How to Change Your Self-Image
& Boost Self-Esteem

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Why changing your self-image
is so difficult and yet so important

By Grantley Morris

Part of this Webpage in Russian


Christian Help

Why Change Your Self-Image?

For most of my life I’ve thought it was safe to let my self-esteem flounder. I even thought it would make me more Christlike. I thought I was being biblical – aligning myself with Scripture’s emphasis on humility and dying to self. It turned out I was wrong. Very wrong.

The term self-image or self-esteem might sound like self-obsessed psychobabble. If I wanted to sound particularly spiritual I might use such terminology as our identity in Christ. Whatever words we use, however, the way we see ourselves – our understanding of who we really are and what heights we can attain – is of such importance to God that much of his Word revolves around it. Nothing less than our eternity hinges on God’s view of us, and nothing is more important than whether we know God’s opinion of us and fully embrace it as truth.

Humility and dying to self are vital to our spiritual life. They radically change our self-image, but not in the way we might expect. They involve dying to our view of ourselves and living according to God’s view of ourselves, which is far higher than most of us dare think. Even if the forgiving Lord were displeased with us, it would prove how highly he thinks of us and how important we are to him. God’s disappointment would not be cause for depression but would affirm that our Almighty Helper emphatically believes in us and is certain we are capable of higher things.

The extent of our godliness is limited by the degree to which we see everything – including ourselves – as God sees it. Gaining God’s perspective is a lifelong challenge but it starts with the realization that the Holy Lord is the God of love who sees everything through eyes of love and not only made us in his image but in Christ sacrificed everything to ensure we can be like him.

Humility and dying to self have no more kinship with beating ourselves up than physically harming ourselves could secure our salvation. They are the gateway not to languishing in abysmal self-esteem but to becoming divine royalty as children of the King of kings. Those who humble themselves are exalted. Those who have died to self, have come alive to God, and by losing their life they find it in all its fullness (Scriptures). For them, self-righteousness (which is really false righteousness) has been replaced by real righteousness and self-reliance has been exchanged for divine empowerment. Those undergoing this transformation are no longer blinded by pride and self-infatuation but neither are they reeling under the oppression of low self-esteem.

Considering ourselves superior to certain people or “too holy” to help the ungodly are examples of unChristlikeness that God’s precious Son died to cleanse us from. Christ did not give his life, however, so that we would hobble through life crippled by feelings of inferiority. The crucified Lord agonized in our place not so that we would grovel but so that we might be restored; not so that we would feel hopeless failures continually lamenting past blunders but to give us hope; not to hound us over what miserable wretches we are but that our joy may be full.

At the end of this page are links to must-read Bible-based webpages about how special you are to God, how astounding your status is in the spiritual realm and how great your spiritual power is. I’ve poured years of my life into expound divine truths that should leave you ecstatic and radically transform the way you see yourself. For many of us, however, these truths lift our spirits little more than being told we are good looking by a blind person. We realize it is a gross insult to the God of truth to be as unmoved by his opinion of us than if we were handed what we dismiss as a fake check for a trillion dollars. Nevertheless, many of us seem incapable of being impacted by these glorious truths.

This webpage is not yet another attempt to restate all the facts about God’s astonishingly high opinion of us. Instead, it focuses on why these truths bounce off us and how we can change this tragedy. The goal is to help remove blockages to fully accepting all these glorious truths so that they finally set you free.

What makes so serious my mistaken view that a low self-esteem is of little consequence or perhaps even a good thing, is that our self-image is so fundamental that for each of us, it defines reality for us. It is our North Star, the critical reference point we use to guide us through life. If we get our bearings wrong, mistakenly thinking we are somewhere different to where we really are, instead of realizing our error, we will interpret everything else we see – from close-by, all the way to the horizon – according to our mistaken belief. Likewise, if we get our self-image wrong, we will be completely lost and not even know it. And that predicament is so scary that most of us prefer not to question our presumptions.

Should, for example, I think everyone despises me, I would interpret it as an act of spurning me if people typically go about their normal business without interrupting everything to make me the center of their attention. To my warped thinking, people’s normal shyness, fear of rejection, preoccupation with their own affairs, and so on, would “prove” I disgust them. Even if a few people actually went out of their way to say nice things about me, I would dismiss it as an act of insincerity (forcing themselves to be polite, feeling sorry for me, trying to manipulate me, etc.) or based on ignorance (not really knowing me, being poor judges of character, etc.). As a final resort, if anyone acts in a manner I find impossible to squeeze into the categories just mentioned, I would interpret it as “the exception that proves the rule” and would probably even find perverse satisfaction in restoring my equilibrium by deliberately recalling events that seem to confirm my distorted self-image.

So to summarize: for each of us, our self-image seems rock-solid reality, and rather than conclude that we have got it wrong, we interpret everything else to fit our conception of reality. The disturbing thing is that almost all of us have a wrong or distorted self-image, which leads to a wrong or distorted understanding of just how important and loved of God we are and how enormous our ability is to achieve great things. This, in turn, undermines our faith and withers our joy in God.

Everywhere I look, I see people whose lives have been ruined or at least crippled because of a distorted view of themselves. For example, a heartbreakingly large number of women have confessed to me that they ended up in appallingly abusive marriages because their self-image prevented them from believing they deserved to be treated with kindness, gentleness and respect. Even more people could have glorified their Maker by becoming great achievers, but instead wasted their lives in the sewer of mediocrity, simply because they had been deceitfully enticed into the snare of seeing themselves as incompetent.

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How We Got in this Mess

With few exceptions, our self-image is not a perspective we have carefully and rationally investigated, but something picked up primarily when we were little, easily influenced, children. We got it from our guess about how we supposed certain people thought of us. These people happened to be very significant in shaping our lives but, like all people, they were very fallible.

We were too young to know any different, but we virtually turned these significant people in our lives into our God – our infallible source of truth. The real God is now challenging us to make him our God, and redefine our sense of reality according to who he says we are, rather than the person we have presumed we are – a presumption we have clung to for virtually all of our lives.

Even if your need to redefine your self-image were less than absolutely desperate, you will still benefit immensely from the change. Just a small change, however, can seem a scary mega shift. Our whole perception of reality is threatened. It means admitting that we really have been lost and everything we thought was real, was an illusion. Rather than come to terms with that, most of us stubbornly hold on to our twisted and battered self-image; refusing to believe that we have got wrong something so fundamental, even though it was something thrust on us as a child, not an opinion we have carefully – much less, prayerfully – thought through.

Most of us have for so long presumed that we are of little value that we have cemented this lie into our self-image, worshipping it as truth, our North Star. The implications of retaining this false self-image are terrifying, but do we have the courage and sense of adventure to engage in the mega shift of a radically new self-image, or will we remain in the security of the familiar, even though it keeps us wallowing in the mud of mediocrity and despair?

All of us were brought up to accept a false self-image. Though we are unlikely to have thought of it in these terms, we might have even been subjected to what amounts to relentless brainwashing during our most impressionable years by authoritative-sounding accusations that we are “hopeless’ or “stupid” or other such lies. This so powerfully shapes one’s self-image that the victims accept it as truth and subconsciously reject anything that suggests otherwise.

From the way highly inadequate, but significant, humans in our lives have verbally or even physically assaulted us, many of us end up concluding that we are unlovable, and so we interpret everything else in life according to this lie. For instance, our head might tell us that God passionately loves us, but our heart will shriek the opposite and refuse to accept the reality of God’s love. Nevertheless, despite what everything in your experience might shriek at you, the truth is astounding: you are of infinite value. That seems beyond belief, so I’ll have to explain.

If we stumbled upon natural diamonds in a wilderness, most of us would ignorantly walk over them and treat them as dirt, having no clue as to their value and how exquisite they would look if expertly cut and polished. Likewise, most people might walk all over you and treat you as dirt, having no clue that you are priceless. Only God sees your true worth because he alone has the astounding expertise to polish you into an exquisite jewel. It matters not what you can do or how others see you. All that matters is the staggering power of God to transform into something of breathtaking beauty what everyone else thinks is a worthless lump.

