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What Is Your Self-Concept?
Good News Magazine
April 1982
Volume: VOL. XXIX, NO. 4
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What Is Your Self-Concept?
Joseph W Tkach

When you look at yourself, are you satisfied with what you see? How does God look at you? Is He satisfied?

   Look in a mirror. What do you see? A happy, beaming face? A furrowed brow? Bloodshot eyes? Your crisp new shirt? A loose thread on your dress? A skin blemish? A smart, new hairstyle? Maybe a bit of a bulge around your midsection?
   More important, what do you see when you look beyond that mirrored reflection at yourself as a person?
   A generally happy, generous type? A person with lots of drive and enthusiasm? Someone worldly wise, full of common sense, with widely varied life experiences behind him or her? A basically likable man or woman?
   What we see when we look at ourselves, and what we think about what we see when we look at ourselves, combine to give us what psychologists call our self-concept. Psychologists view the discovery and understanding of the self-concept as one of the most significant advances in their field.

Poor mental health?

   How do you feel about yourself? Are you happy with the image you see? Are you satisfied with who and what you are?
   Psychologists tell us that if we have a poor self-concept — a weak self-image and low self-esteem — then we are suffering from poor mental health. And the lower the image we have of ourselves, the poorer our mental health, according to the experts.
   Would this apply to true Christians? What if we put ourselves in God's place — how does God view us? How should we as Christians view ourselves?
   Let's look at how some of the great men of the Bible viewed themselves. Take, for instance, the patriarch Job. In Job 42:1-6, we see Job after he repented of his self-righteousness. What did he say?
   "Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.
   "Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee."
   Job had come to a much greater understanding of what God stood for, what God represented and what his personal relationship with God should have been. And where Job was, before, pretty pleased with himself, self-satisfied, he now said, "Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Job loathed himself — detested what he was — and abased himself before God.
   What would the psychologists say about Job? Job here displayed such a low self-concept, apparently, that psychologists would probably consider Job's mental health very poor.
   Now notice Romans 7:18. This is the apostle Paul speaking: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not." A war was raging in Paul's mind — the carnal mind against the Spirit of God.
   Paul continued: "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me" (verses 19-20).

Prerequisite to conversion

   To become a true Christian, one must first become convicted against the way of life he has been living — against his sinful nature and repent.
   We must know what we are repenting of — we must see ourselves as God sees us — and come to loathe our carnal nature. Even after conversion, the carnal, natural mind takes over on occasion — overrides the Spirit of God — and forces us to do things that, with our new, godly nature, we do not want to do.
   "I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (verses 21-22).
   God said He would write His laws in our hearts (Jer. 31:33). Our minds are coupled with God's Holy Spirit, which enables us to look at life from a different perspective. We no longer think as much of ourselves as we once did.
   "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:23-24).
   The apostle Paul, through the power of God's Holy Spirit, was able to see himself as God viewed him before he was converted, and as God viewed the carnal nature Paul still manifested on occasion.
   God doesn't look on the outward man — He looks on the heart (I Sam. 16:7). It makes no difference whether we are outwardly beautiful, strong or intellectual. Pleasing God requires that we submit ourselves to Him and obey Him. As submissive tools in God's hands, we can perform what is required of us.
   But how would psychologists approach this knowledge? What would they think of begotten members of God's Family? They would no doubt classify Job, Paul, Jeremiah and other true Christians — us included — as having poor mental health.
   But are we mentally ill because we abhor what we are? A vast difference — a tremendous conflict — exists between the standards of psychologists and those of the Bible.

