I have an approval idol.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve craved the approval and validation of people to find a sense of worth, and I’m not alone in this. Many of us are enslaved by the desire to please and be praised, obsessed with what people think of us, afraid of rejection. We tend to embellish stories and paint ourselves in the most positive light. We spend an inordinate amount of time finding the right picture, the right filter, and the right caption to display on social media.
Pop-psychology and contemporary culture tell us that the answer is to just not care about what people think. “Be who you are, it doesn’t matter what people think. Believe in yourself, believe that you’re a great, beautiful person. Think positively.” Sadly, this passes off as Christian advice too.
But it doesn’t work. If I write a song, I don’t say, “I know that’s great, I don’t care what anybody says or thinks. I don’t have to ask anybody, I know it’s amazing.” Saying those words to myself doesn’t make it true, nor does it guarantee that I’ll believe it. I don’t know if it’s a good song until someone else, someone from “the outside” as Tim Keller says, validates me. I can say all day that all that matters is how I feel about myself, but until someone from the outside tells me I’m great, that I’m acceptable, I won’t believe it.
We need words, we need validation. The problem is that we try to find that validation from people. We try so hard for people to tell us that we’re valuable and worth it. Family, friends, significant others, coworkers, Instagram followers, strangers.
The Bible tells us that God the Father said over Jesus, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” If we are in Christ, the Father loves us as He loves His Son because Jesus died for us and drew us into the family of God. The work of Jesus on the cross transfers the life and righteousness of Jesus onto us so that the Father now says over us that we are His beloved children and well pleased. Romans 8:16-17 tells us that the Holy Spirit then bears witness within us that we are indeed children of God.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
If you are a Christian, you have the approval of God because of Jesus! You don’t deal with your desire to please people by being satisfied with yourself or blocking it out. You put to death the idol through prayer, through reading the Word of God, and through Christian community, hearing the Creator of the cosmos as He says, “You are my beloved child in whom I’m well pleased.” Those are words that will validate you. Those are words that will heal our deepest insecurities and satisfy every longing in our heart.
Until we hear that word from outside that tells us who we are, we’ll be trying so hard to create an identity by getting people to tell us how great we are.