I've always adapted to be accepted. In my early teens, I realized the quickest way to be embraced by my peers was to become like them. However they talked, I talked. Whatever they drank or smoked, I drank and smoked. Whatever it was that they did or liked, I did and grew to like.
Some people are born leaders, and I am not by nature one of those people. In typical follower fashion, I bowed down to the ways and interests of others in an attempt to earn their acceptance . . . because their acceptance was what I craved most.
I've changed pretty drastically since Jesus moseyed his way into my life six years ago. In many ways (many BIG ways) my life now sings a totally different tune than that of the people around me. However, I still find "imitating others so they'll think I'm cool" tendencies arising here and there.
Sometimes when I am around unbelieving family or friends, I find myself not wanting to be perceived as "too religious" or as a goody-two-shoes. Sometimes I'll have a drink — not because I want one, but because I want to show people I'm not bound by restrictions. Sometimes I'll express my humor in a super sarcastic or even just plain mean way because I want people to think I'm funny. Sometimes I'll spice up my language with sinful terminology — not because I talk that way inwardly or even regularly, but because I want people to see I speak their language. I find myself putting on this worldly façade that is totally misrepresentative of the person I really am and for no reason other than wanting the world to accept me.
And we all know what the Bible has to say about that.
"Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."- James 4:4.
In the deepest part of my being, I don't want to be friendly with the ways of this world. I want to live outwardly what I experience inwardly: Christ.
But why do I still bend so easily? Why do I desire to be desirable in the eyes of people who are at war with the God who lives in me? Why do I sometimes set my new and true self aside and conjure up fragments of my old and crucified self? I think there is probably a myriad of reasons, but after digging into my soul a bit lately, I think it all boils down to two big lies I am believing:
1. I believe that the opinions and praise of people are worth more than the opinions and praise of God, and
2. I believe that the acceptance of the world will make my heart happier than living out my true identity in Christ.
And the only way, in my experience, to squash these lies is to saturate my mind with truth.
Truth #1) God is much more valuable than every human being I know combined.
People are created in the image of God and therefore have great intrinsic value, but in comparison to God, "all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing." – Daniel 4:35.
Isaiah 40:22 also paints a humble picture of man: "The Lord sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers."
Because God is exceedingly greater in power and value and beauty than every other entity in the universe, his opinion of me, and pleasure in me, carries far greater weight than that of any mere human being. He is the only one whom I should be living to please. He is the only one I should be following and the only one to whom I should be adapting.
Truth #2) Living out my identity in Christ brings joy, while denying Christ by suppressing my faith brings sorrow.
I know from experience how my heart surges with joy when I refuse to muzzle my new nature in Christ. I know how high my happiness soars when I let the world see that Jesus is in me and that his pleasure with me is the aim of my life. I know how full of the Holy Spirit I feel when the life of Christ shines through me, even when friends or family think I'm a bit fanatical.
Being who I really am brings me joy.
And on the flip side, I know how my soul shrivels up when I deny Christ by pretending to be someone I'm not. I know how guilty I feel when I stuff my faith into a dark corner of my soul and interact with others as if Jesus hasn't dramatically changed who I am.
I could be wrong, but I don't believe I am alone in this struggle. I think this desire to be accepted and praised by others is a universal struggle for Christians. Friends, our joy will only be as full as Christ is manifest in our lives. Don't shut him out. Don't stuff him down. Delight yourself in pleasing the most valuable Person in the universe by letting him radiate through you. His opinion and acceptance of you are all that matters.
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." – Galatians 2:20