[Pressure Points Series]
Text: Genesis 1v26-31; 2 Corinthians 3v7-18.
ILLUST: “I’m no good. I can’t do anything. Noboby loves me everybody hates me, I think I’ll go and eat worms”
“I’m a pretty nice person really even if I say so myself. There’s not much I can’t do if I put my mind to it.
There are few people, if any who have a correct view of themselves. Some think they are wonderful, when they clearly are not. Others think themselves to be useless and are not.
Numerous books, written by countless psychologists, deal with the issue of self-image. Without going into all the detailed theories they expound, a simple definition is really “The way a person sees him/herself” “What is my opinion of myself?”
Do you ever wake up in the morning and think to yourself, “I don’t really like myself” Why do I feel like a failure and a fraud?”
For myself, and certainly for most people in my experience, we tend to think more negatively about ourselves rather that positively. Self image is not something static. We don’t suddenly arrived at a view of ourselves – and that’s it! How I feel about myself changes from day to day – sometimes from minute to minute. Sometimes I don;t even know how I feel!!
1. How does a “Self Image” develop?
Am I born with a self image? Does my upbringing influence the way I think about myself? Is my self-perception a result of some trauma or traumas in my life?
If as a child I was constantly told that I was an idiot do I therefore grow up thinking I am an idiot?
If I am told that I am wonderful do I then think too highly of myself?
Again there are numerous theories about how “Self Image” develops. I am no psychologist but it certainly seems true that our self image develops as a result of our interaction with other people.
Every one has a desire to be appreciated and loved and praised. We all desire to be loved and valued for who we are.
As we have grown up we have all had to face the fact the we are not treated the way the we want to be.
Some have simply been ignored or treated with indifference.
Some have been give a place of importance and pampered but in a way that makes us feel obliged and indebted to others.
Some have been taken advantage of and been used and abused [possibly even sexually].
Some have been ridiculed.
ALL of these things have a profound effect on how we see ourselves.
These things also hurt us; so to avoid being hurt we develop rules by which to live to protect ourselves.
Two examples of what people do to avoid getting hurt.
i) We act in a way that keeps people from expecting anything from us. Don’t get too close. Don’t let anyone depend on you so that your inadequacies can’t be shown up.
You hide because you don’t want to make a mistake.
ii) The only way you feel accepted is when you are constantly doing things for others. You need people to want you so you can never say ‘NO’.
We all develop different styles of behaviour [The above are just two examples of a limitless number].
Some have learned to hide behind their good minds.
Some are distant and unreachable, never letting anyone see what is really happening inside.
Some are compulsive helpers.
Some see themselves as black sheep and manage to get rejected constsantly; in their minds, rejection confirms that they aren’t made for close relationships.
We are complex creatures and none of us fit neatly into one catergory.
But why is it that we are so affected by how we are treated by others?
2. Created to be Image-bearers.
In Genesis 1v26 God said, “Let us make man in our Image, in our likeness … And God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”
The first assumption that we have to make is that we are created in the “image of God”.
Meaning, that in some important respects, we resemble God.
We have deep desires and longings.
We have the ability to think and evaluate.
We have the ability to make choices.
We are able to experience deep emotion.
We are relational creatures with the ability to interact with God and other people.
God created us to be like him. To bear His image and likeness.
So why do we have all these problems with our self-image if we are like God?
Well something terrible has happened which has badly distorted that similarity between us and God.
Adam sinned and that image of God that was perfect has been marred by sin and badly damaged. It hasn’t been lost but has been reduced to something grotesque and ugly.
We were created to be totally dependent on God for everything. To have a perfect and unhindered relationship with both God and our fellow humans.
Sin moves us away from God so that instead of God being the centre and focus of our existence we become the most important people in our own lives. “I” becomes all comsuming.
The crisis is that people desparately need God in their lives but because of sin we do not seek God, rather our natural preference is to come up with a solution to our problem on our own.
Because sin moves us away from God, we do not look to him to fulfill our need. Because we do not look to God we therefore look to people. BUT people let us down and we get hurt.
To avoid getting hurt we don’t allow ourselves to want very much, thus we are rarely disappointed.
ILLUST: My close friend at school, Andrew. His father, who he was very close to, walked out when he was 14. He became withdrawn, cynical and distrusting of people. He had been hurt and now he was building walls to protect himself from being hurt again.
These kind of experience leave us feeling pressure to hide who we really are. We wear masks. Yet at the same time still wanting to be someone who people will like and value.
We all want to be accepted and loved and valued. Because it is in those circumstances that we find a good self-image.
When God is left out we are reduced to dependence on other people.
