Some people believe that it is overcoming tests and trials that will help you gain God’s approval or favor. They often get this view from Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Some translations of this verse will include or emphasize being a “hard worker” or as in the Amplified translation below “tested and tried” as ways we can earn God’s approval.
“Study and do your best to present yourself to God approved, a workman [tested by trial] who has no reason to be ashamed, accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, Amplified).
Paul wasn’t telling Timothy he needed to work harder or suffer tests and trials to show or to prove to God he was worthy of His approval. We know Timothy was a young minister who some despised because of his youth. His mother was Jewish, so he had knowledge of the Old Testament law, and Paul saw great potential in this young man who eventually would be part of Paul’s team in spreading the gospel.
A Believer doesn’t need to earn God’s approval they already have it!
Paul himself discovered something in the scriptures that changed his life. Hence, he was pointing his young protege to the same life-changing discovery he made. Paul tells Timothy to study the scriptures to show “yourself” that you are approved of God! He wasn’t challenging Timothy to work harder at being a better Christian or to do his best to pass tests and trials to earn God’s approval. Instead, He wanted him to see from God’s Word that because of what Jesus did, he was already approved of God. What a relief to get off the treadwheel of religion to rest and relax in knowing God approves of you.
Imagine what life would have been like for my firstborn son Eddie if he grew up believing his father didn’t approve of him until he proved himself worthy of being an Elliott by overcoming tests and trials. Besides sounding abusive and ridiculous, it would be a tormenting way for my son or any child to grow up, especially a child of God. My son doesn’t need to earn my approval by being my son. He already has my approval and acceptance. It isn’t the test and trials that give him his identity or the ability to overcome in life. It is knowing who he is that does. This is true when as believers, we discover who we are in Christ. Our identity, approval, and acceptance with God do not come from overcoming test and trials in life. They do not prove to God how worthy we are. We overcome in life because of who we are in Christ.
Paul had to discover this truth for himself when he studied the scriptures. He wanted Timothy to make the same discovery that he already had God’s approval because he was in Christ.
God’s approval removes all guilt and shame
Paul goes on to say, “a workman that needs not to be ashamed.” When you don’t know if God approves of you or not, you will feel ashamed. It shows in your lack of confidence in God.
Paul reminds Timothy to “rightly divide the word of truth.” When you divide something, you cut it in two or separate it. Paul was reminding Timothy not to mix the Old Covenant law with New Covenant grace. Truth is Paul was pretty passionate about this point. He addresses these issues in his letter to the Roman churches and goes into great detail in his letter to the Galatians. They had mixed law with grace and produced a false gospel. They stopped seeing the miracle-working power of God in their midst.
Truth is if Timothy had made the same mistake as the Galatians, he wouldn’t have seen or experienced God’s approval of him. Condemnation, shame, and guilt would have ruled and reigned in his heart. His spiritual life would be one of frustration and uncertainty. Doubt would replace faith, and fear would replace peace.
Whenever we question God’s approval and acceptance of us, we live in denial of what Jesus did for us through His death, burial, and resurrection.
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:19–21).
Discover the truth of God’s approval and acceptance of you, and it will drive out guilt, shame, and fear; it will give you the boldness to do what God has equipped you to. Paul’s boldness in the Lord came from making this discovery for himself, and we all should discover the same truth for ourselves.