A well-meaning person in our church once openly questioned why my husband and I would choose to put our children in school rather than homeschooling them. This question came at a time when we were the only non-homeschooling family in our small group, and I had been privately wrestling with our choices as compared to theirs. I was wrestling, not because I felt convicted by the Lord, but because I longed for validation from people that I greatly respected.
Admitting that we desire validation from others is difficult, but recognizing it in ourselves is even more difficult because it is a subtle, ever-lurking temptation. It tends to package itself together with pride, self-condemnation, or a desire for encouragement and approval. But when we attach things like our education choices to the gospel? That’s when it gets ugly, divisive, and dysfunctional.
Because don’t we do this? Whether we voice them or not, we choose man-made regulations according to what we value most, sometimes personal convictions that are right and good, and evaluate ourselves and other people according to them: appearance, education, food, parenting, work choices, giftings, behaviors. We’d never say it out loud, but in our minds we categorize ourselves and others according to our standards: “She is a good Christian because . . .” or “She is not a good Christian because . . .” Worse, we turn it around on ourselves: “I’m a good Christian because . . .” or “I’m not a good Christian because . . .”
And there the need for validation is birthed.
When we seek validation, we evaluate ourselves and others based upon external behaviors and choices, not on what Christ has done. And the Holy Spirit—God-within-us who counsels, leads, and personally convicts us—is completely removed from the equation. We stand as our own counselor, leader, judge, and convict-er, thank you very much. And we’re happy to take on that role for everyone else too, offering validation to those who choose what we choose and quietly dividing from those who don’t.
This isn’t the gospel, and this isn’t the Christian life. I call this different gospel the “goodness gospel”: my goodness, my life, my spiritual growth is up to me and I’ll know how I’m doing based upon the specific things that I value or think make me a good Christian.
Aside from living in a self-selected huddle, living by the goodness gospel doesn’t bother us much. The rub comes when we start questioning ourselves, like I did about our education choices. Of course, we must take into account that God may be leading us to make a change, but what I’m referring to is when we feel not “good enough” in comparison to others and desire their validation. The goodness gospel tells me that I must earn that validation, make up for my weaknesses or cover them over, and do better next time. I vow to try harder. And sometimes I do actually do better next time, but then I fail and the cycle begins again. The Bible says the goodness gospel is a ministry of condemnation, always reminding me that I am weak and unable to be perfect but never providing a solution other than “try harder”.
This only results in cycles of pride and self-condemnation toward ourselves and in relation to others, those two fraternal twin sins that invite us to seek validation from others and grow depressed or angry when we can’t seem to get it.