Do you want to know the most forgivable sin? Being a people-pleaser. “Wait, Kira, what do you mean? People-pleasing isn’t a sin…” Let me explain.
Short answer: It is. Now, take “most forgivable sin” lightly, that’s not in Scripture, I just said it to be funny. All sin is equal in God’s eyes. James 2:10 talks about how even if we fail to follow one of the commandments, we still deserve death as Romans 6:23 talks about. Salvation is not through our works, but through faith alone in Christ alone.
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
And now that we got that out of the way, this is what I mean, by “most forgivable sin”, I think we tend to overlook how people-pleasing is an actual problem. It’s easy to tell a white lie and feel convicted because we know that lying is a sin, no matter how little of a lie it is, but we please people and don’t necessarily feel the same level of conviction or any level of conviction. And when I say people-pleasing, I define it as doing or saying things for the sole purpose of pleasing them and not pleasing God.
Or if you’re someone who likes lists, here are some examples of those who are people-pleasers or more bluntly put, people who fear what other people think of them:
- You can’t say “no” and continuously overcommit
- You go along with what people want and resent it later
- You’re judgemental and critical of others
- You have bad boundaries
- You become obsessed with how you appear to others
- You would rather let your friend live in sin than call them out because you avoid conflict
I list these things not because I mastered the “art” of only caring what God thinks, no. I list these things because these are all things I do. I overcommit all too often. I have terrible boundaries. I really struggle with this and only recently have I been able to call myself out on it and be truthful about the sinful nature of pleasing people. It’s a sin.
And I think one of the biggest problems is we don’t understand what our core motives are when we please people. That’s the heart of the issue. I think it’s really easy for Christians to have bad boundaries because we think we are always called to serve and to help so we overly serve and help. We’re called to be devoted to each other (Romans 12:10). We’re called to look at the interests of others as Philippians 2 puts it, but if our motives are not truly rooted in Christ and we aren’t secure in Christ, it is incredibly easy for us to turn this into sin.
And before I dig into this, remember and overwhelm yourself with the love of Christ. Because of faith alone, you are saved, not by your works. Remember this. This post isn’t meant to condemn you. And truthfully, I’m writing this more for myself so I can look back at it when I catch myself trying to please the world and not the Creator. I am absolutely far from perfect, and I struggle with this on a daily and hourly basis, but here’s what I’ve gathered from what I’ve learned about people-pleasing through reading Scripture and listening to sermons online. Is it okay if I share it with you?
BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR MOTIVES.
37 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and most important command. 39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:37-40
That is what Jesus said when asked about which commandment is the greatest. And don’t overlook this “love” word that’s used twice, Jesus uses the Greek word “agape” and if you’re not familiar with agape, I’d challenge you to learn about it. It’s also this same beautiful word for love that’s used in 1 Corinthians 13. Here are only a few verses on it:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, 5 is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. 6 Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Now, I bring both of these passages to you because from experience, it’s easy to try to please everyone and overcommit because we think it’s what we’re called to do as Christians. We’re called to love God with absolutely everything in us. We’re called to love in a way that isn’t self-seeking and a love that does not keep a record of wrongs. The problem with pleasing people comes down to our motives. It’s a heart issue, friend. Who are you doing this for? Are you doing it because it stems from this overwhelming sense of love for God and because your value is truly rooted in Him? Or are you doing this because you expect the same treatment or because you want to get the praise and you want to get the glory? Do you love because you love or do you love because you want to be loved?
I say this humbly, as my heart is not always in the right place when I love. I know that. God knows thata. You can be seen as this man or woman of Christ that is always willing to help. You can be seen as the “most holy” person by everyone yet be the biggest liar in the world. I say this lovingly. I see that reflection in Revelation 3 in the letter to the church of Sardis which says…“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead.”, and I see a similar reflection in Matthew 7:21-23. I want to love in a way that’s pleasing to God, but I have to get over that worldly desire that wants to love so I can just build a good reputation for myself. I have to get over the desire to love so I can be loved. I’m already loved and given value because of Christ alone, regardless of what the world thinks.