A diamond is just a piece of rock. It can’t love, talk or think. You cannot eat it, cook with it, hunt with it, keep warm with it, and so for centuries vast numbers of tribal people considered diamonds worthless. A diamond’s worth is based not on what it can do but simply because of what people are willing to pay to have it. You are far more precious to God than tons of diamonds and he paid a far higher price than all the wealth of a million earths – the willing sacrificial death of his holy Son – to have you as his best friend.

Like a huge diamond, your worth is not based on what you do. You are of infinite value because of the infinite price the God of the universe willingly paid for your friendship. And if he has invested so much in you, he will treasure you and cherish you for all eternity.

For your entire life you might have been surrounded by people who were unable to see your value, like primitives who cannot see the value of a diamond. But God’s view of you is astonishingly different.

Who are you going to make your God – your source of truth who determines your self-worth? Will you assign that role to the “ignorant savages” around you, or to the God of infinite wisdom and knowledge who gave his Holy Son for you?

It is not humility to regard oneself as trash; it is an affront to the Lord of glory who sacrificed his very life to exalts us to a status so mind bogglingly high as to outclass even angels (1 Corinthians 6:3; Hebrews 1:5,14; 1 Peter 1:12). it is nothing short of despicable, ugly pride to forget that we are what we through nothing but the undeserved mercy of God but it is equally shameful to forget how highly the Lord of lords has exalted us. Yes, without Christ we would be useless as a withering branch severed from a grapevine but how dare we think of ourselves as being with Christ when he has sacrificed everything to make us spiritually one with him!

Without Christ, everyone on this planet is a disgusting failure, hopelessly evil and incapable of ever pleasing God. Without Christ, the best of us is ruined, repulsive to God and deserves nothing but an eternity in hell. But you are not without Christ! It is insulting to God to treat yourself as if Christ were a failure; as if all the astounding things he has done at such enormous cost to transform you have achieved nothing. You are divine royalty – a child of the King of kings who is the Almighty Lord of the universe. And God wants you to know it and live it.

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Why Change is So Difficult

One of the powerful factors keeping us locked into a self-image that is long past its expiration date is that feelings typically conform not to reality but to the self-image that has hardened within us over many years. For example, if your self-image is that you are fat, you could still feel fat even when you have become painfully skinny. This now well-publicized phenomenon is, of course, known as anorexia. Other people can be convinced they look grotesque when they do not. This distressing condition is known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). And we have all heard of those who feel sick but are quite well (hypochondria).

Feelings often run contrary to reality. Consider how even a conservative list names well over 150 different phobias. For each one, a situation could be engineered whereby a phobic feels terrified (i.e. feels exceedingly unsafe) when he is actually perfectly safe, such as someone with a fear of snakes having completely harmless snakes slithering over him. This intense feeling occurs even when the person is rationally convinced there is no real danger. Simply accepting the truth is a huge achievement but life remains highly challenging when everything within you keeps shrieking a lie that you are in danger.

Literally hundreds of anxiety-ridden people write to me in torment because of highly convincing, but false, feelings of guilt. This is not merely highly unpleasant; believing those false feelings erodes their relationship with God because they mistakenly suppose their guilt feelings indicate that God must be angry with them, and we all instinctively shrink from anyone powerful who we imagine is angry with us. Here’s a little of what I have written about this condition:

    Anxiety acts as an alarm that goes off within us indicating that something is seriously wrong and causing our brain to keep seeking the reason so that it can be corrected. Clinical Anxiety, however, means that the anxiety is driven not by a rational reason for concern but by a chemical imbalance.

    When, for example, a fire alarm goes off, it sounds the same regardless of whether it was triggered by an actual fire or by a technical malfunction. Since a false alarm sounds exactly the same as when it is triggered by genuine danger, it is very tempting to feel disturbed about the alarm continuing, even when you have checked and confirmed that there is no danger. So it is with your anxiety. Unfortunately, for as long as you suffer from this anxiety you will just have to keep reminding yourself that it is a false alarm and get used to it blaring and being unpleasant and refuse to treat it as if it were real.

    When anxiety is a false alarm it is not only disturbingly unpleasant, it can confuse us spiritually. Anxiety feels like a torturously guilty conscience that keeps nagging away no matter how utterly we are divinely forgiven, cleansed of all sin and made holy by faith in Jesus. God has promised to forgive all the sins of everyone who puts his/her faith in the forgiving power of Jesus’ sacrifice. Since anxiety is far too incessant to be ignored, however, it is hard not to slip into believing the persistent, overwhelmingly strong feeling, rather than keep stubbornly believing God’s promise. Add to this the fact that anxiety keeps telling us that something is seriously wrong when everything is actually fine, and the foundation to our entire relationship with God – believing that through Jesus our past failings no longer hinder our relationship with God – is under attack. The spiritual confusion can be serious if we cave in to believing our powerfully deceptive feelings rather than resolutely clinging to raw faith in both Christ’s eagerness to secure our full forgiveness and his ability to do so.

    You will be filled with guilt and anxiety but the key is to learn to live with such feelings and neither fear the feelings nor believe them. This will be a tough battle because your feelings will be very intense and seem so real, but all of us are called to live by faith and not feelings.

    For those with Clinical Anxiety, living by raw faith is much harder to do than for other people, but it is like a coach making his star athlete engage in much heavier training than others – it will end up making him stronger than others, even though during tough training sessions he will seem much weaker than those who are lazing around. It is like a runner lugging heavy weights on the back of – it feels as if it is weakening him but it will actually make him stronger as he keeps struggling on.

It is with good reason that we are called to live by faith, not feelings. Again to quote myself

    The enemy of our souls is the master deceiver because that is all he can do. The devil cannot change reality. He cannot change the fact that God loves you with all of his unlimited love and that Christ died for the sins of the entire world, which has to include every sin you have ever committed. So all he can do is mess with your feelings, hoping that you will start to believe them rather than believe in the cleansing and forgiving power of Christ and the love of God.

Steadfastly clinging to a belief in the integrity of God and his Word in the face of powerful feelings that scream the opposite is needed if we are to break the delusive power of a false self-image.

The strong temptation, however, is to lazily accept our feelings as our inner conviction – our source of truth – rather than continually striving against the flow of our feelings whenever they surge contrary to what God’s Word declares is reality. Staggering against the torrent of our feelings is a hard, discouraging slog. Especially in the early stages so little progress seems to be made against the oppression, and the moment we ease up we find ourselves being swept backwards again. Will you keep pushing towards the heart of God – the place of truth where you can finally be free from the lies that keep you down?

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Another Side to a Warped Self-Image

    Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. . . .

Our self-image should be fresh and God-breathed. Instead of being putrid with the stench of the past, it should sparkle as the a day and continually inspire us to new heights, like Jacob’s divinely-inspired name change from “heel grabber” or “one who trips up” to Israel, “he who prevails with God” (Genesis 32:28).

For so many of us, however, our self-image is a ghost from the past. We should have left it behind long ago but it continues to haunt us and hold us back. It remains like a repulsive parasite that has been sucking the life out of us for so long that we accept it as part of us.

Although the past figures strongly in a mangled self-image, however, there can also be contemporary factors that keep our self-image weighing us down instead of lifting us high. To explore this, let me share a portion of what I have written elsewhere:

    Because self-image is so critical and is affected by other people’s opinion:

      Your entire life ends up limited by how you suppose other people think about you.

    Let’s refine this still further:

      How you live is limited by how you suppose other people would think about you if they knew everything about you.

    This addition is critical. It explains why many people can receive an abundance of heart-felt praise and encouragement and it doesn’t do a thing for them. Even if literally millions of people were to think the world of them, they would still feel lonely and unloved and be haunted by an abysmally low self-esteem. Praise is wasted on them because they have no idea whether anyone would praise the person they really are. They have concealed a secret about themselves precisely because they think – usually wrongly – that the truth would completely alter everyone’s view of them.

