Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The Struggle With Self

Key Verse: "By the grace of God, I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Do you know someone who is extremely critical? Regardless of what the
situation may be, she always manufactures something negative to say.
Seemingly oblivious to her own negativity, she lives with very little joy
and peace, meandering through life with a "glass is half empty" mentality.

What is the source of such pessimism? Why can't negative people see
beyond flaws and imperfection, and, instead, focus on the positive
aspects of life?

Usually, this type of defeatist attitude results from a poor self-image.
Overly critical, negative people will oftentimes project onto others the
same feelings they have about themselves.  Sadly, this attitude of
inadequacy seeps into their spiritual lives, hindering healthy relationships
with God by causing them to hold an erroneous view of Him.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul sets the model for self-image when he humbly
states, "I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am
what I am" (15:9-10). On one hand, Paul realizes that he is a sinner, but,
at the same time, he understands that the grace of God makes him a new
creation-forgiven and in the process of being conformed to the image of

The question is-what are the characteristics of a positive self-image? A
person with a positive view of himself is aware of his strengths and
weaknesses, is open and honest, can say "I love you" without hesitation,
can voice his opinion without fear of criticism or retaliation. Most
importantly, though, he accepts himself-scars, blemishes, and
all-because God first accepted him. (1 John 4:19)

On the other hand, someone with a negative self-image doesn't trust
himself or others, questions his ability, suffers from a "persecution
complex" (i.e., "Everyone is out to get me!"), is scared to open up,
always wears a "mask"-so as not to let others in on his flaws-and
usually feels as though God determines his worth by how much good he
accomplishes, resulting in a "workaholic" mentality.

Now that we know the different outward displays of self-image, both
good and bad, what are some of the reasons for having an unhealthy view
of ourselves? 

First on the list is, of course, sin. Many times, sin causes us to fall into a
guilt trap. We look at our flaws and we ask, "How can God help me with
this sin in my life?" Guilt begins a process of self-deterioration that will
slowly wear on your mind over a long period of time.

Another reason for a negative self-image is the "overachievement trap."
The person with this mindset believes that he must prove his worth to
God through works. In order to feel worthy to God, he believes he needs
to accomplish something "great." If, and when, he reaches that milestone,
he sets the bar higher and higher until he eventually burns out.

Our unwillingness to accept criticism also hinders our ability to move
toward a positive self-image. A man with a godly view of himself decides
whose approval he wants-God's or the world's. From there he chooses
to live for the Lord and the issue is settled. As long as we live, there will
always be someone who criticizes us. We simply cannot be everything to
everybody. (1 Corinthians 9:22)

Finally, one of the most harmful causes of a poor self-image is an
erroneous view of Scripture. In Philippians 2, Paul's call of "death to self"
doesn't mean that we are to no longer value or have worth within
ourselves. Many times, this Scripture passage can be distorted, causing
some Christians to view themselves as worthless. 

Philippians 2 simply calls for us to view ourselves from God's point of
view. Paul is asking us, as believers, not to use others as a stepping-stone
for our own personal gain, while, also, striving to humble ourselves to the
point that Christ humbled Himself. This is just one small example of how
Scripture can be erroneously interpreted, resulting in a poor self-image.

So how do we develop a positive view of ourselves and leave behind all
the extra baggage that weighs us down? Here are a few biblical pointers
for overcoming a negative self-image:

--Salvation: Obviously, it all starts with accepting the forgiveness Jesus
provided at the cross. Without this, we'll never view ourselves correctly
because, from an eternal standpoint, we have nothing without Christ.
(Ephesians 1:7)

--Saturate Yourself With Scripture: The more you read God's Word with
purpose, the more you will fill your mind with God's attitude toward
you-unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance.  (Matthew 6:5-6)

--Secure Forgiveness: Ask the Lord for forgiveness for certain sins that
have harbored within your soul. (John 3:16)

--Stop Bartering With God: Don't attempt to trade good works for God's
approval. The truth is, you can't do anything to make Him love you any
more or any less. Regardless of what you may have done, God can't love
you any more than He already does-His love for you is already perfect.
(Galatians 3:13-14)

--Share yourself: The man who is the happiest walks with his heart wide
open. Allow others into your life; share your thoughts and feelings with
those around you. (Proverbs 20:7)

--Stop Thinking About The Past: Focus on what God is doing in your life
today, rather than your failures from yesterday. Live in the present, and
let God guide you as you walk into the future. (Isaiah 65:17)

Until you develop a good self-image, you'll never realize the plans the
Lord has for your life. If you've been struggling with this issue, if you find
yourself in a persistent haze of criticism and negativity, take this month's
devotional to heart and ask God to help release you from the burden of
an unhealthy self-image.

* * * *

For more information related to this devotional, visit the IN TOUCH broadcast archive for the following messages:

In Touch Ministries
P.O. Box 7900
Atlanta, GA 30357

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