You and Your Self-Image
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
At the root of many of the problems we face today is the failure to develop an appropriate self-image. I believe that!
In order to be happy, well adjusted and capable of loving others and reaching out to others you must love, accept, forgive and feel good about yourself we are told by many in the Christian and secular community. I don't believe that! Self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-concept and self-image are key topics in secular and Christian counseling today. If you doubt it, just start reading Christian authors on how to handle the problems of life. The fact is, if you assume the Rogerian prevarication (false-hood) is true, that you must love and accept yourself before you can love and accept others; that accepting yourself and forgiving yourself is a must for a happy, successful life, then you will respond to the problems of life is a way that will only compound those problems. So what is the answer? As with every area of life we must go to the Bible in order to get a biblical appraisal of ourselves.
As a foundation, we need to understand that the Bible neither commands nor encourages self-love & self-acceptance but in fact restricts it. Turn to Luke 9:23-24 -- And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. 24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. In fact, we are clearly told that perhaps the most conspicuous characteristic of the last days is self-love. 2 Timothy 3:1-2a emphatically states this fact -- This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves... The humanistic doctrine of self-love is not of the Lord. If it is not of the Lord, what is the origin? I believe 1 Timothy 4:1 gives us the answer -- Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Some Christians are startled when I ascribe today's teachings on self-image with demons. Why, because so many of us have bought into the counterfeit. I did!
What should the Christians "self-image" be? Paul told the believers at Rome that they should not think to highly of themselves. He wrote, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. 3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. Romans 12:1-3
I was listening to one of the major AM stations this week and one of the commercials was for Dr. Wayne Dyers new book YOUR SACRED SELF. I could tell from the commercial that the book presents man as a proud, self-sufficient, even divine being. Sadly, if the past is any indicator, this New Age author's book will be sold in many "Christian" bookstores. Christians will buy it, read it, believe it and think of themselves too highly. In fact, there are many people, even Christians, who pump up their self-image using PMA (positive mental attitude), positive self-talk and visualization rather then encouraging themselves in the Lord (1 Sam. 30:6). God takes a dim view of pride. James 4:6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Nebuchadnezzar found out what can happen to those who think too highly of themselves. Daniel 4:30-31 The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? 31 While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee.
Just as Christians should not think of themselves too highly, neither should they hold too low of an estimation of themselves. When you get through the facade, people who take this route are usually discontented with themselves. Further, I often find that they are bitter at others or angry with God because of the circumstance they are in, what they don't have or the way God made them. If that is the case, they are sinning.
I can identify with those who struggle with this. When I was a teenager I had bad acme. I had what was called cystic acme. My face and back are scarred because of it. Though I loved sports, especially basketball, I dreaded playing it in gym class because we played shirts and skins. And guess what? It never failed, I'd end up on the skins team and the kids would tease me about my acme. That was bad enough, but what really hurt was what my grandmother said to me one day in front of the rest of the family. She told me I should go to the chicken coup and pick the white off the chicken feces and put it on my pimples. Talk about a blow to my self-image! At first I was angry, perhaps even bitter. Not to mention being self-conscious. But, after a while I decided, there was nothing more I could do about the problem. I had prayed, I was eating right, seeing the skin doctor every other week and taking my medication. It was not working! Matthew 6:27 comes to mind -- Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? I could not change my skin problems any more than a short man can add 18 inches to his height. I decided I had a choice to make. Either I could pull into my shell, worry about the problem, resent the Lord for making me this way, adopt a rebellious attitude and hate everyone who said anything. Or, I could get on with my life. By God's grace, Philippians 4:11b was the way I chose. "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."
Do you want to know something? I was much happier when I decided to make the best of it. After sitting out two basketball seasons because I was worried what others would think, I went out for the team and made it. Now, nothing changed as far as my acme was concerned. What changed was my attitude and my focus. When that changed and I quit loving myself so much I could overlook the cruel things others said and go on with life, using the gifts and talents the Lord gave. I found that if you do what you are capable of doing, what God expects you to do you feel good. But, if you are sinning through bitterness, self-pity, anger, envy, etc. sinful behavior produces bad feelings, even bad feelings about yourself. Friends, the solution is to confess the wrong behavior as sin and replace it with right behavior. Then the joy will be restored (Psalm 51).
Though we will look at a "bad self-image" more in depth next, I am convinced that a bad self-image stems from bad feelings a person experiences when God convicts him of sins such as self-pity, self-centeredness, self-focus and self-indulgence and he refuses to repent, and do what he knows the Bible says he should do. On the other hand a "good self-image" (feeling good about yourself) comes when you do what God instructs you to do whether you feel like it or not. John 13:17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. Obedience is the key to living a happy, well-adjusted life, not loving your self.