    We can go one step further in our maxim about what determines our self-image and the life we end up living:

      How you live is limited by how you think others whose opinions you respect would think you are if they knew everything about you.

    Some people respect their own opinions so strongly that they are little influenced by the views of others. As Christians, the opinion we most respect should be God’s. In theory, no other opinion should matter to us. In practice, it is almost impossible for us to think God thinks a certain way about us if we suspect that all of God’s earthly servants would think otherwise if they knew all there is to know about us.

    Of course, even the refined maxim does not define who you are, but it determines your self-image. It is what you end up genuinely believing about yourself. And it is as difficult as trying to act out of character to resist acting in complete conformity with your self-image. The self-image God wants Christians to have – the one he has painstakingly portrayed in his Word – is a continual inspiration that fills us with zest for life. The self-image our spiritual enemies want us to have is an oppressive straightjacket.

I interrupt that quote to pose this challenge: What will we accept as our authoritative source of truth? Will it be our guess of what fickle, fallible humans think of us – people whose knowledge of us is at best superficial and who cannot see the future – or what the all-knowing Judge thinks of us? To which will we assign the right to be our guiding light, the final authority in declaring who we are and what we can achieve in life?

To return to my previous quote:

    The Twelve Steps Programs have a powerful saying:

      “You are only as sick as your secrets”

    The agents of darkness lose much of their power when hidden things are brought into the light. To hide the things that haunt us, treating them as dark secrets to be kept from other Christians, is to try to fight the forces of darkness on their own turf. It is to play into their hands, foolishly putting ourselves at a dangerous and totally unnecessary disadvantage in our spiritual fight.

    “ . . . in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). The cunning enemies of our soul are well aware that their chances of hoodwinking us soar if they can somehow pressure us into isolating ourselves from our greatest human sources of comfort and spiritual wisdom. Their evil strategy is to keep us from sharing with other Christians our deepest concerns because these spiritual con artists know that feedback from God’s children will bring us back to reality and help us see through the lies deceptive spirits have kept whispering in our lonely ears. The forces of evil want exclusive access to the most vulnerable area of our lives

    Every street-wise city dweller knows that to walk alone in the dark is the scariest, most unwise place to be. There is security in numbers.

    Beasts of prey are forever on the prowl for sheep that become separated from the flock. To try to isolate us from the counsel and comfort of every Christian on the planet is a truly devilish trick. And this is exactly what happens when we are conned into condemning ourselves to the icy loneliness of keeping an area of our life hidden from even the most trusted of our friends and the most warmly accepting, Christlike person we know. The enemy is happy for us to receive affirmation in those parts of our life in which we don’t need help, as long as we are duped into cutting ourselves off from every trace of love and support in the very area of our life that is causing us the greatest torment. Refusing to unburden ourselves to anyone Christlike makes us terrifyingly vulnerable to spiritual blackmail, demonic delusions, groundless fears, suicidal despair, and being cheated out of all the wondrous privileges that cost Christ everything to lavish upon us.

    Child molesters have the condemnation of society and the full force of the law against them and yet still they turn innocent children into long-term helpless victims. It would almost seem impossible they could get away with it, and yet they do because they fill childish minds with false guilt and with despicable lies about the consequences of spilling the beans. They might say, “If you breathe a word of this, whoever hears it will know it is all your fault and that you are the most repulsively wicked person on earth. They will tell your parents who will be so angry and cry for days, wishing they had never had you and punishing you worse than you could ever imagine. Then they’ll have to tell the police, who will arrest you and keep beating you to make sure you tell them every single detail. The story will be headlines in all the newspapers and television, and everyone in the whole world will hate you. Mobs will march through streets burning photos of you and demanding you be executed. The police will throw you in jail for life and all the other prisoners will be do cruel things to you because they know you are so much worse than any of them.”

    Such threats are made to seem so real to little children that they dare not say a word, but in terrified silence they suffer unspeakable horrors alone, cut off from all the comfort and protection that would have been theirs.

    Thus these law-breakers keep their victims suffering horrifically when in reality help is so close at hand and it is the molesters who should be guilt-ridden and terrified of being discovered. Demonic powers – the slimy agents of evil that lust after your soul and long to dominate you – use the same evil tactics, hounding you with groundless fears in the hope that you won’t breathe a word to someone who could give you the love and comfort and relief you so desperately deserve.

    The spiritual lowlife arrayed against us aren’t too excited about us having good, Christian friends that we let into 99% of our life. Nevertheless, they are thrilled if there is just a small but vulnerable area of our life in which we act like loners. We give our spiritual opponents the upper hand whenever, by giving in to false shame, we in effect block everyone out of the very part of our life that is under spiritual attack. That way our enemies have a wounded part of us that they can cause to fester because we won’t let others touch it with the healing balm of their love and understanding and acceptance. They seek an area of your life into which they can keep pouring in false accusations unchallenged by the truth that God imparts through other Christians.

    Throughout history, one of the hallmarks of genuine revivals has been the open confession of sin. What seems scary, turns out to be one of the most liberating experiences known to humanity. The ending of guilty secrets brings heaven – that joyous place of transparent honesty – to earth.

    One of the most astounding tragedies is that many of those who feel the loneliest, most unloved people on the planet have wonderfully loving friends, families and marriage partners. Their lives seem flooded with love and yet to them it feels like a sham because they are living a lie. You are doomed never to know you are capable of being loved if you shrink from letting anyone know the real you. You can never feel loved while hiding in the bleak, scary, lonely hole of secrecy. Holding on to a guilty secret is the loneliest place in the universe. It is locking yourself up in a haunted dungeon filled with ghosts from the past. It is sentencing yourself to being constantly on edge, afraid of shadows.

    The time will come when every secret will be exposed. Get it over with now so that you can start living. Leave it much longer and it could be too late. To freely confess will be your glory. To have it exposed against your wishes will be to your eternal shame.

    You might suppose you have no need to share your secret with anyone because it is a matter between you and God. There is no question that God’s view is paramount. If, however, you are too ashamed to tell others about something God says is totally forgiven and is no longer a part of you, it would seem most peculiar. It means you are cutting yourself off from much of the comfort God wants you to have through his children. Moreover, it suggests you are struggling to believe the past has really been cancelled. If so, you would greatly benefit from the support of other Christians and from the knowledge that they accept the real you.

    Furthermore, by maintaining the secret, you are keeping others from a blessing. Too many of us act as if our mighty Savior is as pathetic as petty humans who can only forgive “small” sins. We reinforce this heresy when we participate in the giant cover up in which Christians dare not glorify their Savior by declaring the extent of God’s forgiveness in their own lives for fear fellow believers prove unable to believe – or at least unable to act as if they believe – that God is as forgiving as the Bible says. Open confession helps break the satanic conspiracy of silence that causes so many Christians to clam up and makes each think that they alone in their congregation have serious battles with sin. It is the breaking of this silence that helps power revivals.

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Help in Breaking Free from the Need to Keep Secrets

Keeping secrets messes us up but what makes bursting out of that dark, icy cold dungeon so scary is that we do not know how people will react. They might reject us or gossip about us or, if we have done something illegal, turn us over to authorities.

We need to be wise and prayerful about who we select to tell. We need to know their integrity and how well they can maintain confidentiality. We also need to somehow get an accurate idea of how what we tell them would affect the way they view us.

I would like to help you get a feel for how people would respond if you were to confess to them. If you are considering confessing to a friend, tell the person, “I have heard of a game to improve friends’ understanding of each other. Could I play it with you? It simply involves dreaming up weird, largely out-of-character scenarios and taking turns asking how the other thinks he/she would respond to that situation. It takes us beyond what we have experienced with each other and so gives us new insights into each other’s attitudes.”

Use your imagination to list every shameful and embarrassing thing you can think of. Fill in the dots below and add any other situations you can think of. If you feel the response you receive is too shallow, question your friend deeper about how he/she would react if the situation were true. Ask your friend, “How would you feel and what would you do if I told you that:

    * I had lied to you all my life about . . .

