Dating, Career, and our Self-Destructive Self-Righteousness

There are two main questions burning in the minds of most collegians:  Whom should I date (and eventually marry)? and what career-path should I choose? These two great unanswered questions loom over our lives as we transition from the comfortable carefree atmosphere of college to the scary realities of the “real world”.  The stakes are high since how we choose to answer these questions will alter the rest of our futures. Failure in either area leaves us in the dreaded  categories of single, unemployed or if you’re especially unlucky, both (And that’s not even mentioning the possibility of being unhappily married or unhappily employed!). Unfortunately, many collegians, myself included, feel confused, lost, and inadequate in both of these areas. As a result, worries about dating and career leave us trapped in cycle of heartache and fear.

In this post, I wanted to ask the question: does God save us apart from our works, but make us earn our dating relationships and our careers by our own self-righteousness? Should we view our success in dating and career as dependent upon our own efforts?

The reason I ask is that for myself it oftentimes feels that way. In Christian college culture, most of us seem to treat dating as if it were dependent on our works. Our confidence in regards to dating grows the more “righteous” things we do and the more other people perceive us as “righteous”. Our confidence falls as we consider our shortcomings, be it flaws in our looks, our personality, or our character.  Likewise, our success in schoolwork and career seems largely dependent on ourselves. If we don’t study hard, get the right internships, and choose the right career path, then we’ll crash and burn in an increasingly competitive work force.

I think if we honestly uncovered the fundamental attitude of our hearts it would look something like this: If I want to date this guy/this girl, or want to enjoy success in my career then I have to be good enough. I have to be more, do more, work harder and outperform everyone else in order to find the happiness that I long for. If I don’t, I’ll fail.

We know that trying to earn our way to heaven leads either to prideful self-righteousness or crushing despair, but doesn’t trying to “earn” our dating relationship or our career leave us in the same dilemma? Either we will be confident for all the wrong reasons, or we will be paralyzed by our own insecurities of whether we measure up.  All of this, of course, doesn’t seem quite right. Would God gives us salvation as a gift, but then make dating and career dependent on works?

I don’t think so. The Gospel not only revolutionizes the way we see salvation, but it also reaches, transforms, and brings freedom and peace to the areas which we hold dearest to our hearts, including our fears about dating and career.

Our salvation tell us this. First, we have been justified. This means that God has given us the righteousness of his Son so that when he looks upon us, he sees Jesus’ perfection. Second, it tells us we have been adopted. Because Christ has bridged the gap between sinful man and holy God, we can now be welcomed into God’s family as sons of God. We need not fear that God will ever cast us out from his family. We have Christ’s righteousness, so we know that just as God will forever love Jesus, so too he will forever love us.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Enough with the theology Chris. You say the same things in every post (Yes, I know I do). Tell me what does that mean for my future dating relationships and career?”

It means this: Jesus has secured God’s love for us and allowed us to become members of His family. This means that in our dating relationships and in our careers, we no longer have to base our confidence in ourselves. Instead, we can trust that our Father in heaven, who loves us with the same love with which he loves  Christ, knows our needs. He knows the future, he loves us and will provide what’s best for us, whether that’s singleness or marriage, unemployment or a job. Do you see how this logic is inevitably tied back to salvation? It’s common advice in these things to hear people say “Trust God, he has a plan for you” but how can we be sure? How can we find real peace in these things? The power and confidence we have in God’s provision for us in dating and career comes from beholding his provision for us in Christ. As Paul says, “he who did not spare his Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also give us all things?”

Praise the Lord. Because of the breathtaking love God has shown us in the Gospel to save us and become our Father, we can find real rest from our anxiety. We can trust in Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:31-33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink’ or ‘What shall we wear’  you could insert ‘Who shall we marry’ or ‘What career should I choose’]? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you”. We can live in Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4:6-7 : “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requsts be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we should stop refining our character so we can be the best husband or wife we can be. It doesn’t mean that we should stop taking the necessary steps to have a successful career. What it does mean is that we ought to live by the words of 1 John 4:18-19: “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to with punishment and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us”. We are free from the paralyzing fear that we’re on our own and that unless we measure up, we’ll fail.  When we’re saved it doesn’t stop us from doing good works, but we no longer do them because we’re terrified we’re going to go to hell. We do them because we love God and want to honor him. In the same way, we still prepare ourselves for marriage and for our careers, but the perfect love of Christ frees us from the fear of failure. We can pursue our relationships and our careers trusting that whatever comes, comes from a Heavenly Father who knows what is best for us.

I think if you uncovered many of our beliefs about dating and career, the first thing you would find is idolatry. For all intensive purposes, these things are our functional salvation. The second thing you would find is a self-destructive self-righteousness.  The freedom of the Gospel tells us this: First, your salvation is not here, it’s in Christ. But second, God knows our hearts and knows how we long for a godly spouse and a career in which we can honor God. The good news of the Gospel tells us this: you no longer have to fend for yourself. You are cared for, loved, and provided for.

Despite our good theology and Biblical literacy, I think if you wanted to know how we as collegians are really doing you’d take a look at how we view dating and carer. After all, that’s where the rubber of our faith meets the road. Do we still live like we’re fending ourselves? Like we have to earn our future spouses or our jobs with our works? Or do we trust in the Gospel that says that because we have been justified and adopted, we have absolute confidence that our Gracious Heavenly Father will provide everything we need to be like our Savior?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

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