I cannot remember a time when I didn't care about the opinion of others. Growing up, it was my parents, teachers, and classmates. Now as an adult, it's my neighbors, co-workers, even friends at church. How I wish I could be like the apostles before the Sanhedrin when they boldly and confidently proclaim, "We must obey God rather than people" (Acts 5:29). But so often, I allow the voice of others to become louder and more prominent than the voice of the Lord.
When I recognize this pattern in my life, what the Bible calls "fear of man," I am tempted to look inward and sit in my shame. I know that my approval in Christ is infinitely more valuable than the words of others, and yet I can't figure out how to actually live it out. I wonder if this is you today, desperate to find freedom in Christ but instead, feel the weight of your sin. Take comfort–there is hope to be found even in the midst of the struggle.
Acknowledge It for What It Is
First, we must see the fear of man for what it is–sin against a holy, righteous God. It can be more subtle than other sins, so it can often go unchecked in our hearts and our lives. Ultimately, the fear of man reveals a lack of fear for the Lord. Before talking to anyone else, go to the Lord and confess your sin. Be specific in your confession, letting the weight of your sin draw you into the arms of your Heavenly Father. Be joyful in your repentance, knowing that you walk in freedom, completely forgiven in Christ. If you need to confess that you have feared man over God, I invite you to pray the below prayer.
"God, I seek approval and satisfaction from created things rather than You, the Creator and God of the universe. I am finding my value more in the words of a human than the words of life. Forgive me for equating the fallible words of man to the eternal Word that will never fade away. Thank You that my approval in You is secure, purchased by the blood of Jesus."
Be Honest With Your Community
Confessing this sin and being vulnerable before others can seemingly affirm your fears, allowing those insecurities to resurface. In sharing your struggle in seeking others' approval...you may be tempted to seek their approval. Don't let that stop you from sharing. By bringing your sin into the light, you are pushing back the darkness, unwilling to let this sin take root in your heart.
Ask your friends to point you back to the truths of the gospel when you cannot see it for yourself. Let your community affirm God's goodness in your life rather than affirming you in your desire for approval. Give your community permission to go deep with you, asking questions that will help you to confront your sin. Below are some sample questions that your friends can ask you or you can reflect on personally as you fight this sin:
- What about this person or situation brings out insecurities or the need for approval?
- How can the truths of the gospel bring comfort when you are tempted to fear man?
- What would it look like practically to fear God over man in this situation?
Pursue God's Voice Above All Else
Fear of man thrives in a dry, neglected soul. When our view of God becomes obscured by our view of others, their voice becomes louder than His. We must be careful to tend to our hearts that we might long for God's wisdom. Reflect on God and who He reveals Himself to be in Scripture. Maybe spend time studying the attributes of God in depth. The more we dwell on the goodness of Jesus, the less we will crave the approval of others. This does not mean you will be instantly freed from this struggle, but it does mean that you will be more aware of the Lord's presence in the midst of it.
In those moments of spiritual dryness, when the fear of man overshadows the fear of the Lord, fix your gaze upon Christ instead of yourself. By His blood, we are no longer condemned. We are completely set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1–2). He took it all upon His body on the cross, including our self-righteousness and outright rebellion. He died willingly so we didn't have to. The gospel is good news for hearts that crave approval because we already have it fully in Christ. God's approval will never waiver because it is completely dependent on the finished work of Christ. We are secure in God.
"It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man" (Psalm 118:8 ESV).