    * I am addicted to . . .

    * I have told others that you . . .

    * I have secretly thought . . . about you

    * I have these spiritual doubts . . .

    * I have these daydreams and longings . . .

    * I have cheated you out of . . .”

Don’t restrict yourself to just one possibility per statement. You might like to make it even harder for your friend to guess why you are doing this by adding some scenarios that are not confessions, such as, “What if in the future I . . .”

If you find your friend’s response favorable, slip in your confession, but treat it just like the others, not letting on that it is genuine. Then later decide if you can trust the person sufficiently to confess.

I am here for you if you are unable to find someone with the necessary ability to understand and accept you. To my dismay, if an unconfessed crime is involved, I might have legal obligations to inform authorities. Other than this unfortunate limitation, you are welcome to unburden yourself in an e-mail to me.

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When All Else Fails, the Best is Still to Come

Sadly, it can sometimes be exceedingly difficult to find friends who truly understand us, warmly accept us and think highly of us despite knowing our greatest shame. It is especially difficult if we lack the courage to keep doing everything possible to find such people.

Even for those who persist, however, finding trustworthy friends in their locality might be impossible. For example, I do all I can to support people who have multiple personalities. It is often heart wrenchingly difficult for them to find ordinary people they can unburden themselves with and reveal their condition. The average person would freak out, letting their imagination fly to ridiculous extremes, suddenly fearing the person is dangerous, has demons, or whatever.

No matter what, however, there is always one Person who truly understands you, and what is particularly thrilling is that this Person is the only one whose opinion truly counts because he alone is always right. Every view other than his will end up proved wrong.

To explore the exciting implications, let me plunder something else I’ve written:

    You are passionately loved. In the eyes of the one Person who really counts, you are special. To other people you might be just one of thousands, but not to the One who made you. You mean so much to him that what God wants with you is like a perfect marriage in which you can enjoy each other forever.

    Believing in the opposite sex does not make one married. Neither does believing a creed give us the right to live with God. It is not enough to walk down a church aisle. True marriage is believing in someone so completely that you commit all that you are, and all that you have, to that person for life. Your Maker is eager to be that devoted to you, but for marriage to work, the commitment must be mutual.

    If a street kid married a millionaire, she would get his riches and he would get her debts. He would be tarred with her shame and she would gain his honor. For this to happen, she must turn from rival relationships and bind herself and her meager possessions to this man in marriage. Everything he owns would become hers, if she lets everything of hers become his.

    Similarly, if we entrust to God everything we have – our time, abilities, relationships and possessions – he will reciprocate, embracing us with divine extravagance. We hand our depravity to Jesus, relinquishing even our fondest sin. It becomes his. That’s what killed him. In return, Jesus’ sinless perfection envelops us, enabling us to be on intimate terms with the Holy God.

    In entering this love pact, we give God the right to do whatever he likes with our assets, but the Owner of the universe makes his riches available to us. We trade our talents, for his omnipotence; our attempts to run our lives, for his unlimited wisdom. We give him our time on earth and he gives us eternity.

    In every way we benefit from this proposal and God gets the raw end. But God is in love with you. He wants this holy union more than you can imagine. Don’t break his heart and miss out on the ultimate human experience by holding back.

    When Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, instantly she was royalty. Suddenly, she was rich, famous and important. She was one with Charles. His assets and honor became hers, as much as they had ever been his. That is rather like your transformation, the moment you were born again. Your status and assets skyrocketed, although at the time you were only vaguely conscious of the enormity of what happened. (For a little more about the staggering benefits of your union with Christ, see Spiritual Riches.)

    After that famous wedding, Princess Diana underwent a second, much slower and uneven transformation. Step by faltering step, a shy, plainly dressed girl gradually became a confident, sophisticated, superbly dressed woman who captured the admiration of millions. That second change was only possible because she firmly believed in the reality of the first transformation – that she really was royal, rich, important and famous. Had she kept telling herself that she was insignificant, that she had no right to Charles’ money, that nothing she did was of any consequence, she would still have had much, but that second change would never have occurred. As it was, she would probably have blossomed further, had she been able to feel more secure in Charles’ love and in the acceptance and approval of the royal family.

As I stumble to find words to describe the breathtaking transformation of your status and what has taken place within you, let me quote from more of my writings:

    Something stupendous happened the moment you spiritually united to Christ. Instantly, your status and potential rocketed heavenward, leaving the person you used to be so mind-bogglingly far behind that, along with every other Christian, you actually need divine psychiatric help (Ephesians 1:16-19; Colossians 1:9; Philemon 6) to grasp the merest fraction of the enormity of what has happened to you.

    We Christians are like paupers ecstatic because we think we have inherited $10,000, when we’ve actually received $1 billion. We live chronically impoverished lives and the less we know of our spiritual inheritance, the greater the tragedy.

    The gulf between who you think you are and who you really are is so serious and so beyond normal comprehension (Ephesians 3:19-20; 1 John 3:1-2) that whereas some psychiatric patients have delusions of grandeur – supposing themselves to be ridiculously more important than they really are – you and I suffer the opposite problem. What God did within us, without us even knowing it, was so staggering that even Christians with dangerously inflated egos suffer from what I call delusions of insignificance.

    The psychiatric definition of a delusion is a false notion that cannot be altered by reasoning. That’s why I could write a million words and the implications still won’t hit home without supernatural revelation. A major task of the Holy Spirit is to help us grasp the enormity of the transformation that has taken place within us (John 16:14; 1 Corinthians 2:9-15; 1 John 4:13; Ephesians 3:3-5; John 14:26; 16:13). It is vital that we keep probing the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 4:6-7) and pleading for spiritual revelation as to who we are in Christ.

    Drown the doubts, insecurities and guilt feelings. Cling to the emphatic Word of God that affirms that God’s estimation of you is far too immense for human fame or shame to budge it (e.g., Galatians 2:6; Ephesians 6:9; Job 34:19). Whether the high point of your Sundays is counting the souls you have won or counting the specks on your pew, the King delights in you.

    What has happened is so far beyond our expectations that even after glimpsing a little of who we now are, we keep reverting to our old self-image. You are so different to what you once were that it will be a long, uphill battle just to turn your thinking around until your thinking is consistently even in the right direction, to say nothing of it being as far as it should be.

    It is so frustratingly easy to let go of the truth about God’s view of ourselves and slip back into our former depressed thinking. Keep praying for a revelation. Keep trying to claw your faith higher. Keep pushing out the million doubts. Keep flooding your mind with the glorious truths that will set you free. And rest in the certainty that Almighty God has invested everything – even the death of his precious Son – to ensure you make it.

    Our current mindset and self-image took our entire life to form and harden. To reverse this and create a new self-image corresponding to how the King of kings sees us is a long and laborious process in which it is perversely easy to slip back into our old dreary mode of thinking. In a flash we changed in God’s eyes from a debased child of the devil to an exalted child of God. For us to catch up with this in the way we view ourselves, however, is a slow, arduous slog. In fact, we will need to keep working on it for the rest of our lives.

* * *

No Longer the Person People Think You Are

Here’s another quote of mine with the power to change your life if you can fully absorb it:

    You Are a New Creation
    (you could almost say a new species)

    Your old guilt-ridden self is dead and buried. That’s the most wonderful news anyone could hear! Gleefully devour the Scriptures that make this announcement to the world! You are a totally different person to the one who sinned. Just as you are utterly innocent of the sins of another person, so you are innocent of your past sins. The devil has no more right to accuse you for Charles Mason’s or Jack the Ripper’s sins than for your past sins.

    2 Corinthians 5:17 declares you to be a new creation – a totally new person – because of what Christ has done. The old has passed away. The person who was defeated, the person who sinned, the person who didn’t radiate the beauty of Christ, is dead. You are someone new, a completely different person to the one who, like all of us outside of Christ, had reason to feel ashamed.

