Applause rings loudly. Praise echoes in our mind. Smiling faces impress like a stamp in our memory. Criticism creeps in. Disapproval lurks into our thoughts. Doubt blankets affirmation in a faint memory. Instead of living out of the value we have been given by God, we often find ourselves trapped beneath this cycle. We live in “earn more”. Our culture, our community, our churches, and our own distorted perceptions of ourselves and our purpose emphasize this “achieve to be accepted” mentality. Work to have worth. Earn to be excellent. Scripture gives us a different way. Scripture says that God is the one who made us accepted (Ephesians 1:7) and loved us based on His goodness and grace (Romans 8:38-39, I John 4:19). Because we belong to Him, our worth and value has been given to us. Instead of our works defining our identity, our identity drives our purpose. It is from this identity that we can clearly see the purpose and intention of commands in scripture like “study to shew thyself approved unto God. . .” (II Timothy 2:15).
In order to rightly understand this truth and apply it to our life, we must understand the words. In this verse, “approved” is defined as acceptable and well-pleasing. Our actions can be pleasing to God. He is not the parent expecting us to meet impossibly high standards of absolute perfection. He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14). He knows that we fall short. Yet, when we follow the Holy Spirit leading us in obedience to His commandments, those actions are approved of by God.
In Matthew 3, Jesus demonstrates an act of obedience in baptism. Scripture says “the heavens were open unto him, and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The words that are spoken reflect God was approving of the actions of Jesus. We are given the task of doing works pleasing to God (Colossians 3:17,23-24). First, we must believe that our works can be pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6).
In the passage we’re looking at, we are given the command to “study”. The word in context holds more weight than “read”. To study is to intentionally and diligently search the scriptures with the intention of knowing God and His Son. We cannot apply the truth to our actions if we do not know the truth. Applying the truth is the path we take to cultivate a closer walk with our Father (Micah 6:8, John 15:10). Study is the way to know the Words and commandments. Application is what makes our works well-pleasing to our Heavenly Father.
As we seek to follow His commandments each day, we find ourselves in closer fellowship with Jesus. We will also find ourselves in closer relationships with those who also abide in Christ (John 15). Acts 2:46-47 provides a glimpse into what can come of our relationships when we intentionally study the truth in God’s word and live it out daily. The “approval” that results is a manifestation of the peace, joy, and righteousness of God we are able to experience through His grace and our obedience (Romans 14:17, Philippians 4:9).
No longer must we live in a cycle of constantly striving to earn our value and the favor of man. Instead, we can walk from our identity in Christ to do the good works He has for us and experience a closer relationship with Him (Ephesians 2:10).