Denying Approval

My whole life I’ve sought approval, intentionally and unintentionally. I often place things in two categories: Failure or Accomplishment. My efforts in school have had a great impact on this mindset. I’ve always been determined to do my very best, and the reward of an “A” fell into the Accomplishment category. I based my success on my grades and teachers’ comments. I raised a high standard for myself, and I usually accomplished my goals. All of this sounds harmless enough, but I stressed out…A LOT. I always did my best and the results were usually high marks, but I still worried and stressed. You would think I would learn that stress was not necessary, but I just got into a routine of “how to do school work” (involving much stress) which transferred to undergraduate and graduate studies. I always wanted approval to know that I was doing everything right. It seemed like teachers and colleagues had more confidence in me than I did.

Because most of my life has been immersed in school, the idea of approval permeated other areas of my life: family, friendships, relationships, everyday tasks, etc. Any criticism from these and other areas I placed in the Failure category. If friendships or other relationships started to falter, I tried to make them work. I HAD to make them work. Failure (as I saw it) was not an option. You can probably guess that this didn’t work out too well for me. When God told me to make a big change in my life, I obeyed, but I still feared man. “How would my friends react?” “People won’t believe me.”  “They’re bringing accusations against me.” “My family doesn’t support me.” My focus has been on what people think rather than what God has asked me to do. Even in writing this blog, it becomes such a temptation to want tangible feedback. But God didn’t want me to start this blog for people’s approval, but rather to share His truth. So this is what I will share now.

Acts 3:1-4:31 is a profound example of what God requires from me and every other Christian who seeks to follow His will. I include the passage in full because sometimes a summary does not do Scripture justice:

3 “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, ‘Look at us!’ And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!’ And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God; 10 and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

11 While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. 12 But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, ‘Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16 And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. 17 And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. 18 But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. 23 And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24 And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25 It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.’

As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, ‘By what power, or in what name, have you done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.’

13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, ‘What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.’ 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ 21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.

23 When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, ‘O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,

‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
And the peoples devise futile things?
26 ‘The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.’

27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.’ 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Bold words added for emphasis)

John and Peter performed the amazing miracle of healing a man lame from birth, but they don’t take the credit. Instead, they use this moment as an opportunity to share Christ with all the Jews who are in awe of them. How many of us would have dismissed the adoration of these people? These Apostles teach us that Christ gets all the glory all of the time. Then the religious leaders hear about what’s happened. That’s right, the religious leaders are upset that these men are teaching about Jesus (keep in mind that the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection). Even though John and Peter were put in prison, about five thousand men had already believed their testimony about Christ. The following day a number of the religious “big wigs” were present to question these followers of Jesus, and again, Peter, through the power of the Holy Spirit, shared the message of Christ (just like Jesus said they would; Matt. 10:16-20). What is notable to me is that this Council, which is supposed to represent the experts of the Scriptures, cannot deny that a miracle has taken place, but they don’t want people following Jesus, the true Messiah. They tell John and Peter to no longer teach about Jesus. These Apostles could have listened to these authoritative men, but instead, they appealed to a higher authority, God Himself. They not only stood firm in their beliefs and convictions, but they questioned the Council’s own godliness, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge” (Acts 4:19). I think another way of conveying the same message is “If you think we should accept your approval above God’s, you be the judge.” These men knew what they were called to do. They knew the cost and chose Christ. They stood their ground with God backing them up, and the Council could do nothing to them because all of the people were glorifying God. If they turned against these Apostles, the people would turn on them. After all these things, the Apostles returned to their companions, and they gave all the glory to God. And when they asked the Lord for confidence and boldness, He gave it to them.

What a powerful story! It’s one that I try to remember every time I get discouraged about people’s attitudes and responses when I know I’m following God’s will. I try to remember it when I begin to doubt myself and focus on negative things. Living the Christian life is not about me or about other people’s approval. It’s about God. If I lose sight of that, it’s all for naught.

Acts 5:12-42 is another great passage about denying approval (right after God strikes down Ananias and Sapphira…yikes!):

12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming togethe