Who are you? I mean, who really are you? Would your answer be, “I’m Joe, Sam, Pete, or Sally, or I’m worthless, inadequate, nobody, or something else?
How you answer this question will probably have a big impact on your life. However, as Christians, we, of all people on the face of planet earth, should have the best self-images. But first, let’s define what self-image is. It’s an awareness of our identity, or how we see ourselves.
Most people base their self-image on four issues/areas.
The first is the issue of appearance. Many people have a negative self-image because they feel that they are: too skinny; too fat; too tall; too short; too dark complected; too light complected; freckled; ears stick out or are too big; nose is crooked, too flat, too big, too narrow, or too stubby; has acne; eyes are too slanted, too big, the wrong color, or blind as a bat; too crooked of teeth, missing teeth, or discolored teeth; too big of hips; too big or thin of lips; kinky hair; straight hair; curly hair; wrong color hair; no hair; too much hair; fat legs; skinny legs; big rear; little rear; long neck; short neck; big feet; tiny feet; flat feet; small chest; no chest; funny walk; limping walk; etc. Or they only have out-of-fashion clothes or a small wardrobe. They were made fun of in grammar school, junior high, and high school and called derogatory names like: four eyes, ortho, fatso, or midget.
The second issue or area that most people base their self-image on is that of natural ability or natural talent. They might have a negative self-image because they aren’t very athletic. They can’t: swim; shoot or dribble a basketball; serve or return a volleyball; catch or throw a football or baseball; hit a tennis ball or baseball; or play ping-pong, foosball, or pool very well. They’re clumsy or uncoordinated and are always picked last at sporting events. Maybe they are not musically talented either. They either can’t sing or play an instrument at all or not very well. Maybe they are not mechanically skilled or handy. They don’t know how to fix or work on cars, trucks, motorcycles, lawn equipment, plumbing, household appliances, electrical equipment, carpentry, etc. Or, they may feel inferior because they’re not very intelligent. They do poorly on exams or are scatter-brained.
The third area that most people base their self-image on is their family background. Were they adopted or rejected or abandoned by their father or mother? Was dad or mom an alcoholic? Was dad or mom or a close relative physically, verbally, or sexually abusive? Did their parents divorce? Did they live with step-parents and step-brothers and/or step-sisters? Were they neglected because both parents worked? Did one parent die young? Were they reared in a single parent home/apartment? And did that single parent have to work, so that they were left alone a lot of the time? Were one or both of the parents super-strict in discipline or rules? Or, were one or both parents ultra-lenient, so that the kids could do anything, anywhere, at any time they wanted? Or, maybe they were born out of wedlock or late in the lives of their parents as an accidental pregnancy and thus feel really unwanted since they were an accident. Maybe they were told that they could never do anything right by their parents and so acquired a poor self-image. Or, were they molested by a family member or relative, and somehow feel it was their fault? Maybe an older brother or sister was smarter, better looking, more popular, or more talented, and so inferiority set in in the life of the younger sibling.
The fourth area that most people base their self-image on is the type of environment that they were reared in. The type of neighborhood that people grow up in might have a negative impact on them, such as those coming from a poor section of a ghetto or being reared on a military base. Some who are home schooled or went to a religious boarding school feel inferior because they couldn’t be with the majority of kids in their neighborhood or and so feel abnormal because of how society views them. Others may feel inferior because they had few material possessions or financial resources growing up, or even at present. Sometimes preacher’s or missionary’s kids feel cheated from having a normal home life and involvement in the childhood activities of the other kids in the area, and so feel inferior. Being picked on at school, work, and/or home could create a sense of inferiority as well.
So what three elements can affect a person’s self-image?
First, it’s what other’s think or say about us. Since most people formulate their views and values by what the majority of their society thinks and teaches, and since our society puts a premium on appearance; intelligence; athletic, musical, and mechanical abilities as well as material and financial resources, and since most people have a need to be liked and accepted by the people they most look up to; therefore, what others think or say about them is extremely important in the formulating of their self-image.
A second element that can affect a person’s self-image is what God says and thinks about us Christians in particular. To many Christians, what God says is very important to them.
But the third element is most important, and that is, how do we as Christians view what God and other’s think and say about us. Do we Christians formulate our values and views based on what God says in the Bible or on what people in the world teach? The answer to this question will drastically affect our self-image as Christians.
Next, let’s look at some symptoms of a person with a poor self-image. These are generalizations. It doesn’t mean that people with a poor self-image will have all these symptoms or that those with good self-images won’t ever have any of these symptoms.
The first symptom of a person with a poor self-image could be that of extremes of social interactions. The person could be withdrawn and quiet because of feeling inferior, or the person could be boisterous and the clown or life of the party due to a poor self image. The boisterous or clown-at-the-party type of individual likes and needs the attention he gets to bolster his sagging self-image, while the withdrawn individual seeks to avoid the limelight so others won’t notice him and put him down for some deficiency in his life that society holds up as valuable in order to be liked or accepted.
