“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” (Galatians 1:10–17 ESV)
There are two ways in which we can live our lives: to please people or to please God. Living for the approval of man is tiring. When we drive what we drive, live where we live, work out, eat, parent, interact, respond all for the approval of others we are easily tired, easily angered and plagued by a sense of hopelessness. Proverbs tells us that “Fear of man will prove to be a snare” (Proverbs 29:25). We know this to be true, but we find it so very difficult to get away from. It is as if, we are hardwired for approval and acceptance. But the approval and acceptance that every soul longs for is not found in good marriages or close friendships; as good as those are, they still cannot deliver ultimate approval because that is not what they were designed for and are lived out in a fallen and broken world.
If you have been in the church very long, then you know the answer is that we should live to please God and not man. Paul says as much in the opening verses of Galatians: “am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Being a Christian and seeking approval from others are not compatible courses. The problem is that we bring our same hard charging, approval seeking effort in to our relationship with God. We quickly turn our efforts to a list of activities, hoping that they will pacify God and earn His approval. Our view of God, of times, is one of a harsh task master who demands absolute perfection in our obedience to Him. If we found it difficult to live up to the demands of imperfect people, how much more impossible is it to live up to the demands of a completely perfect Creator?
What must we do to gain God’s acceptance and approval? What are the the things that we should be doing that God finds pleasing? The disciples asked Jesus this very question in John 6:28, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus’ answer might shock you! He said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”” (John 6:29). What? The work that we must do is one of faith? How can that be? The bulk of us have been told (normally indirectly) our entire Christian lives that to be acceptable to God that we must be clean – not lying, cheating, gossiping, lusting, coveting, etc. This is the very heresy that Paul is addressing in the book of Galatians. A works based righteousness is what Paul abandoned (Galatians 1:11-17) because no one is approved of based upon their performance (Galatians 3:11). When we quickly move to a flurry of activity attempting to earn God’s approval and acceptance the same hopelessness ensues that we experienced when we try to earn the acceptance of others. We can’t do anything of significance to earn God’s acceptance and approval. If we have trusted in Christ’s perfectly lived life and substitutionary death on our behalf then we are accepted – WE DON’T NEED TO DO ANYTHING ELSE TO BE ACCEPTED. Hebrews tells us that our faith (alone) is what is pleasing to God: “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6).
Jesus is the one that God finds pleasing: ““You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:22 ESV). God is pleased with Jesus, and this same approval and affection is now ours because Jesus gives it to us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He gives us His perfect righteousness and takes the just punishment due us because of our rebellious hearts. He did it because we couldn’t get it done. When we are drowning, the answer is not paddle harder, kick faster – the answer is to latch on to the life preserver of Jesus. Martin Luther said it like this: “the devil is forever attracting people to good works to ensure that they don’t reach the point of thinking that the need the grace of Christ.” Fix your eyes on Christ the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). When we come and present our good works as an acceptable sacrifice before God; He views them like a pile of nasty rags (Isaiah 64:6). The sacrifice that is acceptable to God is a broken and contrite spirit (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15, 66:2). The only way in which we can find God’s approval is to humbly rest solely upon the sacrifice of Christ and abandon all confidence in our own abilities. Rest in the truth that you don’t have to work to attain God’s approval and acceptance – it has been secured. Allow this truth to irrigate your soul.