‘If my good self image depends on others treating me as a valuable person, then I am condemned to either (1) keep trying to get better responses from people around me, or (2) learn to better insulate myself against the negative effect of their disapproval. I need either better performance or higher walls.’ [James Moore]
3. How do we develop a “good” self image?
As long as we try to deal with the symptoms of the problem and not the cause all we are doing is putting band-aids on. The cause is that we have moved off centre – away from God. The only way to remedy that is not within our power. But it is within God’s power. There must therefore be a response to God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. We can only see ourselves as we really are when we are in a relationship with God.
We have to relinquish our fierce independence from God. This is the first step. This is the bottom line. God is the only person who is who has pure motives and can be totally honest with us. There is no hidden agenda with God.
Does this mean that once a person becomes a Christian we suddenly have a good self image? NO!
Christians are not immune from hiding behind walls OR from performing in order to gain approval [both from God and people]. Often we create legalistic rules to which we must adhere in order to be accepted by the group.
So often we take the words of scripture and we make them mean something that they never intended. eg.
“For by the grace given me I say to everyone of you;
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…”[Rom.10v3]
We all know people who have a high opinion of themselves [and often they are the only ones who do] – and really the are a pain in the neck. We react to that. We take “do not think of yourself to highly..” along with other verses about humility and we end up considering ourselves to be worthless. And we are in danger of being DOORMATS. Humility is not being a doormat.
Jesus was humble but he was no doormat.
NO! we are not worthless! We are of infinite worth!! In fact God loved us so much that he sent his only and only son to die for us. If we were worthless God would not have done that.
We are unworthy but not worthless. Worthless means of no value! Unworthy means undeserving – that we are.
Once we have become God’s children we are precious to him. How precious is a bride-to-be to her future husband? The Bible speaks of the Church as the “Bride of Christ” the one for whom he gave his life! Unworthy?Yes!! Worthless? NO!
Self image is develop in relationship. When we are loved and valued for who we are we begin to develop a correct self image.
WHAT IS A GOOD CHRISTIAN SELF IMAGE? IF THERE IS SUCH A THING.
ILLUST: When we come into the world as babies we are totally dependent on others to take care of our needs. As we grow we become less dependent. Wise parents help their children to develop so that they can cope with life and “learn to stand on their own two feet”. Maturity is linked to independence.
The tendency is to carry this model across into the spiritual realm. BUT Christian maturity is not a process of becoming more and more independent BUT rather becoming increasingly dependent on God. The essence of sin is independence from God. It is that which landed us in this mess in the first place.
When we become Christians we fully receive God’s salvation in Christ. And that salvation in complete and secure. BUT that doesn’t mean that we are instantly perfect with a completely balanced self image. NO.
ILLUST: If a person is released from prison after 30 years he is legally free but he has to now learn to live like a free person.
In a similar way the instant we are saved we come into the family of God. As Paul says we are “IN CHRIST” Now we must learn to become like him.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into his likeness [IMAGE]
with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord
who is the Spirit” [2 Co.3v17-18]
When Moses came down from the mountain the glory of God shone from his face. He reflected something of the IMAGE of God. WHY? Because he had seen God.
We don’t develop a “good” self image by focussing on ourselves but rather by focussing on Christ and with the Spirit’s help developing attitudes and action that are like those of Christ.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t look into our own lives. Paul tells us that we need to “Examine ourselves”
John – “If we walk in the light as he is in the light
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son
cleanses us from all sin.” [1 Jn.1v8]
We need the light of God’s word and his Spirit to shine into our lives and to expose all those hidden thoughts and motives.
Godliness and spiritual maturity, I hope, is what we all desire. We live in an instant society. BUT there is no such thing as instant maturity.
Some superficially say “Just do what is right and everything else will fall into place” “Just name it and claim it”
Genuine, deep, heart-level change is complex and it takes time. Quick change is often superficial and shallow. Deep change is never easy.
The Bible descirbes King Davd “as a man after God’s own Heart” Yet listen to David’s cry in Ps 139v23-24:
Search me O God and know my heart
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive [wicked] way in me
and lead me in the way evelasting.
None of us have arrived. We all need to change in some way.
ILLUST: Maybe the walls you have built around yourself need to come down. Allowing people to get close to you. Yes, you will feel vulnerable. But Jesus said he was sending us out as sheep among wolves. That’s pretty vulnerable. Maybe you need to open your home and invite people to come in. “O but I not a good cook and my house is a mess” So what! You can make Tea can’t you.
Maybe you are a compulsive helper. Always doing for others. That can also be a way of hiding. Maybe the best way to help some one is to let them do something for you.
The human heart is very complex BUT God is in the business of changing people’s hearts.
He created us to be BEARERS OF HIS IMAGE but sin damaged that image. When we respond to God through faith in Jesus Christ He begins to change us from one degree of glory to another so that we become more and more conformed to the IMAGE OF HIS SON.
No one is perfect and we need to be examining our hearts to see where change is need
BUT we also need to remember that if self image depends upon how we are valued and loved then as Christians we are the most blessed people of all becasue we are valued and loved by God himself.