A second symptom of a person with a poor self-image could be extremes of emphasis on materialism. On the one hand, this person may dress sloppy because he doesn’t think he’s worth very much and, therefore, dresses accordingly. On the other hand, a person with a low self-esteem may dress very sharp to try to compensate for his/her poor self-image. Girls often do this by wearing tight, low neck-line, and/or high/short skirt-line clothes. They want to draw attention to their bodies because they don’t feel that they have any worth in themselves, and by wearing clothes that draw attention to their anatomy, they hope to get the recognition and acceptance they crave. Many African-Americans buy expensive clothes, shoes, stereos, and/or cars because they hope to gain attention and acceptance in materialism. They see their identity and self-worth in wearing new, expensive clothes with flashy colors or high-priced shoes, or gold chains, or driving sharp, expensive cars in order to compensate for their low self-esteem.
A third symptom of people with a poor self-image could be their feeling sorry for themselves. This is a subtle symptom and is very ego-centric, especially if done on a regular basis. They feel that the world is against them and that nobody likes them.
A fourth symptom is fear of trying new activities for fear of failure. Because if they do fail, it will only confirm in their own minds the personal failure they see themselves as.
A fifth symptom of those with a low self-esteem is an inability to trust God. They are bitter toward God. They subconsciously or consciously think that if God made them ugly, small, dumb, bald, clumsy, big-nosed, frail, non-athletic, nearly blind, having a speech impediment, and having alcoholic, abusive, or divorced parents, how could they trust a God who made them like this.
This kind of thinking is now getting to the source of the real problem.
A sixth symptom is resistance/rebellion against authority. Because authorities symbolize/represent God, and they are bitter toward God, their poor self-image is shown by their unsubmissive attitude toward authority. This will be evidenced by discipline problems and non-conformity to traditionalism, as seen in wild or abnormal hair styles and hair coloring, questionable tattoos, heavy metal music, gangster rap, occultic practices, and abnormal jewelry piercings.
A final symptom of people who may have low self-esteem is an inability to have deep friendships. They are afraid that if they get really close to someone and that person finds out what they are really like, then that person won’t like them and, in fact, will reject them. The irony is that though those with a poor self-image really want close friendships, they also feel unworthy of having any and so destroy/ruin potentially close friendships with destructive, negative relational habits.
So what’s the key or solution to having a positive, healthy self-esteem? Well, it’s to see yourself as God sees you and by faith apply it to your life.
So how does God see/view us as Christians?
First, God/Christ sees us as perfectly loved. As 1st John 4:19 states, “…He first loved us.” Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 8:35, 38-39 state that neither nothing nor no one “shall be able to separate us from the love of God”. And Ephesians 3:19 says that the love of Christ for us surpasses all knowledge. Though you may think God hates you because of how He made you or because of your family background or the environment you grew up in, actually, if you’re a Christian, God loves you more than you could ever know, and He has a special purpose for how He created you and what He’s allowed to happen in your life. Read Psalm 139:13-18 and Romans 8:28.
Second, God sees us as totally forgiven. As Colossians 2:13-14 tell us, God has forgiven us Christians all our sins because Jesus Christ took our punishment for us when He was crucified on the cross. Or, as Acts 10:43 says, “…everyone who believes in Him (Christ) receives forgiveness of sins.” So, believers are completely forgiven of all their sins and seen as pure/righteous by God (2 Cor. 5:21; Acts 15:9).
Third, God sees us as completely acceptable. As Romans 14:3 and Romans 15:7 state, God and Christ have accepted us to the glory of God in spite of our weaknesses. So, in spite of your sins, failures, hang-ups, past or present circumstances, lack of abilities, looks, or possessions, God and Christ accept you completely (2 Cor. 5:18, brought you into a friendship relationship), as a believer in Christ.
Fourth, God sees us Christians as no longer condemned. As Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Or, as Acts 13:38-39 tell us, everyone who believes in Christ is “freed from all things (sins).” We’ve been liberated!
Fifth, God sees us as having perfect access to God. As Ephesians 2:18 states, “…for through Him (Christ) we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” Or, as Ephesians 3:12 says, “we have boldness and confident access (to God) through faith in Him (Christ).” Or, as Hebrews 4:16 states, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace…”
Sixth, God sees us Christians as new creations. 2nd Corinthians 5:17 states, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature…” No matter what you’ve done in the past or what has been done to you, God sees you as a new person, as a child of His. As John 1:12 tells us, God gave the right to those who believe in Jesus Christ to become children of God.
And seventh, God sees you as eternally special. According to Ephesians 1:4-5, 11; 2 Timothy 1:9, and Romans 9:18-24; 8:29-32, God chose us and saved us from eternity past to be His adopted kids, and this He did because He loved us and wanted us for honorable use and to freely give us all kinds of things.
Another helpful part to the solution of having a positive, healthy self-esteem is to gain some insights into God’s plan/purpose for us Christians.