    Satan could accuse you as much as he liked for Hitler’s sin or Fred Nerd’s folly, but the accusations would be meaningless. You would ignore them because you know you’re not Hitler or Fred Nerd. Likewise, he can accuse as much as he likes about the person you once were, but you can ignore it. That person is dead. It’s not you. It was someone else who did those shameful things. You have a whole new identity. The new you, the person you now are, is pure and holy and righteous and filled with the beauty of God; a prince or princess – a child of the King of kings – heir to the riches of God, someone in whom God delights and is proud of.

    No one likes being slandered and that is what Satan is trying with you, but it’s a case of mistaken identity. Satan is accusing the wrong person. The person he’s accusing is dead and buried with Christ. Just ignore him.

    When the Accuser Knocks, He’s at the Wrong Address!

    Imagine you’ve just moved into a new apartment. It so happens that the previous tenant had foolishly amassed a huge debt and then died. The day after moving in, there’s a knock on the door. It’s a debt collector claiming you owe quarter of a million dollars. ‘You’ve got the wrong person,’ you tell him.

    ‘I was given this address,’ he replies.

    ‘Maybe so, but I’m not the person who owes the money.’

    ‘No, this is the address, alright!’

    ‘The person you want is dead!

    ‘Look! I’ll bring the full weight of the law down on you!’

    ‘Please do!’ you reply, ‘the law will prove I’m not the person you claim I am.’

    Suppose this goes on day after day. Each time you could slam the door in his face and refuse to listen to his groundless accusations. Or you could choose to waste hours every day arguing with him. Or you could meekly listen to all his insults and foolishly begin to believe him. No alternative would be entirely pain-free. And none of them would change the fact that you are innocent. But clearly some responses would be far more upsetting and disruptive to your life than others.

    This, of course, describes your situation, and that of every Christian. You live at the same address as the guilty person – your body. But the person living at that address is a new tenant. No matter who comes knocking at your door, the law (of God) is always on your side. God pronounces you innocent. It’s up to you how much you let the Accuser annoy you. You won’t be able to stop him knocking at your door, but it’s your choice whether you keep ignoring him or invite him in and give weight to his lies. Either way, you are still innocent, but why put yourself through unnecessary torment?

    The Old You Died With Christ
    Galatians 2:20

    So the old you, the person who had reason to feel dirty, ashamed and inferior, is dead. Christ now lives in you – Christ in all His beauty and purity and perfection; Christ in all his goodness, splendor and favor with God. A little girl, when asked how she dealt with temptation, said that when the devil knocks, she sends Jesus to the door. That’s what you can do. Christ has taken up residence within you. The previous tenant is dead. Christ now lives at your address. You don’t even have to worry about trying to forgive yourself, because the real you, the person you now are in Christ, never did anything that needed forgiveness. The old you, the person who needed forgiveness, no longer exists.

    You have been born again
    John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3;23

    Sadly, overuse of the term born again has sapped this mind-boggling expression of its power. It is such an astounding concept as to be almost beyond our powers of intellect to grasp. What more powerful way could there be to convey the fact that, spiritually, you have no past? You weren’t even born when the things your mind accuses you of took place! You can’t get any more innocent than that! What a miracle! What a display of love, for God to do that for you!

    (If the sins that haunt you happened after you were born again, don’t be disturbed. Once repented of, later sins, like surgically removed tumors, are no longer a part of you. They are a dead issue, a non-event, consigned to the same fate as pre-conversion sins; wiped from heaven’s data banks. (As you keep following the main link at the bottom of each page you will discover entire webpages devoted to reassuring you about sins committed after conversion.)

    Maintaining the breakthrough

    God has promised you everything mentioned in this webpage, but he never promised you would feel it. Father God expects his children to place their confidence not in their fickle feelings, but in the integrity of the one who rises the sun each morning. The Christian religion is rightly called the Christian Faith. Faith is paramount.

    When Jesus successfully resisted every temptation hurled at him in the wilderness, Scripture says Satan left him, not for forever, but for a while (Luke 4:13). Through Jesus, we too, can have spectacular victories over Satan and he will withdraw, for a while. He’ll skulk into his hole to lick his wounds, but he’ll be back. That’s not because of any inadequacy in you. He did the same with Jesus. When the battle returns, you’ll need to rush to these webpages to once again take your fill of Scripture’s liberating truths with which to resist the awful, deceptive feelings and accusations he’ll try to land on you. Below are more webpages on the same theme. You might not need them now, but print them off in readiness for when the battle returns.

    I also suggest you pamper yourself by regularly reading the following Scripture:

      Romans 6:3-12 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin –because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.

Our self-image is of extreme importance because it has serious spiritual implications. For example, an entire generation of Israelites missed out on the promised land and ended up dying in the wilderness because they saw themselves as “grasshoppers” rather than as people who are empowered by Almighty God.

    Numbers 13:33  . . . We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.

They based their self-image not on what God said about them but on their past (slaves in Egypt) and on their guess as to how others saw them. Actually, despite their seeming logical guess that others viewed them as insignificant, even that was mistaken. (Joshua 2:9-11 For more on this amazing story, see The Power of Self Esteem: Bible Proof.)

The way we think of ourselves has become a deeply entrenched habit. Any habit is difficult to break, let alone one that has hardened by very many years of constant repetition.

* * *

How to Change our Self-Image

Earlier I referred to the way many of us were brought up as a form of brainwashing. It literally changes the structure of one’s brain, creating strong neural pathways so that one no longer thinks as other people do. Picture a little child’s brain as a virgin jungle of thorny bushes. When the child has a thought, it is like bashing his way through new territory, leaving behind a few footprints and a few broken twigs. As he slowly matures, every time he takes the same path, that faint path becomes a little more pronounced and easier to take, until it becomes a well-worn track, and eventually a road, and finally a super-highway, along which thoughts effortlessly zoom. For his thoughts to go in another direction, however, is like having to bash his way through virgin jungle again. And if the new thought is not regularly repeated, the faint track is quickly overgrown again, so that he is likely to get lost, even if he makes the huge effort to try to force his thought in that direction. This is a crude analogy of what modern research has discovered actually happens to the structure of one’s brain.

The great tragedy, however, is that most of us who have suffered unhealthy childhood brainwashing end up perpetuating the process by repeating to ourselves over and over the very putdowns that others have told us, even long after these people with flapping gums and shriveled hearts are out of our lives.

Once started, beating oneself up becomes as easy as sliding down a huge Sahara sandhill. It is climbing back up again that is such a hard slog.

It becomes an automatic, almost uncontrollable, response to normal slips to berate oneself with such putdowns as “I’m an idiot!” “I’m a useless waste of space!” “I can never do anything right!” “Everyone hates me!” or whatever becomes one’s favorite way of tearing strips off oneself. This degenerates into a deeply engrained habit, as strong and cruel as heroin addiction and as difficult to break.

There is often a huge difference between what is sometimes called head knowledge and heart knowledge. Put another way: what we intellectually know must be true can be very different to what feels true. Usually the only way to move from head knowledge to heart knowledge is by desperately clinging in faith to what we know to be true, and doing all we can to keep on living it and affirming it to ourselves, despite the immense pressure to give up.

What feels true to us largely depends on what we have told ourselves over and over. If we have spent years programing our minds to accept something as truth, reaching the point where the exact opposite feels true will be enormously difficult. Each time we tell ourselves something, or accept as truth something someone else says about us, is like putting a weight on one side of a balance. Every time we tell ourselves the opposite is like putting the same size weight on the other side of the balance. If for years we have told ourselves tens of thousands of times that we are useless, do you really think the effect on our feelings will be outweighed by affirming to ourselves with conviction a mere fifty times, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”?

This does not in any way mean we are doomed to keep believing devastating lies about ourselves, but for a long while we will have to keep clinging to what God declares to be true even though everything within us yells that it does not feel true or seem true. And it means that we must keep fighting our addiction to repeating lies to ourselves and instead keep repeating to ourselves the truth, as God declares it, over and over until we have done so with conviction enough hundreds of times that it slowly begins to counter the incalculable thousands of times we have repeated lies to ourselves.

