the god of approval
We all want approval. At some level, we all want to be liked and affirmed. Seeking approval by itself is not necessarily bad, but seeking it in the wrong source is. When we make human approval our ultimate value, then we make approval into an idol, worshipping a false god. In this message, we’ll see how God’s approval is available and all that matters.
Good morning. My name is John and I’m one of the pastors here at LifePoint. We’re glad that you’re here with us.
Here at LifePoint, we say something a whole lot and the reason we say it over and over again is because we hope you get it and remember it and live it out. And we say our mission is to influence people to find and follow Jesus. And the goal of that mission, the intended outcome, is that we would become Christ-life influencers; that we would be like Jesus and that we would influence the world around us to be like Jesus. But, there’s a little bit of a problem with that because there are things that get in the way of us fulfilling that mission.
One of the things that gets in the way of fulfilling that mission is idolatry. And that’s when we take something that is not God and we put it in the place of God.
And we treat it like God and we worship it like God. We build our lives around it like God. These are false gods, and that’s why we’re in the series that we’re in right now. We call it gods with a little ‘g’ because there’s lots of imitations in gods, lots of false gods, lots of substitute gods, but there’s only one God Almighty with a big ‘G’ and that’s the God that we worship and serve who created all of us. And that’s what we’re here to do. We want to learn more about that. As we dig into this, there’s a passage that keeps coming back up.
In 1 John 5:21 (NASB) and this verse says this, it’s the last line of John’s letter (his first epistle) and he says “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” Now why would he say that? Why would he have to tell us to guard ourselves from idols? I think part of the answer is that we have a tendency to make idols. And we need to guard ourselves from idols because we have a tendency to create and worship these false gods. So he’s saying we need to guard ourselves from that. But that’s not just the little carved statues made of wood or stone or something. That’s not just what he’s talking about. There are also idols of the heart. There are these false gods that we worship. Things like comfort and pleasure and success and control and those things we’re exploring in this series.
And so I want us to ask that question, what do we consider as idols in our lives. As we look at the Word, I think what’s important to remember is that an idol is a physical attempt to meet a spiritual need. We have all of these spiritual needs that God has placed inside of us, and He’s the one who wants to meet those needs and who should meet those needs. But we create these physical attempts to try to do it, and it always falls short when we do that.
Now, why do we do that? Well, because we want to get what we want when we want it. We’re impatient and we’re short-sighted. And kind of like the idea of us playing the role of God. And if we’re honest, we like to think that we’re God. We like to try to fill our own needs, but if this is a spiritual need, then God supernaturally is going to meet that need for us. We can’t do it ourselves.
I think about this image for our series. A lot of times I think we kind of gloss over this, but I want to call out our Creative and our Communications team. They do such a great job with some of these images. And the image for this series that we’re in right now looks like a picture of a heart. And the heart is split in two, and it’s inspired by this passage from Ezekiel 36:25-26 (NASB) where Ezekiel hears from the Lord and the Lord said to the people of Israel, “I’m going to cleanse you of all of your idols. And I’m going to take out your heart of stone. I’m going to give you a heart of flesh. And that’s what we see on the right side, there’s a kind of stony jagged part of a heart, and on the left side there’s a fleshly, like beating living heart. I think what’s great about this image is the line down the middle. It’s divided. I think if we’re honest with ourselves, a lot of times that’s the way our hearts are as we have divided hearts. We say we worship and serve the One True God but a lot of times we also set up worship in our hearts to these false gods — these idols that do not deserve our worship. I want us to keep this divided heart imagery in mind as we go through our passage today and we think about what we’re going to look at. Here’s the deal. I think that one of the things that divides our heart, one of those false gods, one of those idols, is approval. We love approval. We seek approval and we read a verse about it during our time in music. It was Galatians 1:10 (NASB). Paul said this, “am I seeking the favor of man or the favor of God? Or am I trying to please man. If I was trying to please man, I wouldn’t be a bondservant of Christ.” He’s saying your heart can’t be divided. It can’t be that I’m living to please men and I’m living to please God. No, it’s an either or. I’m seeking the favor of man or I’m seeking the favor of God. Which one is it?
So, how are we living? How are we doing? Whose favor are we seeking? What’s challenging for me is I wrestle with the idols of approval. That’s something that I struggle with. I remember from my earliest memories, I was a kid and I would want to get the approval of my parents because I got good grades on my report card. I would say Dad, look As and a B, but I would want approval. And I would get it. Whoa! Cool, mom, dad thank you!. I would want to do well in sports because I would get approval. Good hit, son! Yeah! Okay! I could kind of feel it.