First, it’s important to know that all that God creates is very good. As Genesis 1:31 states, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” God doesn’t make any junk, and that includes you and me. In fact, in Psalm 139:13-16, we see just how intimately involved God was in creating us in our mother’s womb before we were born. It says, “For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb… I am fearfully (i.e., reverently in awe) and wonderfully made; wonderful are Thy works. My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought (made)… Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance (i.e., genetic make-up), and in Thy book they were all written…” So how God created you, from skin color and hair texture to size and skeletal shape, is all thought of as very good in the eyes of God. Your body and life were given to you by God to uniquely reflect His image (Rom. 8:29). Your body is merely the unique/special picture frame in which to glorify God with your Christ-like character (1 Cor. 6:20; Phil. 1:20; Rom. 12:1) and your doing the work/will of God (Eph. 2:10).
Second, the finished product that God is trying to produce is the real you on the inside that reflects the character of Christ. First Samuel 16:7 tells us that while people look at our outward appearance, God looks at our heart. First Peter 3:3-4 tell us that a gentle and quiet spirit in the heart of a woman is precious in God’s sight. Romans 8:29 tells us that God predestined certain people for salvation for the purpose of conforming them to the image of His Son, that is, conforming their character to Christ-likeness. Galatians 4:19 tells us that one of Paul’s goals was to help Christians have Christ formed in them, that is, that they be like Christ on the inside. Colossians 3:10-14 tell Christians to put on the new self which is being renewed according to the image of the One who created him, and to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. So it’s important to realize that it’s what’s on the inside of a person in terms of Christlikeness that God values and desires, not what’s on the outside, the externals of physical appearance.
And third, God gives us Christians infirmities and problems to help us trust Him more rather than rely on ourselves (2 Cor. 1:8-9; 12:7-10); to help us become better Christians (James 1:2-4; Rom. 5:3-4; 1 Pet. 5:10); and to prove our faith (1 Pet. 1:6-7). As Paul states in 2nd Corinthians 1:8-9, affliction came to him and Timothy so that they would not trust in themselves, but in God. And God says in 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” When Paul was weak, he could better experience that power of Christ in and through him. Then in James 1:2-4, James tells believers to consider it all joy when they encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of their faith ultimately results in Christian maturity if they patiently endure trials. Romans 5:3, 4 tell us that tribulation ultimately results in proven character (if we respond to it properly). And 1st Peter 1:6-7 state that trials that prove one’s faith will result in glorifying Christ.
So what are some helpful steps to realizing a positive self-image?
First, confess your resentment towards God as sin (1 Jn. 1:9).
Second, thank God for the way He made/created you and the circumstances in which you grew up (1 Thes. 5:18; Eph. 5:20).
Third, refuse to compare yourself to other people (Gal. 6:4; 2 Cor. 10:12).
Fourth, meditate on God’s love and perspective (Rom. 8:28-38; Psa. 139; 1 Jn. 4:10, 19; Isa. 55:8, 9; 1 Cor. 1:26-31).
Fifth, consistently stay Spirit-filled/controlled so as to stay in fellowship with God and have His enablement to live Christ-like (Eph. 5:18; 1 Jn. 5:14-15).
What are some of the beneficial results of having a positive self-image?
First, you’ll have a sense of belonging, that is, being accepted by God as His own (Jn. 1:12; Gal. 3:26) and never being abandoned by Him (Heb. 13:5-6).
Second, you’ll be motivated to love God (1 Jn. 4:19) and obey Him (1 Jn. 5:3).
Third, you’ll be able to truly love others (1 Jn. 4:21; Gal. 5:22).
And fourth, you’ll be better able to avoid moral pitfalls (e.g., Gen. 39:7-12) as your self-worth is in a good relationship with God and not in giving your body away to get needed attention and acceptance.
What are some examples of people with so-called negative stigmas who were mightily used of God?
First, there was Moses, who had some sort of speech problem, as he states in Exodus 4:10, “I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Yet God used Moses mightily because of his inner qualities of character, such as humility (Num. 12:3), faithfulness (Heb. 3:2, 5), and faith (Heb. 11:24-29).
Second, there was Elisha, who was bald (2 Ki. 2:23), yet he was a prophet of God (1 Ki. 19:16), a man of God (2 Ki. 5:8), who was greatly used of God (2 Ki. 8:4).
Third, there was Paul, whose name means small in stature, who was ugly looking at times because of some bodily illness that afflicted his eyes (Gal. 4:13-15). However, Paul was mightily used of God as the greatest apostle (2 Cor. 11:5), as he wrote most of the New Testament epistles, Christianized the Roman Empire through evangelism, and trained multiple missionaries (Acts), yet he was very humble of heart (1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:8).
In conclusion, God generally picks people with traits the world looks down upon so that He gets the greatest glory by using them in ways that confound the worldly somebodies (1 Cor. 1:26-29). So see yourself as a special creation and child of His, and thank Him for making you, you.