Let me to add a P.S. to this message. There are multiplied thousands of people around the world and perhaps right here who feel pretty good about themselves and yet they are unsaved. Allow me to purposefully deliver a blow to your self-esteem by getting you to see yourself from God's vantage point. Turn with me to Ephesians 2:12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: Without Christ you are without hope and that's a fact! A meaningful life is only possible for those who have Christ as Savior. True purpose and meaning in life only come to those who are committed to Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 lays it on the line -- But (because) of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption- 31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
Before we consider this, it is important to remember the following
1. The Bible neither commands nor encourages self-love & self-acceptance but in fact restricts it -- Luke 9:23-24
2. The Biblical view of self teaches that Christians should neither think too highly of themselves nor to lowly of themselves -- Romans 12:3
3. A positive self-image can be deceiving because it neither saves a person nor makes him right with God. An unsaved person with a "good self-image" will go to Hell. -- Ephesians 2:12
Why do people form unbiblical attitudes (unbiblical self-image) about themselves? That is the issue that we will consider in this message.
The earliest root revealed in the Bible of an incorrect or unbiblical self-image is dissatisfaction with God (Gen. 3:1-7). Before we turn to that passage I want to lay the foundation by reminding you that the Devil has it out for all mankind. 1 Peter 5:8 warns us, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Satan hates all people because we were created in the image of God (Gen.1:27; 9:6). God created us to have fellowship with Him, worship Him and serve Him (1 John 1:3; Psa. 96:9; Deut. 10:12). Satan resents that. His goal is to usurp God's position and God's authority (Isa. 14:12-15). He wants to be worshipped. He wants to be served. One way Satan accomplishes his diabolical goal is to stir up dissatisfaction with God in peoples minds. This started way back in Eden with Adam, Eve & the Serpent (Devil).
As you are turning to Genesis 3:1-7, I want to read Revelation 12:9 to you. There are some who have called into question whether the serpent of Eden was Satan. In this verse we see the various name that Lucifer, the fallen angel, goes by -- And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Now, back to Eden. Remember our focus. As I stated previously, the earliest root of an incorrect or unbiblical self-image was dissatisfaction with God. Here's why I said that. Eve became dissatisfied with God when she listened to the Serpent (Satan). He convinced her that God had cheated her out of something that was rightfully hers. Let's read the account. Once she became dissatisfied with God, she rebelled against God's authority and established herself as the authority and chose her will instead of God's will. We all know what happened. Adam followed her lead and the whole human race was plunged into sin. Specifically, Adam and Eve thought more highly of themselves than they ought to have. They made themselves equal with God when they rejected His revealed will and chose their own will.
Many people develop an unbiblical self-image because they are angry at God. They don't like their appearance. They are dissatisfied with their abilities. They think surely God must have made a mistake when it came to the choice of the family they were born into and besides that, they despise the circumstances they find themselves in! The statement that sums up their attitude is -- God, it's all your fault!
When someone adopts this attitude do you see what has happened? They have adopted the worlds standard for determining worth. And how does the world determine worth? Think of that for a moment.
The standards by which our world determines worth are...
If you are basing your self-worth on these things, likely you've got a pretty low self-image! You're probably pretty ticked at God! But let me tell you something. If you ARE basing how you feel about yourself based on beauty, brawn, brains, abilities, money, possessions or power, you have been shopping at the Devil's supermarket and you've bought and are eating rotten fruit! Have you ever bitten into a piece of rotten fruit? I have. It looked good on the outside but when I bit into it and got a mouthful, it is rotten inside. Do you know what I did? I spit out the mouthful and threw the rest in the garbage. The problem is that many people today are feeding on the Devils rotten fruit. They are dissatisfied with God because they feel God has cheated them in the area of beauty, brawn, brains, abilities, money, possessions or power. Listen friends, these things don't mean anything in light of eternity!
Let me show you some things that can be very liberating.
1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.
Isaiah 53:2 For he (Jesus) shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he (Jesus) hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
Proverbs 31:30 Favour (charm, sex appeal, popularity) is deceitful, and beauty is vain (empty, passing): but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
Matthew 23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
Ephesians 1:11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
Psalms 119:73 Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.
Psalms 139:13, 14&16 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. 14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. 16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
Isaiah 45:9 Woe unto him that striveth (quarrels, argues, complains) with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?
God's does have a universal inward ideal that he is concerned about and desires that we conform to.
Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Colossians 3:10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
Exodus 4:11-12 And the LORD said unto him (Moses), Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb (one who is unable to speak), or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in re- proaches, in necessities, in per-secutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
2 Corinthians 10:12 For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by them-selves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. Simply stated, measuring yourself by the worlds standards is foolish
2 Corinthians 10:17-18 But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. 18 For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.
In conclusion, dissatisfaction with God is at the root of an unbiblical view of our self-worth. We must not evaluate our worth based upon the faulty standard of the world but upon God's standard as found in the Bible. The facts is, that it is only God's approval that counts!