I can’t tell you how many times I have injured myself trying to win the approval of girls. I have done stupid stuff and hurt myself because I’m trying to get that approval because something in me is wanting them to say I’m good and I’ve got it and I like you and I want that deep down, right.
There was this camp I worked at in Arkansas and over the summers you would be there eight sessions of summer. Your whole summer you’re at this camp. At the end of the summer there was this big banquet and they would give all of the counselors a plaque, and that plaque had a picture of the staff and always had a word engraved across the bottom, and it was something inspirational, like Well Done or Good Job or Awesome or Legendary or whatever. But I always got that plaque, and I thought (deep sigh) Approval! I did it. They’re happy with what I did, and I feel like I have accomplished something. That’s okay but what happens when we take that approval and we put it in the place of God’s approval. Then we’re seeking the approval from somewhere that we weren’t intending to get it. I think God wants us to understand His approval of us in the way He provides that, and that approval is going to make us understand the fullness of life that He intends for us to have.
There’s a guy in scripture who I think really captures this idea of struggling with approval and his name is Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a guy who never got the approval of people. He was mocked. He was beaten. He was thrown in prison. He was never listened to. He preached and preached and nobody listened to him. They all hated him. Nobody liked him. They called him the weeping prophet. He was sad. Jeremiah never got the approval of people, but what’s great is God speaks to Jeremiah and knowing that’s exactly what he’s dealing with. And He speaks to him in His Word in Jeremiah 17 and that’s where we’re going to be today. We’re going to see what God has to say about where we should get our approval and how we should see that, and He instructs Jeremiah about that.
Open your Bible to Jeremiah 17: 5-10 (NASB). If you don’t have a Bible, we want you to have a Bible because this is God’s Word and we believe it is life-giving and gives us direction and purpose and is so meaningful that if you don’t have a Bible, we want to give you one. We have bibles available at our Welcome desk. You can go and get one. Please don’t leave without a bible. We want you to have that.
Let’s read together Jeremiah 17:5-10. Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and who’s heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes but will live in stony places in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord for he will be like a tree planted by the water that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes. Its leaves will be green and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit. The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart. I test the mind. Even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.
Now, because this is God’s Word and because it’s so powerful, I want to pray for our time right now as we dive in. Father God, thank you for your Word. Thank you that you give us truth that makes us come alive that helps us to see your purpose for our lives. Lord, I pray that we would trust in you and focus on you in this time and that this time would be all about what you want to say to us. I commit our time to you. Speak to us by your Spirit. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
So, the first step that we all have to take here is that we all have to admit that we are approval addicts. We have an approval addiction. The first step is admitting you have a problem. That’s what we have to do. We have a problem. With approval addiction we seek it on social media, we love getting likes, we love getting subscribers, we love that kind of concept. But, we don’t like to admit that we really have a problem. We don’t like to admit that. And actually we have a video of somebody who was also in denial about their approval addiction. Check this out….
“Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked. Like my need to be praised.”
I don’t need to be liked, I have to be liked. We all deny like that. We play those kinds of verbal gymnastics. We try to do that. We say, yeah, I don’t really need to be liked or I don’t really need, but deep down we do. We have this addiction to approval. And the thing is approval in and of itself is not bad. It’s not bad to get approval. It’s not bad to have someone give you approval. It’s bad when we take approval and we put it in the wrong place.
Here’s what approval can sound like sometimes. Sometimes approval sounds like this:
“You must be the sweetest person I know.”
You’re so sweet, you’re so wonderful, you’re just so awesome. You hear that and you say, Oh, I guess I am pretty sweet. We take that in
It might sound like Wow, you must be doing well. Look at you! Yeah, okay, I’ll take that! We kind of feel that a little bit.
It might sound like “You sure look cute in that outfit.” Don’t we take that and don’t we kind of fish for that sometimes? Hey, I got this new shirt. What do you think? Oh, it looks awesome. Oh, thank you for saying that. And now I feel approved.
“That was a great idea!” Yeah, well I thought of it. It was my idea. I feel pretty good. I’m kind of amazing like that. We soak that in.
“No one listens to me like you do. No one listens like you. You’re just so awesome.” Yes, I am. Tell me more. This is what we want to hear. We love this approval.
