Managing Editor: David Sper
Cover Illustration: Stan Myers
©1988 RBC Ministries--Grand Rapids, MI 49555 Printed in USA
How can I fill that deep, aching emptiness within? And if God is the answer, why do so many of us who believe in Him still struggle with issues of self-acceptance, inferiority, and personal inadequacy?
We need answers to these questions. We desperately need to learn to see ourselves from the Lord's point of view. We need to be able to see that in His hands all of us really do have something to give, not just something to get or to prove.
This booklet was born out of the personal struggle of many hurting people and through the input and evaluation of our staff. Special thanks are due to Ron Chadwick and Tim Jackson for their help.
Martin R. De Haan II, president of RBC Ministries.
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Let me guess. You don't really want to be someone else. That's not what you long for. What you really want is just to be able to feel good about yourself. You'd like to believe that your life has significance. You want to be loved and accepted by someone who is important to you. You'd like to be able to do something that gives you a sense of self-respect.
But as it is, you are hounded by self-doubt, and you don't think it's all in your own head. You are sensitive to the looks and insults that others send your way. You're afraid they just tolerate you, and that if they had a chance they'd choose to do without you. You doubt you'd be missed.
You know what you're really like inside. You know what you see when you look in the mirror. And if you don't like what you see, how could anyone else? You feel that you'll have to look better or do better before others will show you the kind of love that can fill that gnawing, aching feeling of emptiness that has such a grip on your soul.
What you need to realize, however, is that even if you were a "perfect 10" in every way, you still couldn't get people to fill that emptiness inside you. If you were strikingly attractive, enormously wealthy, and notably gifted, you would only wonder whether people just wanted to be with you for your looks, your reputation, or your money. If you were a respected artist, athlete, or authority on angels, you would worry about losing "the gift" that had won you such fragile recognition and affection.
Why does it work that way? Why is personal satisfaction so hard to find? It is because we habitually look for it in all the wrong places. We weren't made primarily to feel good about ourselves. Neither were we designed primarily to be loved by other people. We were made first of all for a relationship with God. We were meant to feel gratitude deep within our souls as a result of knowing that we have been accepted by Him, knowing that we are objects of His inexpressible, immeasurable love, and knowing that with His help we can live a meaningful life.
But let's not go too fast. Let's back up and take a closer look at the problem. Let's try to get a feel for the factors that make the pursuit of self-esteem such an important and difficult subject. Let's also pause here to ask the Lord to help us to see what He sees in us. Let's ask for the courage and ability to trust Him in this very sensitive and painful area of our lives. Let's believe that He can help us not merely to feel better about ourselves but to develop an accurate self-image that enables us to see ourselves the way He does.
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Self-esteem, self-worth, self-image, and self-acceptance are all terms used to describe the way we think and feel about ourselves. They suggest the fact that we all have a certain way of looking at ourselves that causes us to feel adequate or inadequate, likable or unlikable, lovable or unlovable, valuable or worthless.
The way we feel about ourselves depends largely on our response to the "feedback" we have gotten from the important people in our lives. If these "significant others" have helped us to feel important and loved, we will be inclined to have a positive self-image. If they have given us reason to feel inadequate and unneeded, then we are apt to find ourselves thinking:
Bad self-esteem is a curse. More and more people are realizing that if you feel like "junk," you'll act like "junk." If you think poorly of yourself, you will tend to act poorly. If you have a poor image of yourself, you will be inclined to back away from relationships and challenges. If you don't see yourself as having anything to offer, then chances are that you will prove yourself right. Low self-esteem is like self-fulfilling prophecy. But if that is the case for you, don't give up yet.
Good self-esteem is a possibility. It is if you are willing to let God be the most significant person in your life--if you are willing to let Him show you who you are, who He made you to be, and what you can be with His help. Good self-esteem is possible if you are willing to accept the fact that what God thinks of you is far more important than what you think of yourself.
You will find that His acceptance of you will help you to accept yourself. You will then be in a better position to accept others. You won't be as afraid of their negative responses. You will be more concerned about loving them than you are in protecting yourself and getting their approval. Then, and only then, will you be able to feel good about who you are and what you are doing (Gal. 6:1-4).
