Set Free from Seeking the Approval of Men

In my personal reading of the Bible, I’ve been studying the Book of Galatians.  Since I plan on preaching through it in the near future, I’ve been outlining the book as I read through it.  Yesterday as I was reading the first two chapters, two verses especially caught my attention.  Here they are:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

What stood out to me about these two verses is how similar they are.  In Galatians 1:10, Paul’s point is that the controlling ambition of his life is to please God, not man (cf. 2 Cor. 5:9).  Recall how in the opening verses of Galatians Paul excoriates his readers for turning away from the gospel of Christ in order to embrace a false gospel (1:6-7).  The false gospel to which Paul is referring is the message propounded by the Judaizers—a message which insists that persons are saved by grace through faith in Christ, plus keeping the law. 

In order to discredit Paul, the Judaizers brought a number of charges against him.  One of their criticisms was that Paul’s message was a watered-down version of truth.  Paul’s motive for making his message more palatable to his hearers, claimed the Judaizers, was because he wanted to increase his fan base.[1]

In contrast to these and other aspersions cast upon Paul, he simply states, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (V. 10).  Notice that Paul uses the word, “still.”  In other words, at one point in his life, Paul did desire the approval of men.  Most likely he’s referring to the days when he sought to please his fellow Jews by persecuting Christians (Acts 7-8).  Now, however, everything has changed for Paul.  He will not modify the gospel in order to win the praise of man.  Why?  Because such a life is impossible for the believer.  As John Calvin wrote, “[T]hose who hunt after the applause of men, cannot serve Christ.”[2]  If, at the core of who we are, we desire nothing more than to please others, we will not be able to follow Christ.  After all, what will we do when the world finds out we won’t join them in their escapades of sin?  What if we’re told we have to lie to keep our job?

Paul’s life was no longer about pleasing men because he had been set free by the gospel!  The gospel frees us from seeking the approval of man because our identity is no longer found in what people say about us.  As Tim Keller writes, we should not “give some form of human approval the rights and power over [our] heart that only God should have.”[3]

Everything Paul says here is similar to what he writes in Galatians 2:20.  Although the immediate context is a bit different, Paul’s overarching point is clear: My life is not about me.  Or, as he puts it, “It is no longer I who live.”  Paul’s life is dominated by a desire to please God.  It’s not about his wants.  It’s not about his desires.  It’s not about his own little kingdom of self that he’s seeking to advance.  No, it’s about Christ.

And his confidence to live this out is not found in himself.  That’s why he says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  The Holy Spirit is the Person who makes obedience possible.[4]

What does all this mean?  It means that because we have the favor of God by virtue of our trust in his Son, we no longer need the favor of man to complete our lives.  As much as we might want other people to like us and be pleased with us, we can’t be slaves to someone else.  As much as it might be nice to have everyone at work think you’re amazing, you don’t work for them.  Just as the Father said to the Son, “With you I am well pleased” (Mk. 1:11), because you were united to Christ by faith, the Father sees you the same way he sees his one and only Son.  That’s good news; no, wait, that’s great news.

[1] John MacArthur, Galatians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 20.

[2] John Calvin, Romans-Galatians, Calvin’s Commentaries (Wilmington: Associated Publishers and Authors, N. D.), 1866.

[3] Tim Keller, Galatians for You (Purcellvile: The Good Book Company, 2013), 33.

[4] J. V. Fesko, Galatians, The Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament (Powder Springs: Tolle Lege Press, 2012), 37.


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