In my marriage, my wife and I on the day we got married always said that the theme song from me to her is “I want you to want me.” I’m not going to sing it. But I want you to want me. I want you to want me. I want that!! Deep down I just had this need and listen none of this is wrong. It’s not wrong for someone to say, “great shirt.” It’s not wrong for someone to say, “you really listen well.” That stuff is not wrong. It’s not even wrong for us to hear it. What’s wrong is when we take that and that becomes so fundamental to our identity and it becomes more fundamental than what God has to say. When we take this and we say ‘if I don’t get this, I’m worthless’, or ‘I don’t get this I have no meaning’. If we’re relying on someone else to give us the approval that we need then we are sorely mistaken. We’re looking in the wrong place.
There’s a quote from a pastor out in Texas. His name is Matt Chandler. He talks about the idol of approval and the approval idolatry. Here’s what he has to say about it.
“Life only has meaning and I only have worth if I’m loved and respected by _______ (fill in the blank). What you seek if you worship approval is approval. You want affirmation. You want love. You want relationships. The price you’re willing to pay for that though is independence. You don’t want to be independent. You need somebody in your life. You don’t want space at all. Your greatest nightmare kid rejection. Others often feel smothered by you. You’re asking them to be what’s not humanly possible for them to be. Your problem emotion is cowardice. What you’re going to feel and have to work with all of the time is the fact that you’re a coward. You lack spine. What that means is with group over here you’re like, I know; I hate it, and I don’t know why he’s like that. And then over here, you’re saying, I love him; he’s one of my favorite guys ever. And then you have to go to bed with yourself. You have to lie in bed at night and realize that you have no spine. You are a coward and you will never speak your mind and will never really have an opinion that matters to you because having an opinion might be too costly. It might cost you someone’s approval.
Again, I want to keep highlighting this, it’s not a bad thing to want to be approved of. That’s not a negative thing. We’ve been designed with this desire to be approved of, to be liked. And in fact, even the guy who’s like ‘I don’t care who likes me’ is saying that because he thinks you’ll think he’s cool for saying it and you will like him. That’s a crazy irony. “I don’t care what people say, I don’t,’ like me, please, because that’s how bold I am. That’s how this works. The desire to be loved and affirmed is healthy and natural. The problem for the person with the approval idol, however, is that they are not ultimately satisfied with God’s love for them. And they seek love affirmation from those who they deem important. People with a worship of approval will do just about anything to make people happy with them. Approval worshipers often overcommit, overpromise, and overstate in order to gain affirmation from others. They are radically insecure in their identity in Christ and fear rejection of people above a biblical fear of God or a hatred of sin. This leads to worry about what others think of them. Often those closest to someone with an approval idol feels smothered by the neediness of the idolator whose desire to be loved cannot realistically be met by a mere human being,”
It’s pretty heavy, right? Why do we do that? It’s because we want to get what we want, and we are willing to take God’s job to do it. So we all want approval. Do you worship the God of approval? Do you worship the idol of approval?
Let’s take a look at what God says to Jeremiah about this again. In Jeremiah 17:5-6, He says this, (I think what we start to see here is even though we all want approval, we all look for it in the wrong places) ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind. Cursed is the one who trusts in mankind. Cursed is the one who puts flesh as their strength. Cursed is the one whose heart turns away from the Lord. Again, our hearts can’t be divided. If we’re turning toward mankind, if we’re looking for man to give us our strength then he says we’re going to wind up like the lonely bush. And that word for bush comes from the word that means like stripped, bare, all alone. It is bush alone in the desert in the stony waste that you’re not going to see when prosperity comes living in stony wastes in the wilderness a land of salt without inhabitant. There’s desolation and there’s lifelessness because we’re trusting in our flesh and we’re trusting in mankind.
Then if we skip over verses 7 and 8 (we will come back to it) and go to verses 9 and 10, He says this, “Another place, another wrong place that we look for approval is our heart. The heart is more deceitful than anything else.” Our hearts are jacked up. Our hearts are deceitful. Do you get what that means? It means your heart is lying to you. Your heart is lying to you! Your heart is not telling you the truth. We hear all of the time to follow your heart; listen to your heart; go where your heart leads you. But our heart is a liar, and it’s desperately sick. Who can understand it? None of us can get it. Right? So I started to think who could really understand this and who better to understands our heart than people who write songs. So I looked up on Google songs that have the word ‘heart’ in the title. Tell me if this doesn’t just express some of the confusion that we might feel about our hearts.