The best self-esteem must be accurate and appropriate. It's not a self-confidence that says:
Instead it says, with God's help I can be what He made me to be. It follows Paul's words in Romans 12:3, where he wrote, "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith."
An excessively high view of ourselves is just as bad as a low self-image. It is both self-deceiving and destructive. It shows itself in various ways. It can cause us to make unfair demands of others. It can lead us to believe that we have the strength to face problems on our own. It can drive us to a stubborn refusal to accept what God says as more important than what we or others think.
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Low self-esteem is often the result of a bad parent-child relationship. This should not surprise us. Moses warned that children would suffer for the sins of their fathers (Ex. 20:5). Today, the personal histories of people who as children were exposed to parental materialism, alcoholism, drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse, adultery, and divorce do more than prove the point. As resilient and forgiving as children are, they do not easily escape the memories of a selfish parent who through neglect, abuse, or indulgence ignored their real needs. People who feel rejection in their early years often struggle for the rest of their lives trying to feel good about themselves.
What begins in our parents continues in us. Having been hurt deeply, we may consciously or unconsciously do all kinds of things just to avoid being hurt again. It is common for people who fear further rejection to retreat into the darkness of depression, chemical dependency, sexual promiscuity, or neurotic fears. Some run from the emotional intimacy of meaningful relationships for fear of being rejected again. In each case, however, the pain of running causes them to feel worse about themselves. Their self-esteem sinks lower and lower. They feel worse and act worse. Then they feel worse yet about what they've done.
But what is the solution? Ironically, the Bible shows that sometimes we may need to feel worse about ourselves before we can feel better.
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There are certain times when we shouldn't feel good about ourselves. The Bible says that there are times to feel bad (James 4:7-10) just as there are times to feel good (Gal. 6:4). More significantly, we are not only to love ourselves, but we are also to hate some of the things in ourselves.
To develop an accurate self-image, we need to make sure that it lines up with God's point of view rather than with a merely human measurement. That's what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. . . . For it is not the man who commends himself who is approved, but the man whom the Lord commends" (2 Cor. 10:12,18 NIV).
Self-image by the measure of man. Today's "enlightened" man says, "You're special. You deserve the very best. Love yourself. Be yourself. Trust yourself and follow your own heart. Be all that you can be. Look after yourself; because if you don't, no one else will."
Is all of that wrong? No. There's a lot of truth in human approaches to self-image. What is wrong, though, is an approach that begins and ends with man. By starting and ending with himself, man actually makes himself into his own god.
From a self-esteem point of view, that may seem healthy. If man sees himself as an extension of God with unlimited potential, he can be anything he wants to be. The sky is the limit. But it won't end well. Whenever man assumes himself to be God, all of his conclusions are wrong. All attempts at self-love, self-respect, self-acceptance, and self-realization end up being nothing more than a nice but short-lived idea.
Self-image by the measure of God. The Lord's approach is quite different. With our ultimate well-being in view, the New Testament gives us reason (1) to love ourselves, which it says comes naturally, (2) to hate ourselves, and (3) to die to ourselves.
Before jumping to a wrong conclusion, let's take a look at how sensitive and helpful this approach to self-image is. At first it will seem to do exactly the opposite of what your self-esteem needs. But that's because the Lord sees things much more clearly than we do. He loves us with a love that does far more than mask our symptoms. He gets right to the root of our self-image problem, diagnoses it, and then shows us how much better off we will be in the long run if we trust Him.
Loving ourselves. The Bible assumes that we will love ourselves. When Jesus said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:39), He was assuming something that automatically happens. Paul later alluded to the same fact while giving marital counsel. He wrote, "So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church" (Eph. 5:28,29).
Our own experience will bear this out. We naturally look after our bodies by feeding, clothing, and protecting them. We look after our own rights and are inclined to become frustrated or angry if others try to take advantage of us. We naturally care for ourselves so much, in fact, that when we don't measure up to either our own expectations or those of others, we can get very upset. We begin to hate those things that make us feel so bad.
