Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Idol of Recognition

By Kristen Leigh Evensen
Whose opinion matters the most to you?
In Andy Sach's case, it was her boss' opinion that drove her to utter exhaustion and a complete betrayal of her most deeply held values. In "The Devil Wears Prada", this typical girl-next-door is transformed (and not for the better) into a back-stabbing, materialistic city slicker, pining for the approval of the higher-ups in the fashion industry.

Her initial motive? To eventually attain a job in journalism, using positive referrals after paying her dues at Runway Magazine. The end result? Andy compromises, no matter what the cost, to prove her self-worth.

Even though it means flushing her very identity down the toilet.

By the end of the film, Andy can hardly recognize herself, let alone understand her purpose. Her boyfriend very clearly lays out her problem: "You know, in case you were wondering--the person whose calls you always take? That's the relationship you're in."

Has recognition become an idol in your life? I recently found myself convicted by the stunning realization that I want people to approve of me and the work I produce. I do, I admit it. Obviously, being liked can be a positive thing...but for me, it was consuming my thoughts and desires. It was simultaneously driving my dreams and my fears. That's when I knew I had made recognition an idol.

What is idolatry? According to the New City Catechism, it is "trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security". Placing any sense of self-worth, identity or purpose in being recognized for who we are or what we produce betrays our trust in God. It says to Him that what Christ did on the cross was simply not enough.

I appreciate the lyrics, "It's a slow fade / When you give yourself away" because, in dealing with recognition, it is so true! Placing our identity in the opinions of others will only disappoint us, puff us up with pride, and confuse our purpose for existing. Understanding the Gospel, however, can ground us in truth and humility, establishing our identity on a foundation that cannot be moved, despite what people say or think about us.

Idolizing recognition displaces our identity; trusting in Christ fixes it firmly in the unshakable truth.

Philippians 2 reveals two symptoms of the idol of recognition:

Self-consumed thoughts and behaviors. "3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." Anthony A. Hoekema says, "What this means is that we must be more eager to see others get honor than we are to be honored ourselves." Is this true of you? Do you genuinely rejoice with others when they succeed? Or do you think, "That should have been me"? The way we spend our time and interact with others reveals the state of our hearts.

Prideful demanding of rights from God and others. "5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped..." Thinking that we deserve pats on the back for our hard work, successes and even our holiness points straight to a displaced identity and prideful spirit. Christ, though He was God, did not demand His rights. He humbly surrendered them, knowing that His identity was already established and secure. Jesus knew that true joy and freedom could be found only in a spirit of humble obedience to the Father's will. "...he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (v.8).

If you are like me, reading the above symptoms may make you wave the white flag of surrender! The good news is that Christ gave us the perfect example of how to trust solely in God, and not in the world's false sense of recognition. Just think: if Jesus had waited to be applauded for His character and many good works, He never would have gone to the cross. But he did, and by his humble obedience, we are redeemed and our identity, secure.

So, how do we respond? First, let us confess before God that we have idolized the world's opinions above His own. Then, let us focus on three truths about our identity:

Our worth and value is found in Christ alone.

Our purpose is found in humble obedience to God.

Our assurance is found by our salvation in Christ.

Can I get an "amen"? Friends, this is good news, indeed! We are no longer bound by the need for a worldly ego boost. In Christ, our identity is secure and established, and nothing can take it away from us.

Let's leave on a high-note with words from Nancy Leigh DeMoss:

"Humble people are wrapped up in Christ. A humble person thinks much of God and others, and little, if at all, of himself. He recognizes that anything he has is better than he deserves. He does not feel anyone owes him anything. He does not feel entitled to have more, or for life to be easy, or for everyone to love him and treat him well. He is grateful for the least little kindness that is extended to him, knowing it is more than he deserves."

In Christ, we have more than we deserve. We have the only opinion that matters. So let's live it!

Jesus, You are enough for us. We need nothing else but You. We do not deserve even You, but You made a way for us to know You intimately. May that be our sole satisfaction and desire. Forgive us for needing approval from the world. May our firm identity be a testimony to what You have done!

Amen.

When do you find it easiest to make an idol of recognition?

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