The heart wants what it wants
Put a little love in your heart
Stop dragging my heart around
Harden my heart
Listen to your heart
Listen to my heart
Listen to her heart
My heart will go on
Your cheatin’ heart
Momma’s broken heart
Nearly forgotten a broken heart
Break my heart
Unbreak my heart
Don’t go breaking my heart
How can you mend a broken heart
Give your heart a break
Achy breaky heart
A hungry heart
A foolish heart
Owners of a lonely heart
We have no idea. We can’t understand this. But what does God say? He says who can understand this? I, the Lord, search the heart. I test the mind. I’ll tell you what’s going on. You’re looking in the wrong place. That’s exactly what He’s saying. We all want approval, but we’re looking for it in the wrong places. So when we look for it in the wrong places then we wind up like that bare bush. Here’s some of the negative outcomes, what it can look like if we really do worship that idol of approval. Worshipping approval kind of looks like this, it could look like us becoming defensive, shifting blame. Because if I want you to like me then I’m going to blame somebody else so that you still like me. It can look like us being overly critical of the people who are in authority because if it was my fault you might not like me, but if it was my boss’s fault well then I can blame him and you still like me. I need your approval
Feeling easily threatened. Well, I want you to like me and if somebody else comes in you might like them more than me, so that’s a threat. I’ve got to make sure this other person doesn’t pose a threat to my approval rating
Tending to command and not obey, teach and not be taught, speak and not listen. If I can tell you stuff, I can gain your approval. But if I have to hear something from you that means that I’m not doing something right or I’m not listening or I kind of lower my approval rating in your eyes.
Getting upset when contradicted or challenged, especially in public because it might make other people like me less.
Being unwilling to forgive people who have sinned against them. I want your approval but don’t cross me because I know what I’m doing. I have the approval of these people; don’t go against me.
And finally it leads to living in discontent. Struggling with covetousness. I always want something from someone else. I always want their approval. I constantly have to work to gain that approval so I am frustrated. I am discontent. Why? Because I’m worshipping a false god. I’m worshipping at the idol of approval; the altar of approval and it’s false. It is not the right place to look for approval. So where is the right place to look. Check out verses 7 and 8 what Jeremiah has to say. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord.” Did you catch the difference there? Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord. I’m placing my trust in You. You are the location of my trust. It’s where I’m going to take the trust that I have and I’m going to put it in You. A lot of times that could look like a saying, Well, God, I’ve got all this money and I’m going to trust you to guide me in what you want me to do with that money. I’m going to take it and use it and put it wherever you want me to put it. But when we say our trust is the Lord, what we’re doing is saying, okay God now I trust you even without the money. Now I trust you Lord even if that savings account goes away, and I don’t have anything. God, if I don’t have a bit of it, then my trust is in you. So, if I’m desolate and homeless and outside and nothing is going my way, my trust is still in the Lord because He does not change.
When we trust like that then we will become like a tree planted by the water, extending roots down to a stream, the source that gives life. And not going to fear when He comes. Its leaves are going to be green, not anxious in a year of drought. We’re never going to cease to bear fruit to produce fruit. Our lives will be fruitful and meaningful and purposeful when we trust in the Lord and our trust is the Lord. And that’s what Jeremiah’s trying to tell us.
So if we see that we all want approval and we see that we look for it in all of the wrong places but the right place to look is from God, well how do we get it? Okay it’s there but how do I go about getting it? Well, there’s only one thing that can get it for us and it’s called faith. And faith we see outlined in Hebrews 11:1-2, 6. It says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen. For by it, the men of old gained approval. That’s what we’re looking for! That’s what we’re addicted to. It’s what we’re crying out for. How do we get it? Through faith. Not in what I see; not in what I can understand but in what I hope for and I trust that God provides because my trust is in Him.