What is important, however, is to realize that the only reason we despise our appearance or lack of abilities is that we love ourselves. If we didn't, we wouldn't care what we looked like; we wouldn't care what others thought of us; we wouldn't care whether we were hurting inside; we wouldn't spend time with the image we see in the mirror. If we didn't love ourselves, we wouldn't even entertain thoughts of whether we'd be better off dead. But now comes the real mind-stretcher. According to the Bible, if you really love yourself, you will also hate yourself.
Hating ourselves. What does the Bible say about hating ourselves? God doesn't tell us to hate our big ears, crooked nose, or short legs. He doesn't ask us to focus our contempt on complexion, unmanageable hair, or even a troubling case of clumsiness. What He wants us to despise is something far more serious and dangerous to our health--the stubborn self-centeredness of our fallen human nature. Paul recognized this internal tendency when he wrote:
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Rom. 7:21-24 NIV).
Now this text might seem like a poor choice for a discussion on self-esteem. But remember, the Lord doesn't approach things the way we do. Yet, His approach is understandable. He is like the builder who has to tear down a condemned building before he can put up a new house on the same plot of land. He is like the coach who finds it necessary to tear down his players' self-confidence before they are willing to play his kind of ball. In a similar way, the Lord finds it necessary to show us that we really don't have a reason to feel good about ourselves as long as we are determined to live for ourselves and rely on ourselves. We need to hate this tendency so much that we, like Paul, will cry out to God for deliverance from it.
Dying to ourselves. What does the Bible mean when it tells us to die to ourselves? It sounds all wrong--to gain self-esteem by dying to ourselves! But it's true. Jesus said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26,27). We must be willing to put Jesus Christ ahead of every human relationship--even ahead of our own life (see John 12:25). We must die to our selfish pride, our self-motivated plans, and our self-centered relationships. Just as a seed must die to produce a plant, just as Christ had to die to provide salvation, so we must die to ourselves before we can live fulfilled and fruitful lives.
All of this may sound too severe, but only when we forget that anything that competes with God for control of our lives deserves to be hated and "put to death." We were made to serve Him. We were created to feel good--to feel great--about the privilege of being His servant. We are also "wired" so that we will feel empty and unfulfilled if we try to serve anyone or anything other than God Himself (see Eccl. 12:9-14).
If that is true, then maybe the feeling of low self- esteem is one of the best things that could happen to people. Without that flashing red light within, they might go a lot further before realizing they are on the wrong track. Maybe we should be thanking God for the warning pains of a low self-image.
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At this point it should be apparent that God wants us to feel good about ourselves. But He wants it to be on His terms, not ours. That might seem like bad news. But it isn't. We were made to have a self-image based on the Lord's values. Anything less, anything that derives its worth from our own opinions, or the opinions of others, is bound to reflect strength of clay rather than strength of character. Values of clay will cause us to be conformed to the mold of those around us. Values of character, on the other hand, are rooted in God and will enable us to rise above our circumstances and our own personal feelings. Values of character will help us to see ourselves from the Lord's point of view.
Values by the measure of man. Do the things we live for take the shape of the world around us? Does our self-image come from a mold carved out of values variously described as:
If those are our values, we are in trouble. Regardless of how they are described, they are superficial, short-lived, and extremely misleading. Your net worth is not equal to the sum total of your appearance, your abilities, or your affluence.
It's an awful lie that tempts you to feel bad about yourself because you don't compare well with others when it comes to beauty, brains, bucks, or brawn. It's a lie of unbelievable proportions that causes us to think that real value is found in a handsome face, a well-dressed body, a quick mind, or a fat bank account.
Yet the children of the world are nurtured or neglected, pampered or put off, largely on the basis of the bone structure and fat deposits of their bodies, the alertness of their minds, or the social status of their parents. Children are raised to feel good or bad about themselves, depending on how they fit into the selfish, ever-changing mold of the world around them.
Does this mean we should always despise these other values. No, they have their place. We should cultivate and appreciate wealth, appearance, ability, and influence whenever higher values show us that it is appropriate to do so. We should do the best we can with what the Lord has given us. Being a well-groomed, color-coordinated person has its place. And in a limited sense, this can help us to feel better about ourselves.
