It is established truth among counselors that my self-image, how I see myself, is an immensely important factor in whether or not I live a happy, productive, fulfilling, and satisfying life. The consensus is that thinking positively about myself rather than negatively is a huge step toward achieving that goal.
A generation ago, a very popular psychology book designed for the general populace that discussed this issue was I’m OK, You’re OK. The author used a technique called transactional analysis to help the reader understand why, and then determine how, he reacts to the circumstances in which he finds myself. The title described perfectly the theme of the book: A positive view of myself, and those around me, helps me to successfully meet those circumstances and ultimately makes for happiness and contentment.
Based on this thesis, the present generation has introduced “participation trophies,” “No Child Left Behind” with its automatic grade promotion, and other supposed ways that eliminate, or at least mitigate, any sense of failure an individual child may have. The goal is that he feels “OK” with himself even though he may have actually not learned, progressed or achieved at all.
I am convinced that there is a much more biblical and therefore a more successful way to view myself other than either positively or negatively. Those evaluations are necessarily based on the temporary, changing, undefined meaning of “positive” and “negative.” What does it even mean for me to be either “OK” or “not OK?“ I believe that a biblical self-image, the way I think of myself, is neither a positive one, nor a negative one but what I will call an authentic one.
Unfortunately, an authentic, biblical self-image is not well-known or understood in counselling circles—not only in secular ones, but with Christian counselors as well. What does an authentic approach to seeing myself mean?
The Bible is full of admonitions for a man “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3), “Do not be wise in your own opinion” (Romans 12:16), “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself,” therefore imitating Jesus, who “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant . . . humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:3-8).
What is this?! It is as if God is telling me not to pursue a positive self-image—to see others and not myself as worthy of esteem; to not consider myself to be wise; to not see myself as better than those around me; to not pursue a good reputation.
How can this be? At the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, I learned, in Adam, to value being “good” and not “evil” in whatever law system I have chosen to follow—either God’s law, Sharia law, the law of the gang to which I may belong, or the law of no law at all.
Since that fateful day, those of us who are now Christians have striven, many of us subconsciously, to obey God’s law in order to be good, because wanting to succeed, achieve, be wise, i.e.—be “good,” is in our spiritual DNA. Why do these verses in the Bible seem to tell me that being “good” is not the goal after all?
It is because God, in order to bring me to an authentic view of who I am, must first destroy that way of thinking that I learned at the Tree. He says that I am on a hopeless mission by trying to be “good.” As Paul writes in Romans 3:10-18, quoting the Old Testament, he describes who I am perfectly: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18).
According to the Apostle Paul, this is the condition of all mankind, every single one of us, in our hearts! Jew or Gentile, Christian or non-Christian, the first step in an authentic self image is realizing that while God demands that I be “good,” or “holy” in His law (“You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” – Leviticus 11:45), because of the fall, in my heart, I am helpless to obey. In my heart, Romans 3:10-18 describes me perfectly. The problem is not with God’s command to be holy in Leviticus 11; the problem lies completely with me.
So, Part A of an authentic self image is to realize and embrace Paul’s analysis of me, even today as a 50-year believer, still living in this “body of corruption,” as Paul calls this old body in which I live. Shockingly, an authentic self-image demands that I never forget this supremely negative but absolutely essential truth, because without A there can be no Part B.
Part B is that Jesus only saves wicked sinners, described in Romans 3. Without embracing Authentic Self-image, Part A fully, I will never experience Authentic Self-image, part B—eternal, full and free forgiveness of my sins. He did not come to save the mostly “righteous;” who have only made a few “mistakes.” He saves only down and dirty sinners who remain so. He does not save the “good person” who has finally gotten it together because of a positive self image.
Near the end of his life, Paul had seen this clearly. May we join him in his understanding of an authentic self image, both Part A and Part B: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15).