And then you see in verses 3, 4, and 5 a few things about the way that faith is lived out in the lives of some of those people, the heroes of the faith of old, and then in verse 6, he says without faith it’s impossible to please God. There’s no way we can do it. If we don’t have faith in Him, we can’t possibly please God because the one who comes to God must believe that God is and that God’s a rewarder of those who seek Him. We’ve got to believe that I can’t find this approval on my own but if I go to God, God is going to give me the approval that I need not because of who I am but because of who Jesus Christ is and because of the completed work on the cross, God approves of Jesus on my behalf. Isn’t that awesome?! That’s the gospel that we are completely sinners and we are completely hopeless on our own. But, praise God that there is approval of Christ Jesus. We’re completely accepted in Him because of who Jesus Christ is and what He pleaded on the cross. That’s the message of the gospel. That’s the good news that we share. So, I pray that you are encouraged by that; that we remember that God approves Jesus on our behalf. And so when we think about that, I think it’s really going to challenge us in some of our lifestyle choices. The bottomline is that when it comes to approval, we all want it, only God gives it; and only faith gets it. We all want it; only God gives it; and only faith can get it for us. But this is going to challenge us. It’s going to challenge some of our lifestyles and our choices because here’s the danger, here’s what happens. I sit with people in my office and they say my spouse is just not what they should be. And so they start to seek approval in the arms of another person who is not their spouse. And I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say, “I just thought being with this other person was going to meet some need in my heart and was going to fulfill me somehow”. It’s because they’re seeking approval from somewhere other than God. I sit with single people often and they tell me, that they just want to find that right person, I just want to be with that person who I know God’s got this person for me. But they get impatient and then they settle for someone who’s not the kind of person they should be with. And they get into relationships that are unhealthy and not good because they put themselves at the idols of approval and that altar and they say this is where I’m worshipping because I need this person in my life. I desperately need another person instead of desperately wanting God.
I talk to people who say, I look at pornography regularly because when I do, that image on the screen makes me feel like I have some kind of connection with a person; I have some kind of meaning or something in that is meaningful and fulfilling to me. And if I don’t do it, I’m lacking something. Man, that’s missing the point!
What we need to cling to is God and trusting in Him, and here’s what I thinking great about it. He gives us guidelines. There’s this passage in scripture, Proverbs 3:5-6 (NASB), it’s one of my favorite passages ever, and it’s something that we pray over our kids every night before we put them to bed. We say, “We want to trust in the Lord with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding. But in all our ways acknowledge Him and He will direct our paths”. Isn’t that awesome?! When we think if I trust in the Lord, how?, with all my heart, completely, undivided heart. God, I’m trusting you. Now I like to think of it like this, I have conversations with God, sometimes I like to dialog with Him. When we think about what He says here, I say okay God I really want approval from this person. And then He says okay but trust in me with all your heart. Okay God but I don’t understand why it’s wrong or how I’m going to get this. Don’t lean on your own understanding. Okay well what am I supposed to do? I’ve got these people in my life who say some nice things. I want their approval. It’s like in all your ways, just acknowledge me. Well, what about the way I was my life to go? I’m going to direct your path; I’m going to make your path straight; I’m going to take care of that for you. See, the problem is we try to do God’s job. God’s job is to direct our path. God’s job is to make our paths straight. We get frustrated when we start to do God’s job because we are not God. Thank God we’re not God.
We all want approval; we all want it. God is the only one who gives it. And only faith gets it. Let’s put our faith and our trust in Him completely.
Let me pray for us. Father God, thank you for your Word. Thank you for the truth that you speak to us and God I pray that you would help us to have undivided hearts. Hearts that are full of yours, God. Help us not to compromise or toil with dangerous boundaries there, but God to only trust in you to only seek approval from you. And to realize that all the approval of people is short-lived and it is fleeting; it is temporary; it is unfulfilling. God, you fulfill us. May we trust in you with all our hearts and not lean on our own understanding but in every way acknowledge you so that you direct our paths exactly where you would have us go. We love you, Lord, and we trust you. Thank you for the approval of Jesus Christ on our behalf. And it’s in that name of Jesus that we pray. Amen.
What does it really look like to apply Proverbs 3:5-6 to your struggle against the idol of approval?
Does all idolatry indicate a trust in self instead of a trust in God? How does the idol of approval fit with the idea of worshipping and serving “the creature rather than the Creator” from Romans 1:25?
Read Galatians 1:10. Whose approval are you seeking – man’s or God’s?
Would you consider yourself a bondservant of Christ? Why or why not?
In Hebrews 11:1-6, we see the definition of faith, examples of faith, and the importance of faith. How does faith in God destroy the idol of approval in your life?
Read 1 John 5:21. What practices do you need to adopt in order to guard yourself against the idol of approval?
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