Since I was a kid I always wanted to be popular. I laugh now because it’s a little ridiculous, and I certainly did some ridiculous things to try to make it happen. But I think it came from a desire we all have to be included, to be seen and accepted. I have memories from first grade of identifying the three popular girls in my class and trying to imitate how they talked and acted. I spent way too much money on certain brands of clothes. On at least one occasion I started ignoring one of my best friends because she wasn’t cool enough. I cringe at that one.
In college I participated in activities that everyone else was doing even though they went against my convictions. I was FULL of gossip for years and years. The examples go on. I don’t think my story is very unique, but the reason I want to share it is because it helps to show the stark contrast that a life for Jesus Christ is to the rest of the world.
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
Jesus said during the Sermon on the Mount that we cannot serve two masters. I think we can take that beyond money and say we cannot serve God and anything. We cannot simultaneously live for God and for the approval of others. We all desire to “fit in,” but for Christians that comes at a cost. We often let the opinions of others, rather than the opinion of God, drive our decisions.
Insecurity played a large part in my desire for popularity. I was not confident in my identity in Christ. But since making friends with strong Christians who have been able to encourage me, walk with me, and hold me accountable, I have found that the popularity I strived for wasn’t very important after all. It’s quite futile.
As my relationship with Christ grew stronger, I desired to identify and connect with the “cool kids” less and less. I was making wiser choices and honoring God with my thoughts, words, and actions. Scripture is rich with how and why we ought to be different from the world.
“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” 2 Timothy 2:21-22
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9
To glorify God, we cannot look for glory from others. Once we are accepted into His Kingdom, we cannot remain in our prior one. We have been called out of our former lives, so let’s stay out of them. Christ is sufficient.
Somewhat ironically, I ended up joining a very popular church after I graduated college. If you’re an evangelical/nondenominational, and especially if you listen to modern worship music, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Though I had already found the confidence in Christ that I thought would prevent me from gravitating back to shallow popularity, I got sucked in pretty easily.
It was different than when I was younger, but I still felt that desire to do whatever it takes to be seen as cool. The fact that I was so excited to be added to a particular group chat should have been a sign that I was falling into my old ways. Or the fact that I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends back home that I went to THAT church. But our sinful nature is really good at convincing us that our current feelings are more significant than God’s eternal glory.
When God called me away from that church, I knew I was giving up the thing that I strived for most of my life, the thing that I had – in a sense – finally achieved. I had finally belonged to the “it” crowd, as I had viewed it. Walking toward God’s will and standing for His truth meant walking away from the inclusion and acceptance. It was a very real picture of the choice every new believer must make. We can try to follow God and keep our bad habits and friends. Or we can step out into new territory and trust that God has so much more in store.
I don’t really miss being part of a big friend group. I don’t really miss being invited to parties and exclusive events. I have a handful of friends who know the real me. I have a church family that doesn’t have groups of cool people that I’m dying to be a part of. It’s all worth it. When our lives are centered on Christ, we don’t need people to fill our insecurities. We don’t need to be part of any special group. We don’t need to be adored by everyone around us. We are free.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2