* * *

But is this Scriptural?

This laborious process is in line with such Scriptures as:

    Deuteronomy 6:6-9 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

    Joshua 1:8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

    Psalms 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

    Proverbs 2:1  . . . store up my commands within you . . .

    (Emphasis mine.)

    Many more such Scriptures

It also gels with such Scriptures as:

    Luke 10:27  . . . ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

    Romans 8:5  . . . those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

    Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. . . .

    Ephesians 4:22-23 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds

    Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

    Colossians 3:1-2 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

    (Emphasis mine.)

Making the effort to reprogram one’s thought life is even consistent with Scriptures like these:

    Proverbs 18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death . . .

    Proverbs 18:7 A fool’s mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul.

    Matthew 12:36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.

    Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

    James 3:6,9-10 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire . . . With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.

If, as the last Scripture insists, it is wrong to curse anyone made in God’s likeness, it must be equally as wrong to say bad things about yourself because you, too, are in God’s image. And thoughts must be as deadly to us as words, since both we and God hear our thoughts as strongly as if they were screamed at us.

If you beat up a child, loving parents will be upset, no matter which of their children you attack. Regardless of whether it is ourselves or someone else that we despise or hurl insults at, humanity's Maker and Savior takes it personally.

With a little thought, you will see how each of these diverse Scriptures is relevant:

    1 John 5:1  . . . everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.

    1 John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

    Matthew 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. . . . anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

    1 Corinthians 6:19-20  . . . You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  . . .

    Romans 14:4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

A powerful demonstration of how important God deems self-image is seen in the name changes he initiated, such as Abram – meaning exalted father – being renamed Abraham – exalted father of a multitude (Genesis 17:5), his wife Sarai, becoming Sarah – mother of nations (Genesis 17:5) and Jacob – supplanter – renamed Israel – contender with God (Genesis 32:28). This was not just an Old Testament phenomenon. Jesus gave people new names: Simon, he renamed Peter (John 1:42) and the sons of Zebedee he named the sons of thunder (Mark 3:17). This is also somewhat similar:

    John 15:15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

Note also the term “Christian name,” which originally referred literally to the name a person receives when baptized.

You might find it helpful to do something similar. If, for example, you use an alias or nickname in emails, you might change it to something that builds your self-esteem. If you use nicknames or pet names with some of your friends, you might also seek a name that uplifts you.

For insight into another biblical example of God seeking to change people’ s self-image, let me again quote myself:

    A woman was praying for the home-fellowship I attend when she saw “mighty man of valor” written above me. I don’t care whether you think that was of God; when she shared her experience with me it put steel in my wishbone. That boost has given me an inkling of why God speared those very words into Gideon’s head (Judges 6:12).

    I’d have worried about Gideon staggering around with a size 20 head. A healthy self-image must be more important to God than I had thought. Those ego-inflating words coincided with Gideon’s divine call. Faith in those words apparently played a critical role in his future ministry.

Gideon had seen himself as inferior:

    Judges 6:15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

God could not use Gideon until he changed his view of himself.

In fact, most divine encounters recorded in Holy Writ had the effect of highlighting deficiencies in self-image and then correcting the way they saw themselves so as to empower them for ministry. Even though the encounters were supernatural this change of self-image still took effort on their part. The Lord emphasized how he saw them and who they were because of him but they still had to believe it.

Let’s glimpse some examples.

When Moses was called to lead God’s people out of bondage he saw himself as a stuttering no-hoper who lacked what it took to fill this role. The Lord patiently gave him signs – a staff turning into a snake and back again, a hand turning leprous and back again – that the Almighty was with him and that others would accept his authority. Despite these miracles plus the burning bush, Moses still saw himself as incapable until God’s anger was ignited and Moses finally saw this self-image as unacceptable to God (Exodus 3:10-4:14).

Isaiah saw himself as “a man of unclean lips.” Then a seraph touched Isaiah’s mouth with a sacred coal. Thereafter he started seeing himself as having been divinely purified and no longer disqualified from holy service (Isaiah 6:5-8).

Jeremiah saw himself as too young and weak for the task God had assigned him but the Lord told him to change his self-image:

    Jeremiah 1:6-9 “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”
          But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’  . . . Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.
          Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. . . .”
          “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land— against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

Solomon, too, saw himself as too young and stupid to fulfill his calling, so God had to promise him great wisdom (1 Kings 3:7-12). Receiving wisdom was not enough, however. Solomon had to believe he now had the required wisdom or he would never dare use it. There are many highly capable, intelligent people who remain non-achievers because they doubt their God-given abilities. Remember how James says if we lack wisdom, we simply have to ask God for it, but he immediately added that faith is critical (James 1:5-6).

Peter saw himself as an uncouth fisherman so defiled that he should be avoided like a skunk. To Jesus, however, he was someone of immense value to God and to humanity; someone he longed for as a close friend and protégé.

    Luke 5:8,9 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” . . .
          Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”

Later, after humiliating himself in a cowardly display of disloyalty, Peter slumped to seeing himself as confirmed lowlife with the backbone of a sea slug. Nevertheless, Jesus labored three times to lift Peter’s eyes to see himself as someone who still loved his Lord and as God’s chosen leader of the early church.

    John 21:17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me? . . . Feed my sheep.”

Paul saw himself as a persecutor of heretics. First, he had to reverse this to seeing himself as a persecutor of the risen Lord and then change his self-image to someone who is on Jesus’ side with the strength to endure great persecution (Acts 9:4-5,16).

* * *

The Challenge

Maintaining a revamped self-image is exceedingly hard. Here’s what I wrote near the end of my favorite web book:

    Despite my relentless longing to share these truths, it hurts to let this book be published. The more I work on the book, the more immersed in its truths I become. It’s continually washing away layer after grimy layer of negativity and buoying me ever higher. I hate the thought of this process ever ending, but dour experience affirms that it will – soon after I put the book down. I have had to reread it scores of times to halt my slide back into the bog. And still I need it.

    Though my need is chronic, I doubt if the mildest affliction could be relieved forever through a single reading of this book. I expect you to feel better after a single dose but regular doses are essential for a permanent cure. So I urge you to keep this book handy, even after completing it. Long-term problems need long-term solutions. I covet a new life for you, not just a momentary easing of the pain. Experience suggests you will need this book year after year. We never reach the point where temptation leaves us forever.

    Negative thoughts have been roosting in our heads, pecking away at the fruit beginning to form in our lives. We’ve shooed these pests away, but they will stealthily return. That’s our cue to skim through the book again. Highlight the parts that especially speak to you or uplift you. Personalize them. Write them out. Display them. Memorize them. Add to them. Share them. Live them. They will keep the vermin away and bring you to new levels of fruitfulness.

    Find ingenious ways to keep in your consciousness truths you particularly need. At work I must set and use several computer passwords. I might say to myself I can do all things through Christ, while typing the first letter of each word. ICDATTC then becomes my new password. No one could guess such an apparently random string of letters and I can remember it only by rehearsing in my mind that positive declaration every time I must use it. Perhaps you could put a little heart somewhere to remind you how much you are loved by God. There are thousands of possibilities. Finding some that work for you will be well worth the effort.

    I’d be thrilled if my expressions sometimes help. I have tried to shape them to stick in slippery memories. But don’t be chained to my words. Using your words will help the truths become yours. And don’t be confined to the paltriness of my insight. Hound God with the passion and confidence of a cherished lover until you receive your own Bible-based, Christ-centered revelations.

    No matter how hot it’s served or how much it’s sweetened, second-hand revelation is as insipid as second-hand tea leaves unless the Holy Spirit comes upon you, exploding those words within you with such power that it becomes your own divine encounter. A hand-me-down word from God might bring a little refreshment, but a truth super-charged by the Spirit of God percolating through one’s life is so superior that no cost is too high a price to pay for it. Fervent prayer and Bible meditation is the usual price.

