Oftentimes, we can draw a direct line from our sin back to our desire for other people’s approval. We want to look a certain way, have a certain reputation, be welcomed into a crowd, get the recognition at work we know we deserve. As Tim Chester writes, “We ‘need’ the acceptance of others, and so we’re controlled by them” (You Can Change, 83). The Bible calls this “the fear of man” (Proverbs 29:25). The fear of man—needing something from people that only God can provide—can result in all sort of brokenness in ourselves and in our relationships.
Chester goes on:
Our culture tries to overcome this problem by finding ways to bolster self-esteem. But this actually compounds the problem. We become dependent on whatever or whoever will boost our self-esteem. In reality, low self-esteem is thwarted pride: we don’t have the status we think we deserve. We elevate desires that are often good in themselves (a desire for love, affirmation, or respect) to the level of needs without which we think we cannot be whole. We talk of “needing” the approval or acceptance of others, but our true need to so glorify God and love people.
The answer to the fear of man is fear of God. We need a big view of God. To fear God is to respect, worship, trust and submit to him. It’s the proper response to his glory, holiness, power, love, goodness and wrath…. So, if you are controlled by people’s expectations, then you need to learn the fear of the Lord.
The Lord our God “is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24). We should remember, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). And when we see how awesome, powerful, worthy, holy our God is, our need to be loved, accepted, approved of by others begins to melt away. Suddenly, our boss isn’t quite as scary, our friends impotent to influence us toward sin.
The fear of God is liberating. We take people’s expectations seriously because we want to love them as God commanded. But we’re not enslaved by them. We don’t serve them for what they can give us in return—approval, affection, security, or whatever. By submitting to Christ’s lordship, we’re free to serve others in love (Galatians 5:13).
God is glorious. We don’t have to fear others.