But when it comes to the real basis of self-esteem, we need to build on the truth of what the Lord said to the prophet Samuel while showing him the next king of Israel. Of one "hot prospect" the Lord said, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7).
However, after recording the importance of God's "inner view," the same chapter describes David, the Lord's anointed, as being "ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking" (1 Sam. 16:12). Apparently, the Lord recognizes the practical significance of human considerations while making it plain that His eye is on the heart.
Then there was Jeremiah the prophet. He declared to his decadent, dying world, "Thus says the Lord: 'Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord ' " (Jer. 9:23,24).
Values by the measure of God. Are we driven by the dollar or by our integrity? Are we obsessed with looking good or in doing good? Are we primarily concerned with what we can get out of others or what we can give? Do we merely reflect our circumstances or do we rise above our circumstances as people of inner direction, purpose, and principle? Character makes an enormous difference. But the character that is developed within us by God makes the greatest difference of all.
The Bible gives us a whole different set of values than those the world lives for. Also called "the fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22,23), they have their origin in God Himself and include:
This inner-life character (the "fruit of the Spirit"), however, doesn't just happen. It grows within us only as we consciously surrender to the Lord. It becomes ours after we have taken three steps: (1) We give up our own rights, trusting God for whatever He wants to do with us. (2) We resist social pressure to conform to materialistic values. (3) We renew our minds with the words and thoughts of God. The goal is reached when we end up with a self-image that is consistent with what the Lord thinks of us.
Note how those elements occur in the following inspired words of the apostle Paul:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you [step1] present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And [step 2] do not be conformed to this world, but [step 3] be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, [result] not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith (Rom. 12:1-3).
Paul went on to describe the results of this surrender (12:4-21). His words show that anyone who lives according to these principles has reason to feel good about himself and about what he is doing.
Try it. Surrender to the Lord and accept His values. Tell Him you want more than anything else in the world to be His servant. Ask Him to use you in any way that pleases Him. Then, because of the priority He puts on love, look for ways to give attention, affection, and honor to others (vv.9,10). Knowing the importance He puts on perseverance, be ready to endure hardship and insult as a result of your desire to serve Him diligently (vv.11-14). Recognizing the value He puts on people, respond sensitively to the emotions of others. Laugh with those who laugh, cry with those who cry (v.15). Be willing to associate with those who seem to be "beneath your dignity" (v.16). Live peacefully. Avoid vindictiveness. Overcome evil with good (vv.17-21). See if you don't feel great about the kind of person God enables you to be. See if you don't look great clothed in His values.
Just be patient with yourself. This kind of spiritual growth is a process and a struggle. You will fail often. But if you have your values straight, you will be on the road to a kind of self-respect that money could never buy.
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As we saw earlier, the right approach to self-esteem is a two-sided coin. One side should cause us to feel very good about ourselves. The other side should cause us to feel very bad. If we try to emphasize either side to the neglect of the other, we end up with a self-image that falls short of reality. It is essential that we see ourselves as having both dignity and depravity. Yet the human viewpoint underestimates the size of our problem.
Human nature by the measure of man. According to many social scientists, man isn't born bad. He's ruined by his environment. Even though human selfishness and greed are legendary, the tendency is to see them as being written by the chalk of social pressure on what begins as the empty blackboard of innocence. According to the human perspective, we all begin with a clean slate. Human nature is amoral until it begins to interact with society.
There seems to be a lot of sense in this approach to human nature. The only problem is that it doesn't take into consideration the original design and present evaluation by the Creator Himself.
Human nature by the measure of God. Here we find everything but neutrality. Here we find a description of human nature that is at once far more complimentary and far more critical than you will find in any social science textbook. Let's look at man's dignity as the crown of creation and then at his total depravity as a fallen creature.
Human Dignity. According to the Bible, human nature carries with it a great sense of dignity. We are made in the image of God. That sets us apart. Crows, crocodiles, and crickets were made by Him and for Him. But they were not made with a capacity to know, enjoy, obey, and talk to God. That has been reserved for us. We have been made in His image--every one of us. We are far more valuable, therefore, than the family dog (even if he gets treated better sometimes), far more valuable than a river or an ocean or a mountain, and far more valuable than a billion thousand-dollar bills. In fact, because of the designer label we bear, and because of what we have been made for, it would be impossible for even the least of us to begin to estimate our eternal worth.