    Though I have prayed incessantly that this book bless you as much as it has me, I fear I’m asking God to break one of his principles. Why should he command us to seek and to ask and devote our lives to poring over Scripture unless that’s the way he prefers to reveal his truth? It is truths in the heart, not words in a book, that set us free. And lodging them there takes spiritual and mental effort. I crave the joy of serving you by doing all the prayer and study, but that’s like trying to play tennis for you – I get the healthy exercise and you miss all the fun.

I admit it: repeating positive truths to ourselves seems like eating chalk much of the time, but it is not something we can afford to be lazy about. Like clawing our way out of a deep hole, causing our self-image – the way we habitually think of ourselves – to align with spiritual reality is hard work, but very much needed.

* * *

A New Perspective

To be self-serving is not just serving time in a prison of one’s own making but languishing on death row. A plant reaching heavenward will thrive but one turned inward is already withering and beginning to die. Likewise, a river turned in on itself will putrefy. So it is with people whose lives revolve around themselves. The only way to run free is to turn from being self-centered to God-centered. To be self-obsessed is a needless tragedy.

Discerning Christians will have realized that, so far, much of this webpage is twisted. Only now are some of us ready to face the reality that instead of focusing on ourselves and our inadequacies (or supposed strengths), we should be continually reminding ourselves of, and delighting in, our God and his perfection. This is why the Bible is filled with such declarations as:

    Psalms 34:1  . . . his praise will always be on my lips.

    Psalms 35:28 My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long.

    Psalms 63:6 On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.

    Psalms 145:2 Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.

    Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Emphasis mine.)

Our entire lives fall into a heap when we exalt ourselves or other people as our Judge. That position belongs to God alone.

We often recoil from seeing ourselves through God’s eyes because we have supposed that if even we or other people look down on us, the Almighty must be infinitely more critical.

It is undeniable that the Holy Lord’s standards are terrifyingly more exacting than our own, but we have grossly underestimated the infinity of his love that yearns to forgive and to pronounce us perfect. Moreover, we have failed to grasp how our Judge, at the incredible cost of the perfect Son of God swapping places with us on the cross, has made it possible to pronounce us perfect, despite the appalling magnitude of our sin.

Extolling the Almighty’s greatness over and over and over will accomplish little if we regard God as a remote being. For continually praising God to achieve what he wants, it must be combined with an awareness that not even the deepest imaginable marital union matches the wonder of our union with God through Christ.

    1 Corinthians 6:16-17  . . . For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

To be one flesh is superficial, relative to being one spirit. We are in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:17) and he is in us (Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27). We have merged with God on such a profound and intimate level that it surpasses what is humanly possible. We have explored the implications of a street kid entering into a perfect marriage with a millionaire, but this level of oneness is totally eclipsed by our union with God. Unlike human marriage, we do not part, spending much of our lives separate as we go about our own business during most days and sometimes spend little more than evenings and weekends together. Neither do we have a “till death do us part” relationship with God. Indeed, to die is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Like trying to describe the Trinity, our intimacy and extent of our union with God defies analogy. Here are some biblical efforts to describe the indescribable:

    God is your shield, behind which you are safe

    Psalms 3:3  . . . you are a shield around me, O LORD . . .

    Psalms 18:30  . . . He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.

    Being continually cradled in God’s arms

    Deuteronomy 1:31  . . . the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son . . .

    Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. . . .

    Psalms 73:23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

    Isaiah 40:11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart . . .

    Isaiah 46:3-4  . . . you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs . . . I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

    Isaiah 63:9 In all their distress he too was distressed . . . In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them . . .

    God clothing himself with you

    Judges 6:34  . . . the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with Himself . . . (Amplified Bible)

    You clothing yourself with Christ

    Galatians 3:27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

    Romans 13:14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ . . .

    Christ being formed within you

    Galatians 4:19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you

Here is a Scripture about the role of the Holy Spirit that used to puzzle me:

    John 16:14-15 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

Why is it so vital that the Spirit make known the spiritual riches that belong to the risen Lord, rather than simply make those riches available to us? For us, becoming spiritually one with Christ and thus gaining all that is his, is a breeze. Our Lord is so eager for this that he instantly does it the moment we are born anew. Our difficulty lies not in entering the union but in grasping the mind-boggling implications of that union. It is in this area that we need what I earlier called divine psychiatric help.

You are joined to the divine King of kings; a living part of him, as a branch is a part of a vine, with his very life flowing through you, bringing growth and fruit. The God of perfection lives in you, and you in him. The Almighty is your strength, your joy, your love, your life, your hope, your glory. His honor, his victories, his power, his perfection – all that he is – is yours.

To be born of God means you have, as it were, his very genes. And are not just his child – as astonishing as that is – you are a part of the Eternal Son’s very body (1 Corinthians 12:27). Marvel at the implications: it means that he feels everything that happens to you and it affects him profoundly. (Consider, for example, how the head – the brain – is acutely aware even of an itchy back, a speck in the eye, a runny nose, a stubbed toe, an insect in the ear or a burnt finger.) Being part of his body means that where he goes, you go; what he achieves, you achieve. And, as a nose is part of a person’s beauty, you are a part of his beauty.

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Serious Blockages to Changing our Self-Image

Blockage 1: Having a Low Opinion of God

Since we are naturally driven to continue accepting as reality the view of ourselves that we have long held, we can even find ourselves despising God’s opinion rather than having our perception of reality shattered. Even if we accept that God sees us in a better light than other people do, we can tell ourselves such things as: “Oh, he’s just God. He has to love everyone. I’m not in heaven; I have to live on earth. God’s opinion doesn’t matter much down here.”

Whenever we idolize other people’s opinion, we dethrone God in our lives and worship creatures rather than the Creator.

Ponder the thrilling implications of these Scriptures:

    Exodus 23:22 If you . . . do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.

    Isaiah 40:17 Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.

    Isaiah 54:17 no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me . . .

    Isaiah 45:24 They will say of me, “In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.

And consider these hints at how significant God’s view of us is:

    Luke 6:26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you . . .

    Luke 12:4-5 I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

    Luke 16:15  . . . What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

    John 12: 41-44 I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. . . . How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?

    Romans 14:4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

    1 Corinthians 4:3-5 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

    1 Thessalonians 2:6 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.

We should keep moving towards the point where no one’s opinion matters to us except God’s alone. He alone is Truth.

Blockage 2: Fear of Pride

Sincere Christians can mistakenly think that by putting themselves down they are avoiding pride (and hence pleasing God).

As already emphasized, I passionately believe in humility and dying to self but both of these include dying to our own self-image – our perception of truth and how we think others see us – and accepting God’s view of ourselves as the only valid one.

It is not humility, but the height of arrogance to treat our own view of ourselves as more accurate than God’s.

It is vital that we understand the nature of true humility and rid ourselves of all false conceptions. Permit me to adapt what I have written elsewhere:

    The issue of pride and humility is a deathtrap strewn with confusion and false concepts. Let’s clear this minefield before anyone else is hurt. We’ll begin with the analogy of a lamb in Bible times.

    Pride says, “I can find better pasture than the Shepherd. I’ll always find water. I can handle bears, and lions are probably a myth invented by the Shepherd so he can dominate me.” That’s dangerous.

    Godly humility rejoices in the certainty that the Shepherd knows best. Having abandoned faith in itself or in luck, it puts all its hope in the Shepherd, believing that to leave him out of sight for a second is to flirt with disaster. This virtue hugs the Shepherd, delighting in his every whisper, feasting on his goodness. Sometimes humility is led over rocky terrain but ultimately it enjoys the best pasture and the highest security. Not only is it not mauled by predators, it produces the best wool and the best offspring. It sometimes staggers up hills to stay with its Shepherd but it frolics in the warmth of the Shepherd’s love.

    There’s an attitude masquerading as humility, however, that beats itself miserable. “I’m dumb. I’m ugly. I’m hopeless.” Give no room to this imposter.