I’d encourage us, as individuals and as a church to pray over this. Pray for God to search our hearts. Pray that we can love the way that Jesus loves. Pray that we love because we already know we’re loved by the Creator of the Universe and we’re complete because of Jesus alone.
For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ. Galatians 1:10
Jesus had boundaries. Jesus said “no” a lot of times throughout the Gospels. I’m pretty sure He said “no” more times than He said “yes”, but that’s your homework assignment. Go read your Bible. We’re called to love Jesus with absolutely everything, but we’re also called to love others as yourself. Loving yourself requires boundaries so we don’t overwork ourselves and so we can love others in a way that isn’t self-seeking. Jesus set boundaries. As fully man, He needed to make time to feed himself and rest. He set personal prayer time (Matthew 6:6), He was honest and direct with others (Matthew 5:37), He said “no” to manipulation (Mattew 16:23), He said “no” to baiting questions (Matthew 21:23-27).
“But how can I set boundaries yet be a living sacrifice as Romans 12 mentions?”
It goes back to the heart issue: what are your motives? If you put others before you or make a sacrifice for someone you care about, it needs to be purely out of love and a love that isn’t self-seeking. You do it because you truly love them, not because you feel obligated to or because you’re fearful. These “acts of love” are only valid if you’re doing them without expectations. Boundaries allow you to make sacrifices when they’re appropriate.
To my friend that has bad boundaries, so do I, and I know the struggle and I’m sorry. I’d encourage you to read the book “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud & John Townsend. It’s one of those books that I should be reading at least twice a year so I can be reminded how to live with good boundaries. We need good boundaries to love in a way that Jesus calls us to.
LEARN THE 25-50-25 RULE.
At least from my experience, people-pleasing is connected to caring too much about what people think or how they see me. Admittedly sometimes I wake up thinking “How can I make them like me more today?” or “How can I get this person to finally accept me today?” Where’s my heart? Not solely focused on Christ, not from those questions, let’s be honest.
See there’s this 25-50-25 rule and it’s used in leadership but I see the application in our daily life.
- 25 percent of people will support you no matter what.
- 50 percent of people will remain uncertain about you.
- 25 percent of people will never like you.
People are fickle. We’re fickle. One moment we like someone and the next moment we don’t and I’d argue most of the time we don’t even have a good answer as to why we changed our mind. But we also have a God who loves us unconditionally, even when we mess up and even when we’re jerks. There’s nothing we can hide from God and He still loves us with all of our mess. We are made worthy and valued through Christ alone.
I tell you this, not so that you work your butt off trying to get the 50 percent of “uncertain people” to like you, but I say as a reminder that we are imperfect and flawed humans. It’s not worth fighting to get and keep the 50 percent of people to like you. Truly, you don’t even know who the 50 percent even is because we’re just that good at hiding our emotions. You are far too valued in Christ to waste your time and energy trying to get the world to like you. Love God. Fear Him and only fear Him. We’re called to love one another (John 15:12), but we’re not called to please the world. There’s a huge difference.
26 For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life? Matthew 16:26
Do things to please God out of this overwhelming love for Him because He chose to love us first. You’re His kid, His love does not grow nor lessen based off of your works. He absolutely loves you and He loves you absolutely.
IF YOU WANT TO BE ANYTHING LIKE JESUS, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO FACE HATE AND CRITICISM.
The preacher and author of “Crazy Love”, Francis Chan, said this before in a sermon and it resonated with me. He said, “I wanted to be the cooler version of Jesus.” It sounds silly but I think we try to think that way sometimes. I’ll admit that I’ve thought that. I’ll think, “Maybe I’ll be like Jesus…I’ll be loving and I’ll be kind, but I’ll do it in a way where people will love me.”
Jesus was absolutely perfect. He was without sin. He loved the world so much that He died for us so that we, every single one of us, could be saved. And even so, Jesus had and has millions of people who hate Him. They hate a man who was filled with love, patience, kindness, self-control…He was perfect. He healed people and He was still hated.
