I think a lot of Christians struggle with this. In fact, I know they do, because I do! It's very easy to let our Christianity become performance based (pleasing men) rather than grace based (pleasing God). After all in many cases it's men (and sometimes women) who are giving the guidance in our lives. Our pastor, parents, and teachers, all teach us from the Bible. No matter what age we are, we are, receiving teaching from someone. That's God's plan for us. That's why the Bible teaches the local church with a pastor. God has gifted certain men to preach and teach, and we need to heed what they say. However, since we have these people in our lives teaching us regularly, I think it's easy for us to forget about God.
I read once somewhere that the test of a godly pastor is whether or not he points you to Christ or simply exalts his own teaching. I thought that was a very good test. Ultimately, a pastor should be pointing you totally to Jesus. Since my pastor reads my blog, I'm going to say that I'm thankful he does this :). Although, I would say that about him whether he read my blog or not. So many pastors today have an agenda. It's really sad. I can't tell you how many websites I've read where the pastors talk about their great accomplishments, education, how big their church is, how successful their ministry is, how gifted they are... blah, blah, blah... without ever a mention to Christ or any glory given to Him! No wonder Christians become such man-followers.
It's very easy to loose the proper perspective when it comes to Christian living. Our perspective must always be Christ, but we must also remember that it is God's will for us to obey those who have the rule over us (Heb. 13:17). I think this is where it's easy to get turned around. In obeying our leaders, we often become centralized on what those leaders are telling us. So many leaders fail to point their followers to Christ, and instead point their followers to themselves. This leads to frustration and defeat on the part of the Christian, because rather than living they way they do to please the Lord, they starting living a certain way because their pastor makes them. It's very backwards.
I've been down this road, but let's remember that just because things get twisted around and a little backwards, that doesn't mean all the pastor is teaching is wrong! I know some very godly pastors who do point their church members to Christ, and the church members still struggle with living to please Christ rather than pleasing men. So, what is it that causes us to get so turned around? Is it our lack of understanding? Is it our lack of reading the Scriptures? Is it just our own bad attitude or sinful flesh getting in the way?
One thing that has really helped me in this area is to ask questions. A lot of times we are told to do or live a certain way, but we are never told why. I remember when I went to Bible college some people there had problems with all the rules. They felt that they were legalistic and binding with little or no grace to allow the Holy Spirit to change a person. I agreed with them to a certain extent. There were many rules that we were told we had to obey, and never given a reason why! Asking why is not a bad thing, but some Christians seem to think that if you ask why you are questioning their authority and God's authority. It's amazing how a little three letter word can be so misunderstood. I think there is great value in asking why, and a godly pastor or teacher will try to answer the why in a compassionate and understanding way. They won't be offended by the why or feel like their position is being threatened.
Another question I've found very valuable in this area is "what does the Bible say?" If we truly desire to please God and not please men, then we need to know that the things we are being taught are coming from the Scriptures. Back to Bible College again. I didn't question a lot of the rules when I was there. There were a couple of reasons for that. One was that I saw the value and common sense in a lot of them. They may have seemed like stupid little rules, but I could see that they were put in place to help me. The other reason was that much of the teaching I received at Bible College was directly from the Scriptures. All our classes were Bible based. Even the history and music classes. I was amazed how the pastors could show us how the Bible dealt with such practical and applicable subjects. It wasn't just a book written 2000 years ago with a bunch of stories in it. It had real, everyday, authentic answers for problems and questions that I was facing. When we were taught about modesty, we were shown from the Scriptures why it's important. When we were taught about music philosophy we looked up tons of verses that applied to that subject. Actually, I think my music philosophy class went more in depth to the Bible than some of my Bible classes! Sure some of the dress rules may have seemed silly, or may not exactly be in the Bible the way the rule was made, but the principle was taught from Scripture. That made the difference. Then it became about God and not about the rule.
Sadly, a lot of Christians lack asking these two questions in their personal lives and many churches lack asking them, answering them graciously, and teaching them. I understand the battle that so many of us go through to try and live for Christ, but becoming frustrated by the commands of men. We have to ask for the Scriptural reasons, but then there's another problem. Many times the Scripture is given, but the hard heart of the Christians refuses to accept it. Here's the thing. The pastor, the teacher, the parent, and the church can't force you to accept what they give you from God's Word. It's up to YOU! I personally know Christians who every day living for Christ is a struggle for them. They feel limited, restricted, and bound by grace, when the Bible says it's grace that frees us! Mostly they feel this way because they have refused to submit to God and to their authority. It's so simple. Living the victorious Christian life is so easy. Just let God do it for you! You can cross every "t" and dot every "i" and still be frustrated, because you are doing it in your own strength and to please men. Stop living the way you do for someone else, and start doing it for GOD!
You'll know when you start living for God because you will have peace. It will also be easier for you to live up the standards and guidelines that godly leaders are putting into your life. You won't be doing it for them any more, but for the Lord. Living for God doesn't mean that suddenly you abandon all your standards and are "free" to live as you please. That's another whole blog post! Maybe I'll write it as a follow up to this one :). Living for God means you're ok with some standards of conduct in your life. It means you see the eternal value in that, and it means that you are relying on God's grace to help you keep HIS ways!
I haven't mastered this yet, and I probably never will, but I certainly am thankful that I've allowed the Holy Spirit to teach me these things. I want to encourage other Christian young people not to get hung up in pleasing men. It is possible to live in the way these men are teaching you, and not be frustrated and defeated. Give it all to God, and let HIM be the important one in your life.