Does God want you to improve your self-image?
If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
~ Galatians 6:3
Recently a Christian teaching on self-esteem has become popular. It is not biblical, although it purports to be.
In fact, the positive self-image idea comes from the personal-development movement and is founded in humanistic psychology. This teaching, specially adapted for the church, tries to create a scriptural basis for Christian self-esteem out of the words of Jesus. He taught that we must love others as we love ourselves [Matthew 22:37-39].
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”×
The reasoning then goes that we cannot love others unless we first love ourselves. It is implied that the more we love ourselves, or have a positive confident image of ourselves, the greater capacity we will have to love others.
Here is the problem: It brings the focus on us, rather than on Jesus.
The Bible says that every human being is overflowing with evil [Romans 3:10-12].
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”×
The problem, according to the Bible, is not that we do not love ourselves
If you read the previously quoted verse from Romans you will see that the Bible says that we have all become worthless. Note that it does not say that some have become worthless. It says that we have all become worthless. Note that it does not say that, somehow, we should change our perception of ourselves so that we do not think of ourselves as worthless. (I find this as confronting as you do, but please resist the temptation to be annoyed with me. These are not my words and they are not my interpretation. They are the words of Scripture. Pretending they are not there is not helpful. Best to deal with them, since God gives them to help us to grow in the Spirit.)
The problem, according to the Bible, is not that we do not love ourselves [Ephesians 5:29].
After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it ...×
The problem is that we love ourselves too much. It is the root of sin. We too easily place ourselves and our desires ahead of God and of the needs of others.
The Bible speaks from an assumption that we already love ourselves [Ephesians 5:33].
However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself ...×
The Bible does not endorse this attitude. It simply recognises that it is so.
Sin entered humankind when Adam and Eve disobeyed in the Garden of Eden. God’s plan of redemption was instituted to rescue us from the realm of darkness and bring us into His light. In that light we confess that He is right and we are wrong, that we are sinful and selfish, and that we need His salvation through faith in Christ.
We need to turn to the cross of Christ and rise above our self-absorption
Pride manifests itself in many ways – victimhood, self-pity and attention-seeking are manifestations of self-absorption and self-love. Such people do not need to have this inward-looking focus reinforced. They need to turn to the cross of Christ to receive forgiveness and to be empowered by God to rise above a self-absorbed lifestyle.
As a Christian you are loved by God, but you are not “special”. You are loved in spite of your sinfulness. You are loved because of His grace and not because you merit love in any way [Romans 3:23; 2 Timothy 1:9].
... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God ...
2 Timothy 1:9
God ... has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.×
Christians are to find their identity not in an improved self-image but in Christ. We are not worthy and we never will be. But we are forgiven, accepted and loved, not because of what we do, but through faith in what Jesus has done. The focus is on Christ, and His work of redemption, and His glory.
Psst! Here is a story about Jesus that shows that contemporary teaching about a positive self-image is the opposite of a life of faith ...
A good self-image?
In Matthew 15:21-28 we read that a Canaanite woman begged Jesus to deliver her daughter from demons. When Jesus resisted her she equated herself with a dog searching for scraps. How’s that for a poor self-image!?
When Jesus heard her words, He said she had great faith and healed her child accordingly.×
Psst again! In case I haven’t convinced you yet, here’s another story that Jesus told ...[Luke 18:10-14]
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.×
Psst yet again! Here is another. Jesus equates the centurion’s declaration that he is not deserving with “great faith”. ... [Matthew 8:5-10]
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”
Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have You come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, He was astonished and said to those following Him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”×