Everyone is familiar with the pursuit of approval in American politics. Since the first political public opinion poll was used in Pennsylvania in 1824, the polling industry has become ingrained in American life – and not just in politics. Celebrities are offered roles or opportunities based upon their likability as well.
But it’s not just politicians and celebrities who are willing to be liked at all costs. It’s a human condition; we’re all guilty of longing to be approved.
And it begins at a young age. You may have heard about the little boy in the first-grade Sunday School class. The teacher was talking about all the animals God created and asked, “Billy, what’s the name of the furry little animal with a bushy tail that scurries around collecting acorns?”
Billy replied, “Well, I know the answer is supposed to be ‘Jesus,’ but it sounds like a squirrel to me!” He was in a Sunday School where he had learned that the answer to most questions was “Jesus,” so he said what he thought the teacher wanted to hear, regardless of how silly it sounded.
He was at the same crossroads we face many times in life: Do we seek the approval of man or do we speak and act with truthfulness and gain the approval of God?
You and I may not have “approval rating” polls taken on us like politicians or celebrities but we keep track mentally nonetheless. And that’s OK – all of us want to be approved in our families, among friends and at our jobs.
We get into danger, though, when we are tempted to elevate the approval of other people over the approval of God.
We may come to a decision point in life – an adult version of the crossroads little Billy faced in Sunday School – where we have to make a choice: “If I take Choice A, I know my friends will like me, but I will disappoint God. But if I take Choice B, I know God will approve, but my friends won’t. So which choice will I make?” Which approval rating is most important to us?
Because we live in a culture of approval ratings, there is a subtle theme that underlies much of human activity: we strive to keep our approval ratings high (publicly) while doing what we please (privately). Our goal is to be approved in spite of how we really think or act. As Christians, we must reject this worldly standard in every way!
Remember, what God approves is also what will bring us the greatest joy in life and bring us the approval of those whose opinions we truly value – people who seek only the approval of God in their lives. That means our public lives and our private lives are the same. There is no duplicity, no double standard.
Think of God’s approval as synonymous with His blessing. Does God want to bless us? Of course He does (Psalm 1:1; Matthew 5:3-12; Ephesians 1:3).
Getting God’s approval
Most people are familiar with the famous “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” associated with Good Housekeeping magazine. Since 1909, the Good Housekeeping Research Institute has been testing household products and “approving” them for readers of the magazine.
So how do we get God’s “seal of approval”?
First, we need to understand what approval means. The Greek word, both noun and verb, leads back to the notion of “receiving” or “welcoming.” But when applied in the moral or spiritual realm, receiving and welcoming are on the basis of testing – only when something is tested is it “approved” to be the genuine article. And that is the sense in which “approval by God” is used in the New Testament. Indeed, that is the first step in gaining God’s approval – to be “approved in Christ” as a faithful Christian.
Second, approval is both immediate and a process. When we become Christians, we are immediately approved by God because we are in Christ. But it was Christ’s lifetime of faithfulness and obedience that won approval in God’s sight, and we are to model that faithful standard.
Third, we gain approval from God by testing everything before we commit to it. Don’t let your approval ratings or your actions stem from the polls of those around you – seek God’s approval and you will find His blessing.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., and founder and host of “Turning Point for God.” Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)