Friend, it is a God-given and Holy Spirit-driven desire for you to want to be more like Christ, but also, understand the reality of it. I don’t say this to excuse your sin and don’t use this as an excuse to sin, but what I’m saying is be reasonable with yourself. The greatest commandment is to love God with everything and then to love others as you love yourself. That means treating God as Lord and fully understanding what that means. Because of His overwhelming love for you, you want to love and that’s good and continue to love like Christ, but do not be discouraged when the world still hates you. Your identity and your value are rooted in Christ alone who loves you unconditionally – even with all your sin and flaws.
Read the book of 1 Peter. It gives you a beautiful description of your value in Christ and how God sees us. This short book of the Bible also touches on the suffering that Christians face, especially when living in a world where you just can’t please everyone.
“If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you.” John 15:18
“Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.” 1 John 3:13
YOU STILL NEED TO CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK.
Let people criticize you. Let people give you their opinion. Being rooted in Christ doesn’t give you the excuse to be a jerk. You still need to care what people think. “Wait for a second…doesn’t this contradict everything you just said?”
No. We need to care what some people think, and before we take their criticism, advice, and comments to heart we need to consider a few things:
- Consider your identity. Do you fully believe it is in Christ alone? No matter what you do, His love for you does not grow or lessen.
- Consider who is giving you criticism. Are they doing it out of love? Are they individuals that truly care about you and the person you’re becoming? What are their motives?
- Consider talking to God about it. Who is God calling you to be? What fruit are you producing?
Be open to criticism and spend time in prayer over it. There have been a handful of times where I’ve been a terrible friend and thankfully had someone call me out on it. It’s never easy to hear criticism, but when I do it’s important that I look at the Bible and pray over it. And, yeah, most of the time I realize I’m being a jerk and that should change. Other times I received criticism that didn’t matter and so I considered it but I didn’t take it. Context is huge and very important so take it as a warning, but, chances are, if it lines up with the Bible, then yeah, follow it. If it doesn’t, well, spend time in prayer and you make the call with what you want to do with that criticism.
Easy example: If I was sleeping around and had a loved one call me out on it, I probably should stop sleeping around. Even though the world says I can do whatever I want, because of the biblical meaning of marriage and because Jesus is Lord, I follow what the Bible says out of love and out of respect that Jesus is King. If someone tells me that the color of my shirt doesn’t work with my skin tone, I choose how I want to take that. I need to first understand that my identity is in Christ alone, not in the clothes I wear, but ultimately, I choose what to do with that comment.
It can be a fine line sometimes so I suggest getting yourself a group of friends that you trust and you can be honest with. Read the book of Proverbs, it’ll point you to traits your close friends should have. They should be people that encourage you in your relationship with God. They should truly care about you. They should have good motives when it comes to calling you out and giving you criticism.
Loving family members and friends are able to lovingly and graciously call each other out on bad character traits that we have because we don’t see everything in ourselves. We have a tendency to overlook the really beautiful parts of ourselves, just like how we may be unaware of the nasty and ugly traits that we have.
Pray about this. Ask God to search your heart. Be open to criticism. Setting boundaries does not give you an excuse to be a jerk. Be open to criticism and be open to change, but first and foremost, understand what it means to be a child of God. Understand His love, grace, and mercy for us.
I say this not to condemn you, but because I struggle with people-pleasing on an hourly basis. What I’ve learned is the more secure I am in Christ, the less I care about pleasing the world. Jesus is so crazy in love with us. If anything, I’d encourage you to just re-discover who you are as a child of God. Understand that your value is in Christ alone. Understand what it means to call Jesus Lord and understand the significance of the cross. Despite our sin, He died for us. Despite our past, current, and future sin, we’re made new in Christ and He loves us unconditionally.
Fully understand the power of Christ. Fully understand you’re made with a purpose and significance. You’re made in His image. Despite what the world says, you are made wonderfully and you are loved eternally. Understand the grace of God, the mercy of God, and the love of God. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. Your identity is deeply rooted in Him alone so fear and please the Lord, friend. If you don’t spend the rest of your life seeking to please the Lord, you’ll spend the rest of your life seeking to please man. I’m praying over you all. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.