’s law is the reflection of his character. Every commandment is a glorious and beautiful revelation of his character to his people. Consider the following:

  • Why shall we have no other gods before him? Because he is the only God, the sole creator of all things.
  • We shall not worship any image because “there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God…eternal, incomprehensible, invisible…” (Ex. 33:20; Belgic Confession art. 1).
  • We shall not take the name of the Lord in vain because God is his name (Ex. 3:14).
  • We shall not steal because God is the creator and owner of all (Ps. 24). We shall not kill because God is life and is the only one who owns life and death (Deut. 32:39). We shall not lie because God is truth (Ps. 31:5).

As it is natural and right to delight in God who is holiness and beauty in himself, so it is natural and right to rejoice and delight in the law that reflects his holy character. Through obedience to that law, we are transformed according to his holy and beautiful image. In addition to their gratitude for God’s deliverances, the psalmists repeatedly mention their delight in and love for God’s law: “I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved” (Ps. 119:47). I encourage you to read though the psalms with this theme in mind.[3]

Gratitude does not exhaust the motivation for our walking in obedience. When I truly love a person who is in authority over me, who loves me, and who cares for me, I enjoy that person’s company and delight in serving him. I also rejoice in pleasing that person. Similarly with God. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matt. 22:37). The triune God is not only our Lord, but our Father. And Jesus is not only our Savior, but our mediator and eldest brother. True love for him certainly involves gratitude, but it is not limited to gratitude alone.

Saints delight and rejoice in serving the Lord through an active faith because of all his benefits and because of who he is. Saints love God because of their justification and their sanctification in Christ. And they delight in and are attracted to such a beautiful God, desiring to be changed by grace according to his image. Taking on the image of God means that we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4) in the way of obedience to his commandments. “Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness” (Ps. 97:12).

Let us all go to Jesus in gratitude and delight! Not only have we full forgiveness for all our sins and shortcomings in Jesus, but we are indwelled by the regenerating and empowering Holy Spirit! Holding fast to Jesus and his finished work for us, and relying on the Spirit who Christ sent to dwell in us, let us all join the psalmist and pray: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law…Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: so shall I talk of thy wondrous works” (Ps. 119:18, 27).


Originally published September 2021, Vol 80 No 9


[1] See especially Ps. 27:4; 29:2; 39:11; 45:11; 50:2; 90:17; 96:6, 9

[2] Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics: Vol. 1 (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2004), 160. Emphasis added. The reader will not regret reading pages 154–166 of the same book.

[3] See especially Ps. 1:2; 37:4; 40:8; 112:1; and nearly all of Psalm 119.