David recognized this when he prayed:
For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them (Ps. 139:13-16).
Do you sense the impact this can have on our self- image? We exist with God's full knowledge. He is the One who formed us in our mother's womb. That means we are infinitely better than a Picasso, a Rembrandt, a Rolls Royce, or a Calvin Klein. We have been personally designed by the infinite Creator of the universe.
We may not have the appearance or abilities we'd like to have. But just remember, we don't exist for ourselves. God has made us for Himself. Whether we're good-looking or not, whether we're rich or poor, whether we're African, Asian, or American, God has made us to know, honor, and enjoy Him forever. But there's a problem.
Human Depravity. Mankind forgets the purpose for which he was created. Instead of living for God, we live for ourselves in stubborn self-centeredness. But we pay dearly for it. We end up feeling good about the bad things and bad about the good things. We are attracted to sexual perversion and material extravagance. We resort to aggressive, angry ways of dealing with people. We each take our turn proving what the Bible says about human nature (Rom. 1-3). By the pattern of our own words and actions we show that evil has made its home in our house (Rom. 7). It clings like burrs and it sticks to our thoughts, motives, and deepest desires.
Does it touch our self-image? Like a fish touches water! It's hard to feel good about ourselves when we're living so badly. Something deep within let's us know we were made for better, not for worse. Yet, not surprisingly, the twisted nature within gets in the way of the solution.
Stubborn self-reliance, one of the symptoms of our depravity, has a way of making our low self- esteem worse. With subtle, self-centered demands, we signal to the world that we don't like what is happening to us. We think we deserve better. We are angry that we can't have the appearance or abilities or relationships or circumstances that others have. We don't like ourselves the way we are. We want better. We think we need our self-esteem pumped up. What we don't realize is that our depravity has deceived us. We don't realize that what we thought was low self-esteem was actually wounded pride. Think of it. Because of our depravity, what looks like a low self-image could be sinful pride in disguise. Depravity keeps us from seeing our real problem.
The Example of Bill. Bill is convinced that the source of all his problems is a terrible self-image. His feeling is understandable. Bill was abused as a child--emotionally, verbally, physically, and sexually. He was immersed in the depravity of a family so captured by its own problems that there was nothing left for Bill but self-indulgence and anger. As a result, Bill has many reasons for his low self-image.
But there is one fact that Bill doesn't see. His poor self-image is, at this point, something that he is hiding behind. Because he was treated so poorly as a child, because he was injured so severely by the rejection of the most important people in his life, he's not about to expose himself to the possibility of further pain and rejection.
Bill believes in God, and he knows he should be more interested in others, more loving, and more involved in helping others. He knows it is wrong to hide in the shell of his own insecurities. But at this point, he is choosing not to take the risk of further failure and rejection.
But is that depravity? Is it depraved to say in effect, "God, I can't trust You. I can't risk further rejection. If I try to love like You want me to and trust You to protect me and it doesn't work, I don't think I could handle that. I know I am supposed to find my security in You, Lord. But to be honest, I can't risk it. I have to protect myself. I can't afford to put myself in a place of being rejected again"? Bill's feelings are understandable. But it is also an example of the depraved nature that keeps us from trusting the only One who is in a position to lift us out of our painful, low self-image.
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The ultimate answer for our depravity and low self-esteem is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In death, He took the punishment for everything we should feel bad about. In resurrection, He showed His power to overcome our worst enemy and bring each of us to our ultimate potential. What a story! The ultimate kind of prisoner exchange. The ultimate kind of federal protection program. First, He took our place on an executioner's cross. Then, after destroying everything that could hurt us, He provided us with a wonderful exchange: our guilt for His pardon, our weakness for His strength, our depravity for His goodness. If we will just admit our guilt and trust Him, He will give us a new identity, a new past, a new address, and a new profession. In short, He offers us a whole new life, and with it comes a new self-image.
We must realize, however, that our new self-image will be very different from that of the confident, aggressive, successful person who doesn't know God. The difference is based on the answer to the question: Who is the most significant person in my life?
