We are all familiar with Gallup’s Presidential Approval Rating. Every day Gallup polls a sample of Americans to measure what people think of the president’s job performance.
Imagine for a moment that Gallup provided for each of us a Personal Approval Rating. Every day. On the Web. What would you do with that?
Would you ignore it? Race to it every day to see how you’re doing? Plan the day to get better results tomorrow? Change your name and move to a desert island?
Whether you seek only to please yourself or look to others for approval, chances are there is one thing you assume. Your life is validated by your achievements.
Self-identified people pleasers know how toxic it can be seeking others’ approval. They have experienced the emotional ups and downs that come with validating their existence with what other people think and feel about them.
Some people find refuge in the idea that you should just love yourself. All that matters, they say, is what you think of your own achievements. But this approach runs off the rails as surely as people pleasing.
Setting aside for the moment that honesty will sometimes require admitting half-heartedness and even downright failure, this approach is a non-starter for authentic, intimate relationships. Personal connection requires a reasonable level of mutual accountability.
The challenge we all face is this. We want our lives to be validated. We don’t want to get to the end of the road and say that it wasn’t worth it. It was all for naught. Instead, we want to be able to say that it was all somehow justified.
So long as we count on our own achievements to justify our lives, we will always fall short. There is no achievement so great or legacy so enduring that it can provide the validation we crave.
The Apostle Paul understood this very clearly. He wrote to the Thessalonians after having been imprisoned in Philippi. He was not on a winning streak from the perspective of his approval rating. And yet, he saw clearly that his ministry “was not in vain.” (1 Thessalonians 2:1)
Contrary to what you might think, however, Paul does not reject the idea of seeking approval. Neither does he seek God’s approval for his achievements. When he writes that he is “approved by God” for his ministry, he does not mean that God has given him a good job approval rating. (1 Thessalonians 1:4)
Instead, God approves of Paul in a way that no human can and in a way that nothing human can diminish. God justifies Paul’s life through the death of his Son Jesus Christ on the Cross. What validates Paul’s life—and your life and my life—is what Jesus achieves for him.
On the Cross Jesus does two things.
First, he takes our sins on himself and pays the price for them. We are given a clean slate. Our worst errors and most miserable failures become the means of our salvation through Christ.
Second, Jesus transfers his perfect righteousness to us. It’s as if first he erases our sin-cluttered slate and then writes his own perfect goodness onto it for us. The perfect good we cannot do he has already done, and he gives us credit for it.
As it turns out, we do have a Personal Approval Rating. It’s the Cross. And for encouragement and strength and joy, we should check it every day.
(The image above is Georges Rouault’s Crucifixion from this link.)