The Hunger for Approval

It is human nature to hunger for approval.  The opinions of parents, spouses, friends, and even strangers tend to be extremely important to us, even when we might wish that they were not.  We may feel miserable or angry when they express disdain for us, or overjoyed when they seem to approve.

Maybe our hunger for approval leads us to spend money on gadgets to impress others.  A popular quote puts it this way: “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

Maybe our hunger for approval drives us to find our deepest identity in a sports team, hobbyist community, political party, or activist group.  Being accepted by that group can come to mean everything to us.

Maybe we simply go through life feeling wounded whenever someone dares to disagree with us.

Pop culture claims to have an answer to this problem.  Contemporary voices tell us that the only person whose opinion really matters is our own.  If you like yourself, who cares what anyone else thinks, right?  But basing our perceived value even on our own opinions of ourselves can be perilous.

We may feel triumphant for a moment when we accomplish something important, only to sink back into uncertainty and self-doubt again.

Maybe our hunger for self-approval manifests itself in the building up of a persona.  We pride ourselves on being a reasonable voice in a sea of hopelessly misled lemmings.  We find some quality in ourselves, whatever it may be, that we are convinced makes us morally commendable, and we emphasize it to ourselves over and over again, cultivating an inflated ego.

Paul presents an alternative view in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4: “to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”

It was “a very small thing” to Paul whether the Corinthians gave him a positive verdict or not.  In Galatians 1:10 he reveals his position on the approval of men quite clearly: For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”

But Paul takes things a step further.  He even goes so far as to say that he does not put much stock in his own opinion of himself.  Examine the verse again.  Paul says: in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”

Not only did Paul not base his value off of what others thought of him, he did not even base his value off of what he thought of himself.  Thank you to Tim Keller in his book The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness for pointing this out to me. 

Paul’s identity was grounded totally in what God thought of Him.  And God thought of Paul what God thinks of all of us. God thinks we are worth dying for.
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The Renewed Mind

Ephesians 2:2 refers to Satan as “the prince of the power of the air.”

Indeed, spiritual decay is in the very air we breathe.  It can feel like there are a thousand forces working against our desire to know God and delight to do His will.  So many ideas have so permeated our cultural environment that it feels impossible to escape their effects.

  • Individualism separates us from our neighbors by teaching us that we should all just focus on ourselves instead of others.  Even in our own families and churches we are often so unaccustomed to opening up to one another that we cannot get the help that we need from each other.
  • Consumerism tells us that the way to happiness is through electronic gadgets, sophisticated machines, and expensive imported goods, and materialism provides us with an endless supply of such consumer goods to purchase or covet.
  • Electronic entertainment numbs our minds as it literally puts our brains in an alpha brain wave state, and hypersexualization teaches us that personal fulfillment is impossible without constant sexual gratification.
  • Industrialization means that many of us spend most of our time indoors, away from the beauty of God’s creation.  It also means that time is money, and thus we are always busy maintaining our standard of living, which makes finding time for God more difficult.

Even though I can identify these and other hindrances, correctly responding to them is another matter.  It is important to know that the Biblical answer to our dilemma is about more than changing our actions.  The Biblical solution is a mind renewed by God (Romans 12:2).

This world is a place of spiritual darkness, but it is where we are constrained to live out our days for the time being. Thus Jesus prayed for us: “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (Matthew 17:15-17)

By the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, “you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:4)

Our minds must be renewed by the sanctifying knowledge of God and Jesus Christ contained in God’s word so that it can be said of us: “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13)

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