Infinite Worth God’s esteem is all that counts – and Christians have it
Most people nowadays know the importance of self-image. Coaches in sport always knew it: perceiving that those who see themselves as winners do better than those who expect to lose, they saw passionate pep-talks of the “you-can-do-it” sort as vital to the success of their trainees. And they were right.
Counseling pundits confirm that in all departments of life our view of ourselves programs our behaviour, so that our ideas of what we can and can’t do become self-fulfilling prophecies. How true! A bright person I know suffered 10 years of academic disaster through internalizing the assurance, dumped on him in grade two, that he was no good at schoolwork. This is typical.
Embedded in our self-image is our sense of worth. Children starved of affirmation and affection at home usually take into adult life a low self-image — a sense, that is, of lacking real value, being a nobody, counting for nothing. As in some communities it is said that if you’re not Dutch you’re not much, so the world is full of emotional cripples, including some Dutch, who deep down feel they are “not much”, despite being, as such folk often are, brainy, competent, and by worldly standards successful.
This feeling is not a rational judgment, but an emotionally-charged attitude functioning as tinted spectacles through which one’s mind gazes as it thinks about oneself in relation to others. A Snoopy cartoon I saw tried to laugh it off. (“You look dreadful.” “Well, I feel inferior.” “Don’t worry, lots of people have that feeling.” “What, that they’re inferior?” “No, that you’re inferior.”) But those who experience inferiority feelings cannot laugh them off like that. They come to stay, and they do much harm.
A low self-image spawns inhibited and compulsive behavior of all sorts. Insecurity, instability, lack of self-respect, spinelessness, cynicism, quarrelsomeness, pushiness and bluster, isolation and withdrawal, passive or predatory relationships, even drug-dependence, and promiscuity, may result. And though a poor self-concept is fairly easily diagnosed, counselors can rarely do anything to change it.
Today’s jargon of self-image, self-esteem, self-worth, inferiority feelings, etc., is unknown to the Scriptures, yet they speak directly to the problem.
First, the gospel announces God’s love to all of us sinners and teaches us to measure it by setting three things together: how guilty and nasty our holy Creator sees us to be; how far He went to save us, giving His Son to taste the hell we deserved in order to secure our rescue; and the reality of full forgiveness, acceptance, restoration to fellowship and clean slate, God’s free gift through Christ to penitent believers. The gospel takes us lower in self-abhorrence and despair than inferiority feelings ever do, and raises us to an awestruck joy that those with a “good” self-image never reach. From this a changed view of ourselves must result.
However unloved and worthless we once felt, and however much self-hate and self-condemnation we once nursed, we must now see that by loving us enough to redeem us God gave us value, and by forgiving us completely He obligated us to forgive ourselves and made it sin for us not to. So the old way of thinking and feeling about ourselves must be driven out by a new one, which is to last for the rest of our lives.
Second, the gospel tells us that as believers we become new creatures in Christ. Born again, we enter a new kind of life. Dying to sin as God changes our hearts, we rise in and with Christ to a spirit-indwelt state marked by the discovery in ourselves of the inner inclinations of Jesus’ own manhood. This miracle of mercy gives us new identity, which our self-image must henceforth express. The new self-image is threefold.
In relation to God, we must see ourselves as inheritors. In antiquity the childless rich adopted adults to uphold the family name as recipients of the family fortune. As God’s adopted children who will inherit glory, our task for time and eternity is to glorify the One who thus glorifies us.
In relation to life, we must see ourselves as travellers: not permanent residents, but pilgrims going home, here to serve but not to settle down. Secular materialism is earthbound, treating this life as all there is, but Christians must look beyond earth (wonderfully good) to heaven (infinitely better), and be ready to let anything go rather than forfeit glory.
In relation to worldly pulls, sin’s promptings and Satanic prowling, we must see ourselves as fighters: soldiers of Christ who advance by battling opposition with the armor and weapons that Christ supplies.
(There is a classic book on this subject: Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; but nobody is going to read that old stuff nowadays, are they?)
Christians who see themselves in these terms are realists who know who they are, and their new self-image programs them for right living. They are prepared for losses, crosses, changes, and conflicts; they bow low, walk tall, and fight hard all the time.