The most significant person by the measure of man. According to human thinking, you must see yourself as the most significant person in your life. The measure of man says, "The answer lies within you. You must reach deep down within yourself for the resources necessary to rise above the rejections, the insults, the lack of fairness. You can do it. Others have, you can to. You can be anything you want to be. Dream it. Believe it. Achieve it. You just need to believe in yourself, trust yourself, and depend on yourself. Don't wait for anyone else. You are number one. Don't stand at the end of the line. Push ahead. Make your own breaks. Don't wait for an invitation. Don't be a doormat. Don't settle for anything less than your dreams. You deserve it. You have it coming to you. You are the most important person in your life."
Now it's true that we all need to have the courage and strength of will to change things. But even that is not the answer. There is a better way.
The most significant person by the measure of God. By God's standards, the most important person in your life is not you, but Jesus Christ, God's Son. He is the one who can give you the most accurate self-image and the highest kind of self-esteem. Because of what Christ has done for you, and because of what He is willing and able to do through you, you can feel not just good about yourself but wonderful! (see Eph. 3:14-21).
In Christ we have a position that is secure. Once we have trusted Christ as Savior, we have an irreversible relationship with Him. We are in Him. He is in us. We have a new past--we died in Christ, were buried with Him, and rose from the dead in Him (Rom. 6:1-14). We have a new future (Col. 3:1-4). We have a new identity: we are children of God (1 John 5:1) and inheritors of everything God has to give (Rom. 8:32).
It may sound too good to be true. But on the authority of the Bible it's a fact. Christ fought and won a battle that we never could have fought or won on our own. That makes Him our Savior, our Lord, our life, our forgiveness, our hope, our protection, our source of everything we could ever ask for--and more. That makes Him infinitely and eternally more important and more significant than any other person in our life. That gives us every reason to trust what He says about us.
Sure that's hard to accept. Everything inside you says that you'd rather have your father's approval, your mother's affection, your children's respect, your mate's unconditional love. But is that really the answer? How significant are they compared to the One who designed you and then died for you?
"But," you say, "that all seems so theoretical, so ethereal, so far off." Then let's start nearer home. Let's say that you aren't much to look at. You come from a family where your father was an alcoholic, your mother ran around, and your older brothers and sisters seemed intent on making your life miserable. Let's say you're poor, you're emotionally unstable, and you're taking tranquilizers just to help you get along. What can Christ do for you in that condition? Well, if you've trusted Him as your Savior, then open a window. Let some fresh air in. Don't confine your reality to the stuffy air of your limited circumstances. Life is bigger than that. God is bigger than that. Eternity is far bigger than that. Let your heart be captured by the most important person in your life. Believe Him when He tells you that things are going to get better for you. Believe Him when He tells you that the best is yet ahead! Trust the best authority in the world when it tells you that in Christ, you have:
Because of our position in Christ, our relationship with Him, and our position in His family, His love never has to be in doubt. Yet there is much more. This position in Christ becomes a basis not only for a new self-image but also for a whole new way of life. It provides a foundation for new attitudes and a new approach to relationships. When practiced, it gives us so much to feel good about and to be thankful for.
In Christ we have a challenge for living. In the first two chapters of Colossians, Paul wrote about our position in Christ and all the riches that are ours in Him. Paul then challenged us to live a life in keeping with our position. He wrote, "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).
We need to think of ourselves as the people God says we are. We need to show that what He says about us is far more important than what anyone else says or doesn't say about us (Eph. 4:17-32).
This doesn't happen automatically. It happens only as we continually renew our minds with the Word of God, as we consciously think about who we are in Christ, and as we expectantly wait on the Lord for His ability to be and do everything He wants us to be and do (2 Cor. 3:5; Phil. 4:10-13).
It doesn't happen overnight. Learning to practice our position in Christ is a process. It's a struggle. It's a long walk that gives us one opportunity after another to believe or not believe what the Lord says about us. It's our choice. Either we believe what He says about our position in Christ, or we believe instead what our feelings, friends, enemies, or circumstances say.
