I lived in ignorance of God until I met Jesus on my own personal Damascus Road at 19 years of age. Being in a very irreligious collage environment, following Jesus led to the loss of just about every friend I had, some of whom mocked me cruelly. I was cancelled. But for the first time in my life, I came to know God’s approval, and it gave me the courage to face the loss of human approval.
My initial response to God had been fear. Now, we tend to eschew the fear of God these days, but the experience actually ends well. The fear of God gets our attention, leading us to focus upon Him who is love. Seeing His goodness, we find repentance. Then He applies the balm of forgiving grace to our sin-scorched hearts. Once we feel secure in His approval, we face social disapproval with courage, knowing that we have a Friend in high places. We can face being cancelled because we know He will never cancel us.
Jesus said not to fear Satan, who could only destroy the body, but fear Him, God, who could destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28). Could it be that fearing God first and foremost, above all other things, can actually make us healthier by killing our inner coward? And specifically, the part of us that fears social shame? Our inner people-pleaser?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be liked. But human beings have a robust history of desiring social approval to an extreme, amounting to idolatry or what we call codependency. Social approval is what drives social media and our obsession with “likes.” Fear of social disapproval can lead people into pathologies like social anxiety disorder or avoidant personality disorder. Fear of social disapproval kept people from defending the oppressed like the Jews during the Holocaust and African Americans during slavery and Jim Crow. If you’re like me, you’d like to place principle above human approval. You’d like to kick the approval addiction habit.
Somewhat counterintuitively, a reverent fear of a holy God can be a first step.
Scroll back in your life to a time when you felt the approval of God. If you don’t have such a memory, fix your mind right now on the fact that God receives you in Jesus, and that the approval He bestowed upon His Son, embraces you. Thank God for that gift.
And pray with me. Dear, loving, holy, Sovereign. How can a Being so powerful as You be so safe? Knowing that in Jesus you accept us fully, and that the “well done” you spoke to Him applies to us, makes us secure. It fortifies us against the condemnation that the world sometimes brings against us. Thank You.
“He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So, we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5-6