Social psychologists call it “Impression Management,” and it’s the way we (sub)consciously try to control what others think about us.
It’s so obvious in others . . . the intellectual, the jock, the beauty queen. We smile when we think of how shallow they are.
But we do it too.
We wear what we wear to make a point. The words we use, the way we use them, the intonation of our voices – we’re crafting an image for the world to see.
The first-century Pharisees were professionals at impression management. They had the “I’m so religious I’m almost God” look down to a tee. They prayed to impress, and they gave to be noticed. They wanted the respect of the commoners, to be perceived as hyper-religious, super-spiritual, next in line for the Trinity.
And they succeeded. The masses loved them for their Bible knowledge and self-discipline.
Jesus said it was a sham. With most people Jesus was kind and gentle and patient.
But not with the Pharisees. Their emphasis on outward religiosity and impression management disgusted Him, and He minced no words with them.
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves . . . . Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:13-15, 25-28).
As you reflect on this passage today, think about the role that religious impression management might play in your life.
I’m tempted to act a certain way at church so that people think I’m really spiritual, truly godly. Do you ever do that?
Sometimes we might let the “secret” of our helping someone get out so that others will think we’re great Jesus followers. Or we might sing a little louder, or pray more fervently, or practice the “I love Jesus so much” look.
It’s a dangerous area, one that Jesus had little patience for.
Let’s just focus on following Jesus, and when those “I hope someone notices this” thoughts pop up, get rid of them immediately. Immediately focus your thoughts heavenward.
If we focus on walking with the Lord—if our character is genuine—we won’t need to worry about crafting a reputation, and what people think of us won’t matter anyway. We’ll know we’re at peace with the Lord, which is the only thing that matters anyway.
Have a great Wednesday!