Have you ever known someone who put up a barrier that prevented true communication? Sometimes when talking to certain people, I’ve felt like there was a wall of cold steel between us. In moments like that, I find myself wishing the person could open their heart just a little. Do you know why this happens? Oftentimes, it’s because that person has a poor self-image and is afraid to let others see who they really are. But God wants—and has provided—so much more for His children.
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Your self-image is the mental picture you paint of yourself. It’s important to develop it correctly, because how you think, feel, speak, and act flows out of it.
The shaping of your self-image began very early when you were a baby, and continues throughout your life. Your mental self-perception is influenced by the words of others as well as your own experiences. But because our hearts are self-deceiving (Jer. 17:9), we’re prone to a distorted view of ourselves. The only one who truly knows and understands us is God. By going to His Word, we’ll gain the right insight into who we truly are.
Paul is an example of someone who had a balanced self-image. We catch a glimpse of this in 1 Corinthians 15:8-10. After listing those who had the privilege of seeing the risen Christ, Paul declared with humility that he was the last one to see the Lord. What was Paul’s journey from an earlier, distorted view to this more accurate self-perception?
Before his conversion, Paul had too high an opinion of himself. He had reached the top tier of Judaism and was confident as a Pharisee that his obedience to the law had earned him God’s approval and acceptance (Phil. 3:4-6). He was so convinced of his self-righteous beliefs that he persecuted the church. It took a visit from Jesus on the Damascus road to open Paul’s mind to the truth that he was a sinner in need of a Savior.
After, Paul humbly adjusted his self-image to a more accurate assessment. He said, “Whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8). When he wrote to the Corinthians, he described himself as “the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9).
Now, you might think Paul must have had a terrible self-image at this point. How could he possibly get over the guilt of what he’d done? Perhaps you feel this way about yourself. Is past sin dogging your steps, dragging you down into discouragement, and distorting your selfimage? Do you let your failures shape how you see yourself? If so, learn from Paul’s example.
Paul viewed himself as God saw him. He didn’t let past failures shape his identity. He left them behind so he could pursue Christ. At salvation, Paul became a new person, all due to God’s grace: “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul didn’t develop a self-loathing attitude once he recognized his sins. Instead, he saw himself through the lens of biblical truth.
That’s what God wants for every believer. We don’t have to live the rest of our lives with a distorted view of ourselves, living in bondage to a low or high self-image. The Lord wants us to have a balanced perception based on Scripture. Ephesians 1:3-14 tells us how God sees us. We are His chosen, beloved children who are redeemed, forgiven, and lavished with grace.
Finally, Paul lived in his new self-image given to him by God’s grace. He didn’t rest after salvation, but kept pressing forward to become the person God created him to be and accomplish what he’d been called to do. Paul said, “His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them [the other apostles], yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).
The purpose of a balanced self-image is not just so we can feel good about ourselves and relate well to others, but so God can use us as He desires. He’s transforming us into His Son’s image (Rom. 8:29) and accomplishing His will as He empowers our love, service, and obedience.
Many things distort self-perception—guilt from past sin, criticism, failures, and comparison to others are just a few. But these are not true markers of who you are. In Christ, you are a new creation and have been given a new self, made in the likeness of God. That is who you truly are.
The way to develop a balanced self-image is to saturate yourself with God’s Word. Learn what He says about you. Then begin living in those truths by faith, knowing that God is the one transforming you into Christ’s image. He’s working in and through you so you can serve Him effectively, interact with others in an open, godly manner, and see yourself as He does. If you’ll take hold of His truths and let them shape your emotions and behavior, you’ll discover the true you.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. I’d like to wish all fathers a very happy Father’s Day. God has given you the tremendous responsibility of helping your children develop a self-image based on Scripture. No matter how old your children are, it’s never too late to become a strong encourager to them.