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You could say that I wanted people’s approval or acceptance. I did not want their rejection. I wanted to be wanted by someone—by anyone. For the first 25 years of my life—before God regenerated me, I sought love by twisting myself into whatever version that I needed to so that others would accept me. For example, I grew my hair down my back because my friends had theirs down their backs. I became a post-60s hippie.
I would drink beer because that is what my friends did. The ironic thing is that I never enjoyed alcohol. It’s instructive of what a person will do for acceptance. I smoked weed because my friends did it. My worldview was to become what I needed to so that others would accept me.
The essence of my worldview was to create value or at least the perception of value, so others would enjoy being around me. Typically, I would find the most comfortable group for me to belong to without going off the deep end. That is why it was easier to grow my hair out than to be an athlete. It was easier to smoke weed than to make perfect grades.
My worldview was the path of least resistance. Being an athlete would not win friends or influence people because I had no athletic skills. My talent was in another area, so I went with my strengths: I could grow long hair and good weed.
The easy path proved to be a hard one (Proverbs 13:15, 14:12). Creating and sustaining self-worth is like lifting weights without relief. It required more work than I could perform. Eventually, it landed me in jail, which was one of the better things to happen to me as a teenager.
Our current culture makes it easier than ever to have self-generated value. You can dye your hair, enhance your breasts, tuck your tummy, and even throw your food back up until you become the person you hope others will find appealing.
You can go the chemical route to enhance your physique. You can present your most favorable self on Facebook, hoping to receive “likes.” You can dive into the fantasy world of porn where the average underachiever can create a cyber universe of ladies to fawn all over him—at least in the fantasy world of his mind.
Then there is the Word of God. The ultimate show-stopper. The testimony of Scripture cuts against the grain of our proud, craving hearts. In a word, the Word says that we are totally and completely WORTHLESS!
Maybe we ought to take a look. Paul said it this way in Romans 3:12: “All have turned aside; together, they have become worthless, no one does good, not even one.” Isaiah said, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6).
(Paul ties his statement about being worthless to our inability to achieve any merit or righteousness outside of the alien righteousness of Christ. Having worthless righteousness and self-worth are two different things. God made us in His image, which makes us valuable, but our fallen state makes us incapable of generating righteousness.)
There’s more from God’s Word, but I’ll not deflate you entirely, though that might not be a bad idea—or at least it helps me to become less stuck on myself when the mirror of Scripture stares me in the face without apology. It’s just when I start to feel pretty good about myself that the Bible grabs my heart and says that I am worthless. I am the lowest of the low. I stink—from the inside out!
This worldview brought me to the “crossroad of righteousness.” The Bible prods me to decide if I’m going to create my goodness so others will like me or if I am going to find righteousness somewhere else.
“Self-generated righteousness,” which is the more technical term for what I have been talking about, is tiring and insatiable. There is no end to its demands, and it mandates that I must always be on guard, ever vigilant, hoping never to make the fatal mistake that would put me on the outs with the ones who fill my love cup.
Christ-generated righteousness is not dependent so much on my works because I’m resting in the works of Jesus on my behalf. His labor for me motivates me to cease striving. Jesus brings order to the chaotic craving of my soul.
BE WARNED: There is danger ahead if you choose Jesus’ works over yours. You will not be free from the temptation to conjure up your righteousness. Your pride will not let you experience uninterrupted satisfaction in Christ because you’ll want to receive some acclaim. The “devil in you” will push you to promote yourself. Your hideous desires to garner people’s affection will always be crouching at the door of your heart.
Fight this, my friend. Don’t give in to the daily temptation to promote your value through self-generated efforts. The guy who realizes he is “worthless regarding his righteousness” is the guy who is ready to receive another righteousness that is far superior to any self-glorification that he could ever muster up.
Practically speaking, the way I have to attack my pride is by immersing myself in a group of friends who are willing to carefully and lovingly speak into my life. Without the watchful eye of my wife, children, and friends, my self-righteousness will grow unchallenged. Let me draw you a picture.
The graphic is a representation of a sketch that I used in a counseling session to illustrate the main points that I’m sharing with you.
The testimony of Scripture says that I am worthless. There is no inherent goodness in me; even my good stuff is bad stuff in the eyes of God (Isaiah 64:6). I’m a mess, with no ability to ever change my condition. While I can “fake others out” for a season through my self-generated righteousness, it is a vain work that leads to a wasted life.
Jesus Christ, the exact opposite of me, has value. He is righteous, and because I cannot create real value, I want to find myself in Christ. If you’re going to feel better about yourself, you must find Christ. Not only does He have value, but He is valued—the Father loves the Son. This truth means the Father is only pleased with me when I am trusting in His Son.
It is like someone appreciating you for the clothes you are wearing. As long as the righteousness of Christ clothes me, I am fully valued, treasured, loved, approved, accepted, and never rejected by the Father. My value is in Christ alone!
I can’t work to get it, and I can’t do anything to lose it. Jesus is the treasure that is in this jar of clay, which can satisfy any soul (2 Corinthians 4:7). Rather than craving the vacillating approval from other fallen people, I can fully rest in the inextinguishable righteousness of Jesus Christ. In Christ, I can cease striving and people-pleasing.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).