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false gospel: earning approval

I get dressed up to run errands about town, and by ‘dressed up’ I mean I put on athletic clothes so that people will assume I’ve been at the gym and excuse me for looking ratchet. I do this regardless of whether or not I intend to workout that day. I recognize that this is absurd, but when you work from home athleisure is your dress code.

I stopped at a pharmacy during Easter season and, after trying to choose between the Cadbury caramel egg and the Russell Stover’s caramel egg, decided to treat myself to both. My athletic apparel would surely convey that I had earned my calories.

At the checkout counter an older woman ahead of me in line scanned me head to toe and with a scoffing laugh said, “Just couldn’t resist the candy, could you?”

Let it be known that I’m not one to read into the alleged catty subtleties between women, but even the cashier went wide-eyed at the delivery of this woman’s comment.

In hindsight I could have and should have owned it and laughed it off. But I didn’t. I felt exposed. I felt that she knew— that she saw past my yoga pants and messy bun and called my bluff. That she knew I was no fitness goddess who had earned her calories, but a mere couch bound creative posing as one.

So I lied to her. I told her the treats weren’t for me. And I briefly considered telling her that the treats were for my children in the car, but didn’t want this hater to take me as the type to leave children unattended to bake in a car. Not to mention that I don’t have any children.

Though I was deeply offended I promptly went to my car and ate both eggs in the parking lot, believing it to be my civic rights to treat my self and do what I want.

That was nearly six months ago, and it still irks me that this woman did not cooperate with the image I was putting out there. And regardless of whether or not I should care, I did and do.

We are all invested in our image to one degree or another because our image communicates something about us. We typically have an idea of how we want people to perceive us, and to a certain extent can control the way we are perceived. We can earn instant approval and respect because of our image. Likewise, we can lose them just as quickly, and when we think our image is threatened we can go a little cray.

Consider Nebuchadnezzar and the lengths he went to in order to have people admire his image:

“King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up… And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.  And the herald proclaimed aloud, ‘You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.”  (Daniel 3:1-2, 4-6, ESV).

The text does not specify whether or not the image was of Nebuchadnezzar himself or some other god, though there is distinction throughout the text between ‘gods’ and ‘the image’. So for the sake of this argument, let’s presume that the image the king had built was either of himself or a product of his design. It made much of him.

The king spent time and money erecting that image. He put it in an open space so that everyone could see it. He called all the important people he knew to come marvel at it. And he got bent out of shape when Shadrach and the boys didn’t pay attention to it. The image appeared to be gold, though for construction purposes it is unlikely that it was solid gold, but rather overlaid with gold—gilded, if you will.

Seeing any similarities with images in today’s culture?

  • We erect images of ourselves through social media
  • We gild those images with filters and staging—giving one appearance while being another
  • We invite our followers to marvel at our image
  • We spend time, energy, and emotions on this image that we put forth

We care about the way people perceive us. Our image informs the world of how cool we are, how cute our house looks, how trendy our clothes are, how well we cook, and how much we love God. The false gospel of revolving around these images is that we can earn respect and maintain approval if we can convince others, as well as ourselves, that we do have it all together, that we are as we seem, that there is no discrepancy between what appears to be and what is.

This is bondage– to men, to approval, to respect and acceptance.

And if you are in Christ, this bondage is self imposed. We have already been approved by God because of Christ: “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV) when God sees us he sees the righteousness of Jesus: “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV), and we are free from this bondage because of Christ: “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23, ESV).

 

So let’s be free and walk in that freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, ESV).

Who are you making much of?

What do you want your image to say about you?

How have you felt enslaved to the approval of man?

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