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It is often said that what the mind can believe, the mind can achieve. Just as often, we hear it said that we can be anything we want to be. We just have to believe in ourselves. We just have to overcome those obstacles to self-esteem that can keep us from realizing our dreams. But allowing for the importance of a positive mental attitude, and allowing for the importance of being able to dream and "see things which are not, as though they were," much of this thinking is not true. It is just self-hype.
On the other hand, the person who has a relationship to Christ has an enormous basis for good self-esteem. That person can say, "As I walk with Christ and surrender to Him, I can by His Spirit be anything He wants me to be. I can do anything He wants me to do. I can say anything He wants me to say. As I depend on Him for my life, I can overcome obstacles that He wants me to overcome. I can resist temptation and avoid pitfalls."
What this also recognizes, however, is that it is just as true that we will not be able to do anything that the Lord doesn't permit us to do. The sky is not the limit--the will of God is. We no more have tomorrow in our back pocket than we do the next 20 years.
The need, then, is for the right kind of humility--the kind of rightmindedness that, ironically, can give us the kind of confidence that will enable us to do anything God wants us to do!
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The following questions are listed here for you to use in teaching or discipling others. We suggest that these questions be discussed prior to studying a specific section--as preview questions.
How Should I Feel About Myself?
What Are My Values?
What Is the Measure of My Human Nature?
Who Is the Most Significant Person in My Life?
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Maybe the best way to close is with the comments of a person who has found help in this approach to self-esteem. In response to an article on self-esteem that first appeared in an RBC newsletter, he wrote:
"Your article told me so much more about the origins of my lifelong problem than anything I have ever read! I have searched books on psychology and talked to numerous people. And I've had psychology courses in college. Now, for the first time ever, I have somewhere to begin in attempting to unravel my problems.
"I have always felt cursed with oversensitivity, taking offense too easily. I have seen what that has done to others--especially my own dad and mom--and I really didn't want to pass this on to my own family (although to some extent, I guess I already have).
"Having given my life to the Lord and recommitting myself to His loving care just a year ago, I've had less of a problem with low self-esteem because I've been trying to live more for Him and less for me. Surrender has been the guiding principle of my life since last November. But I would be guilty of telling a lie if I said my problems with self were gone! I still struggle with it. The difference now is the hope I feel in my Savior. I have asked Him to be the Master of my life, to guide my steps, to mold me into the new creature He wants me to be. And He's doing it!
"It may be a longer process than I want it to be, but the Lord knows what I need, and when I can use it--like your article on self-esteem. I keep returning to it and rediscovering truths in it. It's so difficult to die to self--to 'deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.' I choke sometimes on my pride. It wells up in my throat and I want to fight, to swear, to yell, to cry when I feel wronged by another. But I say instead, 'Thank you, Lord. I praise You for sending this. I know that "all things work together for good to those who love God." '
"It's working. Lately the Lord has taken what started out to be terrible days for me and turned them completely around so that I feel a warm, loving glow within, and am smiling and thinking of others rather than myself.
"Praise the Lord! These are far greater miracles to me than telling a lame man to rise, take up his bed, and walk! Thank you, Lord!"
I pray that the experience of this one person will be repeated in all of us as we discover what it means to trust the counsel, love, and power of the most significant Person in life.
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It has been said that the best way to get rid of an enemy is to make him your friend. This is true of the things that seem to threaten your self-image. They can be the means by which you discover your real purpose, power, and potential.
How do you make these "enemies" your friends? Let them do for you what self-confidence, self-sufficiency, and self-satisfaction could never do. Let your weakness push you to dependence on God. He alone can give you every good and every lasting reason to feel good about yourself.
Don't let the humbling process frighten you. The results of acknowledging that you have been on the wrong path will far outweigh any temporary pain of confession. You will soon find great relief as a result of admitting to God that you have sinned against Him by banking on the world's values. Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Then, confess Jesus Christ as your Designer, your Lord, and your Savior. Trust Him to save you on the basis of the payment for sin He made on the cross. Accept the fact that when He died, He died for you. When He rose from the dead, He rose to make His life available to all who would believe.
This is the first step to a new beginning. It is God's answer for a new birth, a new identity, a new acceptance, and a new potential. And it's found in Christ.