The Tragedy of Seeking Approval From Others

Trillia Newbell
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Sin isn’t a foreign concept. It is that unfortunate condition we face at birth and which remains in us until that moment when the Lord takes us home. I have sinned, I continue to sin, and I will sin more. But in my pride, there was a time when I didn’t want anyone to think that I did sin. I hated the idea of disappointing anyone. It didn’t come to light for me until I was a young-adult Christian, but it was something that I had battled all my life—pleasing people.

A Secret I Hid

I was the all-star cheerleader, flute-playing band geek, honor student, student-government president, and good girl (except with boys—I liked boys at a young age). I was that girl. The overachiever, friends with everyone, always smiling (I was genuinely a happy girl and okay—some things haven’t changed, but now it’s the joy of the Lord), typical goody two-shoes. I had a secret though: I loved the praise of people and hated the idea of doing wrong. The most important person in my life as a young girl was my father, and I wanted most to please him.

So I worked hard, generally obeyed (we didn’t have many rules), and excelled in extracurricular activities and school. I think this fear of man and desire to honor my father was actually a God-given, gracious wedge of protection. Kids were experimenting with drugs, and I didn’t want anything to do with that. I wasn’t a partier, but I did have a “serious” relationship as a young girl with a boy and remember talking about that carnal relationship with my father. It was my respect for him that led me to cut it off. There was a healthy respect and fear in that instance, which I’ll write about later, but, overall, many of my actions were simply a desire to please and be seen as doing good. My father did instill in me a love for people, so not everything I did was to people please, but the idea of disappointing my father tore me up inside.

So when I became a Christian in my twenties, and the Holy Spirit began to reveal my sinful heart, I was astonished. I couldn’t believe that there was a possibility that part of my motivation to do good and be all that I could be was actually born out of sin. After all, I was a good person, right? My pride was so great that I was condemned. Ultimately the problem with my people pleasing was that I had come to believe that the opinions of others about me were far greater than God’s.

Manifestations of the Fear of Man

Lou Priolo wrote in his book Pleasing People that one of the many temptations a people pleaser might face is “an excessive love of praise [that] tempts you to believe man’s opinion of yourself over God’s opinion.” The foolishness of this temptation is that the men and women we seek to please are just like us—fallible.

“Every time we seek man’s approval and praise, we say to the Lord that His sacrifice was not enough.”

This fear of man is manifested in many ways. In my life, it was all about looking good and, as I mentioned earlier, doing my best not to disappoint my father. (Ironically, it was terribly hard to disappoint my father. He was incredibly gracious, which is what made my fear that much sillier.) For others the fear might be driven by a desire to fit into a certain group or by a desire not to be associated with a certain person.

Perhaps you refuse to associate with certain people, rejecting them in order to appear a certain way to others. Social media has a way of pulling out the fear of man. We check to see who has “liked” our post or picture, fearing what we write, hoping to be noticed.

You’ve heard the saying, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). It’s definitely true regarding the fear of man. Peter (you know, the man who received the keys to the kingdom) denied his friend and Savior not once but three times. He didn’t deny Him during happy days. He denied Christ on the way to Christ’s death, and he did it out of the fear of man. Looking into this account from Peter’s life will give you and me a glimpse into the motivations and consequences of this fear.

Learning From Peter

Jesus had prophesied that Peter would deny Him, but Peter strongly objected, saying, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Mark 14:31). He fell into the trap of believing that he was above this sin. Paul warns us that if we think we stand, we must “take heed lest [we] fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). No one is completely immune to certain temptations, but Peter was sure of himself. He was sure that he would stand strong with Jesus, facing the authorities and mockers, till the bitter end (Mark 14:29).

You know, however, how it turns out. Peter did not stand with Christ and denied Him twice to a servant girl and then to an entire crowd. Peter knew immediately after that rooster crowed that he had failed the test that he’d been sure he was going to pass. Peter didn’t continue in pride or make excuses for his denial. He fell to the ground and wept. I imagine the tears were many. He had betrayed his friend, teacher, and Savior for fear of his own life being taken from him. Peter didn’t want to die. At that moment Peter forgot what it meant to follow Christ.

When we fear man, we join Peter in his moment of forgetfulness. Peter forgot that those who kill the body cannot kill the soul (Matthew 10:28). You will see that Scripture passage referenced in various ways throughout this book because it is packed, in just a few short words, with an ocean of theological truth about the fear of the Lord. There is only one whom we need to fear, and that is the Lord. But Peter forgot, as you and I so often do. His pursuit was self-preservation. It was more important to him to blend in with the crowd than be known as “one of those people.”

Earlier I mentioned that Peter received the keys to the kingdom. I mentioned it in such a way as not to make him look foolish or to condemn him but rather to highlight the amazing grace of Jesus. Jesus knew that Peter would deny Him. Jesus is God and therefore possessed all the foreknowledge of His Father. He not only predicted Peter’s denial (Mark 14:27–31); Jesus knew that one day He would honor Peter despite it (Matthew 16:19). And He does the same for us.

Tragically, you and I deny Christ every time we care more about what others think of us than of what God has already declared. Every time we seek man’s approval and praise, we say to the Lord that His sacrifice was not enough. And He says to us that He became “fear of man” so that we would be counted as righteous. We are presented before the Lord as concerned only with loving and pleasing Him—and it is finished because of Christ. He is already pleased with you and with me.

For Further Reading:

Fear and Faith

by Trillia Newbell

We will never be short on fears. Failure, rejection, sickness, losing a loved one, being alone—the fears we carry are many and heavy. Fear can...

book cover for Fear and Faith