When People Rival God

Throughout all of high school and into the beginning of college, I was a huge people pleaser. Though I might have called myself a Christian, I feared man way more than I feared God. To give you a little insight, my top two Strengthsfinder strengths freshman year were “woo” and “harmony.” I had a mission to win others over that first semester of college. I quickly said “yes” to nearly any opportunity that came my way. I would meet with the Cru and Campus Outreach kids on Wednesdays to study the Bible. Then I would go out to the frat parties on the weekend, drinking because that’s what the people around me did. I said yes to nearly any club and intramural opportunity I was presented with. I wanted everyone–the nerds, athletes, social partiers, and even Christians– to think I was one of them. I really struggled to ever turn down an opportunity for fear of missing the chance to improve my reputation with others. 

My testimony includes more of how God called me from this life of obsessing over others’ opinions to finding freedom from that very thing. One big turning point in this journey involves the summer after my freshman year, which I spent in South Carolina with about a hundred other student believers. It was the first time I lived in real Christian community. And this community had a lot to say about people pleasing.

I learned that I had been making excuses, denying that people pleasing was even a sin. “How could considering and caring about others be a sinful thing?” I had to learn that my whole identity was wrapped up in how I perceived others perceiving me. Jesus, the gospel, and the cross were important, but they didn’t have the final say in how I measured my worth. Furthermore, my comfort and joy came from winning others over instead of joy that comes from meditating on Jesus’ love for me, even to the point of death (John 15:13). I was being filled from a false fountain and, accordingly, my priorities were all out of sorts. I didn’t care about serving others as much as I cared about how my service might heighten their perception of me. I didn’t care about bringing others joy as much I cared about how my kindness or humor would make people like me more. I learned that people pleasing is actually a selfish and unreliable way to satisfy my heart.

The gospel dispels so many of the lies that come from people pleasing. Not only is God the most worthy of our fear and reverence, but pursuing an identity in Christ is the safest thing I can do. I have freedom to bring my sin to light, freedom from meeting everyone’s expectations, freedom from others’ thoughts dictating my choices and confidence.  Because Christ died on the cross for my sin and saved me by grace, my reputation and standing as a valued, liked, even loved person is unchangingly hidden in Christ (Col. 3:3). 

Only in Christ are we both made completely pure and commanded to rest. Only in Christ will my heart settle and find satisfaction and contentment and lasting peace. Other humans can never give me these things, regardless of how great they perceive me. Having a right view of my identity, like Chris Wachter mentioned one Sunday, means that my priorities and actions and behaviors everyday more naturally align with God’s call for a follower of Jesus. I love people better, I am more sanctified, I am filled with greater joy, and I better glorify God when I pursue my identity in Jesus rather than other people.

ELLEN ZIMMERMANN