    Just to be sure you have grasped the difference between this beautiful quality and the ugly imposter that beats oneself up, let me quote from something else I’ve written:

      James 4:6  . . . God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

    For most of my life, scriptures like this have filled me with such dread of the dangerous trap of pride that I felt driven to avoid it at all costs. Tragically, this commendable attitude got me nowhere. My godly intentions were sabotaged by such a mistaken understanding of pride that all I managed was to fall into false humility. I wrongly thought I could foster humility by thinking negatively about myself. To my horror, I eventually discovered that false humility is itself a form of pride.

    I correctly understood that if I thought I could achieve anything of lasting value without God’s help, or if I thought I were moral enough to gain God’s approval outside of Christ’s forgiveness, then humbling myself involved lowering my opinion of myself. My mistake was in wrongly concluding from this truth that the basic ingredient of humility is having a low opinion of oneself.

    Godly humility flows not from thinking lowly of oneself but from seeing things through God’s eyes. Pride is having the audacity to disagree with God. It is saying I know more than the God of the universe; my puny intellect knows better than the Almighty; the God of truth is wrong and I am right.

    Since the God of love sees you as lovable, and true humility involves taking God’s assessment of everything as gospel, humility requires you to see yourself as lovable. If God sees you through eyes of love, how dare you see yourself in a different light, as if your perspective is right and your Creator and Savior is wrong? If God forgives you, to refuse to forgive yourself is to have the audacity to imply that you have higher moral standards than the Judge of all the earth; that you are holier than the Holy Lord. Isn’t that the very pinnacle of pride? Please avoid this deadly trap.

    Make God your God by agreeing with him. He says you are the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Dare you exalt yourself above God by disagreeing with him? Stop wounding yourself by squandering your faith on a lie, thus robbing God of faith that should be invested in him. Refuse the sinful, pride-filled path that deceptively seems humble but is actually implying that you know better than the Almighty. Set yourself free. Embrace God’s truth.

Our goal – and God’s goal – is for us to become increasingly Christlike. But what was Christ like? Jesus’ own behavior confirms that a good self-image is compatible with humility. He maintained a healthy self-image even when telling everyone how humble he is:

    Matthew 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

“He was only telling the truth,” you protest.

Yes, Jesus is the Truth – he said so himself – but when you put yourself down, you are not declaring God’s truth. Instead, you are copying the devil who is “the accuser of our brothers,” (Revelation 12:10) – and you, too, are among the brethren he would love to accuse – and this accuser is a compulsive liar (the “father of lies” – John 8:44).

We are tempted to disqualify Jesus as a role model because he was divine. The apostle Paul, however, was certainly not divine but under divine inspiration he wrote:

    1 Corinthians 4:16  . . . I urge you to imitate me.

    1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

That itself sounds far from putting himself down, but if the Word of God tells us to imitate Paul, let’s examine how he saw himself. Even though he called himself the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9) and “less than the least of all God’s people,” (Ephesians 3:8) and so on, the apostle had a robust self-image. For more details, see Jesus’ Self-Image & Paul’s.

Blockage 3: Expecting God to Change our Self-Image

A dangerous mistake is to presume that God should do for us things he expects us to do. To suppose God should change our self-image or boost our self-esteem is like thinking God should read the Bible for us or give up smoking for us or provide us with an income while we waste our lives away watching daytime television.

We must pray in faith for revelation but it to try to use faith-filled prayer as a license for laziness or disobedience or rejecting biblical revelation is to provoke God. For example, Scripture rightly tells is to pray in faith for wisdom (James 1:5-6) but it is a grave error to suppose this means we can disregard or reject everything else God’s Word tells us about what we must do to gain wisdom. Over and over Proverbs tells us to seek wisdom (Scriptures). Seeking is the opposite of standing idly by waiting for the thing we want to drop in our laps.

It is never a case of either pray or seek: we are to prayerfully seek. And it is faith that motives people to keep seeking: the belief that they will find whatever they are seeking. Jesus lumped together asking and seeking:

    Matthew 7:7-8 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find . . . For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds . . .

Asking and actively seeking are not alternatives; they are inseparable. Receiving involves asking the right person: God. And finding involves search in the right place: God’s Word.

Life changing revelation involves internalizing the Word of God: meditating, memorizing and living it.

The psalmist prayed for revelation:

    Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

But you can only “see wonderful things” in God’s law if you read it.

Note how the inspired psalmist gained his wisdom:

    Psalm 119:97-100 Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.

Someone has said that God is the world’s fastest chess player – it’s always our move. It is disturbingly easy to squander valuable years waiting for God to move when he is waiting for us to move.

Earlier I mentioned Jacob’s name change. If you felt envious when reading about it, you have forgotten that it came about not by Jacob lounging around but by wrestling with God all night (Genesis 32:23-28). And even then it was up to him to accept this name change and live up to it.

God has already done his part. He loves you. He made you in his image, and despite sin marring the perfection he created, he is using everything that touches you to transform you into the very image of Christ, and he already sees in you the beauty and glory that will one day be visible to the entire universe.

    Romans 8:28-29 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son . . .

    2 Corinthians 3:16,18 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. . . . And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

    2 Corinthians 5:17,19,21 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! . . . God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  . . . God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Yes, God has already done his part: your part is to believe it. Over and over, Jesus commended or chided people according to how much faith they exercised (see Faith is Our Responsibility). God holds us accountable for how much we believe. Our Lord is way too intelligent and righteous to praise or rebuke people for something that is entirely God’s doing. As in the parable of the talents, God gives but then it is up to us to use and develop it.

Our Lord does not condone laziness. The same God who made our bodies made our spirits. Just as “no pain, no gain” is an unchangeable truth in the physical realm, so it is in the spiritual.

Our goal should be to consistently see ourselves in a way that truly honors the God who loves us and has re-made us. If, however, it takes enormous amounts of practice – irksome repetition – to become a concert pianist, a tennis star, a sniper, or whatever, we cannot expect perfecting our self-image to come easily. Any want-to-be champions who consider countless hours of repetition to be beneath them will languish in mediocrity. No matter how naturally gifted they are, they will be left behind by those willing to put in the effort.

Regardless of how bitterly we complain about sowing being boring and repetitive, and no matter how long it takes before we see the benefits, the fact remains: those who sow little, reap little (2 Corinthians 9:6; Ecclesiastes 11:6; Proverbs 6:10-11). And this truth is preserved in the most spiritual of all books: the Bible.

Although the Almighty occasionally does things for us that take no effort on our behalf, he is too loving and wise to regularly do this for us. This is because, despite what we might think, it turns out not to be in our own best interest. I explain why this is so in a link at the end of this webpage (Life’s Mysteries Explained).

Blockage 4: Leaving it to Other People to Determine our Self-Image

Thinking it is the role of others, not us, to boost our self-esteem and encourage us is as foolhardy as letting every decision in our lives be determined by the flip of a coin. Letting other people’s opinion – or whether they ever get around to expressing any good opinion they have of you – determine your self-esteem or your emotional well-being or your motivation, is on par with relinquishing control over your own life and destiny and signing it over to other people.

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Final Thoughts

We have seen that it is in our selfish interest to make God our North Star but what a pathetic reason for doing it! In the way we view everything, we should exalt God as our Judge because it is the right thing to do and because only his judgments will stand for all eternity. He truly is Judge and pretending otherwise is burying our head in the sand.

One final, critical point: don’t expect to be granted the gift of seeing yourself through God’s eyes if you are unwilling to see everyone else – including those you despise – through God’s loving eyes. Over and over God emphasizes in his Word the necessity of being as nonjudgmental and forgiving of others as we want God to be of us. As we give to others, so it will be given to us.

Let’s stop usurping God. Let’s dare seek his heart until we view ourselves and everything else from God’s perspective – the only perspective that is true. And then the truth shall set us free.

If you are serious about seeing yourself as God does, bookmark this webpage, or record the web address, so that you can read each of the links below and keep returning here for more links.

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Related Pages

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Why Change Your Self-Image?