Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Gal. 1:10
Being accepted by other people is something we all want. We can’t help it. It’s hardwired in us. We were made for relationship. We are incomplete on our own and require other people to make us fully human. Part of our divine design is that we are created to find a sense of significance from a source outside ourselves. Well all need external validation. Without this we are destined to despair. The problem that we face is that we all too often go to an external source that can’t meet the demands of that need.
Much of our life is spent trying to win approval of others through pleasing people. Hoping that the validation of a peer will meet our need for affirmation, we readily adapt and alter ourself in order to indulge them. People pleasing takes on a variety of forms. For some, it means the inability to say “No” for fear of disappointing another. For others, it means compromising on long-held values and convictions about what’s right and true. And still, for others, it means adopting self-destructive habits and practices just to keep a relationship going. The more desperate we are, the more extreme our efforts.
In 1998 a reported named Stephen Glass was fired from his esteemed job at the New Republic for fabricating stories that were published in their magazine. He was a young rising talent in the world of journalism. His fall from grace was fast, hard, and public. In an interview with 60 Minutes, he said that it started out as just one minor false fact or a made-up quote here and there, but over time it grew to writing entire pieces that had no thread of truth in them whatsoever. When asked about the motivation behind his lies, he said he had an insatiable need for approval from his co-workers, colleagues, and readers. In order to keep their admiration each story had to be better and more outrageous than the previous one. He said he knew the lies were wrong, but he couldn’t help himself.
The problem with trying to satisfy your need for approval from other people is that they can’t ever offer you enough. Their approval is like a drug. You’ll always need another dose, but in a greater amount and the high doesn’t last as long as the time before. The long-term effects of approval addiction is an identity crisis. If our view of ourself hinges on what other people think of us we will swing between two extremes. If people reject us we’re bogged down with self-loathing, and if people accept us we are over inflated with pride. Bouncing back and forth between these two extremes is exhausting.
In the first few chapters of this letter, Paul tells the Galatian church that striving to receive approval from any source other than God is antithetical to the gospel. Therefore, seeing how the approval we desire from other people can never fully satisfy, Paul reminds us that lasting and authentic approval comes from God.
However, approval from God is a hard thing to obtain. Not because we have to earn it, precisely because we don’t. Approval from God doesn’t come through performance. It’s something we receive through faith. God’s approval requires that we stop all our striving and entertain that what He says about us might actually be true, that we are his joy and delight, holy and righteous, the apple of His eye. Not because we’ve done anything to earn it, simply because we’re His, because of Christ.
Winning approval from our peers enslaves us, but receiving it from God sets us free. We are so accustomed to winning it, that receiving approval means adopting a new state of mind and relearning different social interactions.
We no longer have to carry the burden of wondering what people think of us, because we know that we are loved by God. Instead of over-committing ourselves by always saying “Yes,” we can now say “No” having full confidence that Christ doesn’t need me to meet everyone else’s needs. And rather than compromising on our beliefs and values, we can speak to them with conviction because my self-worth doesn’t hinge on people agreeing with me.
Receiving approval from God rather than winning it through pleasing people restructures the motivational drive of our heart. It’s now released with a new desire to serve Christ and His kingdom rather than our own. It’s now a great joy to leverage our lives in order to bear witness to others the love we’ve received from Him. So today, live into this new reality. Receive the same words that were spoken over Jesus as He came up from the waters of His baptism in the Jordan River, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:22).” Be free from winning approval. Simply let go. You’ve already received it.
1. In what ways do you strive to win the approval of others?
2. How would you describe that pursuit?
3. How has it been destructive in your life?