"Weak of the world"

   Psychologists would have us believe that we should, by using human reasoning, see ourselves as greater than we really are, and that doing so will lead us to greater achievements and accomplishments.
   Not so! Unless we are in tune with God through the power of His Spirit, there will be a vast difference between what we are and what we become.
   God says, through the prophet Isaiah, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (Isa. 55:8). God must give us His Holy Spirit to open our minds — and He has, if we have been truly called and have turned to Him and His way. God must give us the conviction — grant us the ability to see and understand what repentance is all about.
   The apostle Paul describes, in I Corinthians 1:26-29, the people God has called: "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called..."
   God didn't call us based on the world's standards. And neither should we compare ourselves among ourselves based on the world's standards. When we do, we either think we are better than our neighbor, or we think we are so inferior that we just can't accomplish anything. And self-pity amounts to false humility.
   True humility, on the other hand, makes us focus on ourselves as the root cause of all our problems. We have no one else to blame but ourselves and our own human nature.
   God doesn't want anyone to think that he was called because he has above-average intelligence or is tremendously beautiful or extra strong or just born somehow better than anyone else.
   God says, through Jeremiah: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight" (Jer. 9:23-24).
   The only ones who deserve any credit are God and Jesus Christ. Our calling is not something that we have earned — it is not something we have captured or something we can inherit. Our calling is a result of God's love and mercy — an individual and specific miracle, a gift from God (John 6:44, 65).

Not to remain foolish

   But, just because we are called as the "foolish," "weak" and "base things of the world" (I Cor. 1:26-29), does that mean we are to remain in this state?
   No! We are to grow in grace and in the knowledge of God's ways (II Pet. 3:18). As we do, we incorporate into our lives the very character of God. Our nature becomes God's nature, and we begin to produce the fruits with which G()d is pleased.
   In John 15, Christ gave an analogy showing this need for true Christians to bear good fruit: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit" (verses 1-2). This purging process includes the everyday trials and hardships with which we are confronted.
   "Now ye are clean through the word [we are washed with the water of God's Word and with the blood of Jesus Christ] which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (verses 3-5).
   Without Christ living His life in us through His Spirit, we can accomplish nothing.
   Notice the attitude God wants us to take on — notice to whom God looks: "For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man [regardless of our heritage, our background, the walk of life from which we have been called or the depths of depravity to which we might have descended] will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word" (Isa. 66:2).
   That's what it takes. It doesn't matter who we, carnally, think we are or who or what we have been in this world.
   Certainly, some people are born with more natural talent and ability, but in God's eyes they're underachievers. They haven't accomplished as much as those who have less ability but who throw themselves on God's mercy and allow God to use them as He sees fit.
   God uses these truly humble, converted people as instruments that simply befuddle the minds of the psychologists and the intellect of this society. God judges us according to the works we produce after He reveals to us the right way of life.
   It has been said that there are four kinds of people in this world, and we all fall into one of these categories. The first kind of people are those who can. We may know of a lot of such people. Because of where they were born and their station in life, their resources and circumstances guarantee a life of material success.
   Then there are those who can, but don't. These individuals have tremendous abilities, but use them for destructive, rather than constructive, purposes. Criminals in many cases fall into this category — many have been brilliant and creative. But, typically, criminals have a poor self-concept, and achieve the wrong things. People in this group don't make many positive contributions to society.
   The third group is made up of people who can't and don't. We've all known people who were always trying but not succeeding, not accomplishing. They never reach the goal they're shooting for.
   Finally we have the fourth group, and it is to be hoped that all of us, if we are true Christians, fall into this category. This last group is made up of people who can't, but do.
   You see, we weren't called because of our great intellect, our noble backgrounds, the mighty strength and power we have of ourselves. In this category we have people who have risen above the circumstances, however poor, in which they started. Against all odds, these people become the greatest achievers, not because of themselves, but because of God's Spirit working through them and Christ living His life over in them.
   This is the group that we, as members of God's Church, are in. Paul said God called the weak of the world to confound the wise (I Cor. 1:26-29). God gives His Spirit to those who are willing to obey Him (Acts 5:32), and with that Spirit, God's people can achieve incredible successes.

Use God's Spirit

   Regardless of our physical position in this life, the ultimate evaluation of our worth will depend on how much we exercise the Spirit of God. God judges according to our works. In Matthew 20, in the parable of the laborers, Christ showed how God will judge all of us:
   "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way" (verses 1-4).
   God calls people at different times. Seniority doesn't matter. It's no guarantee of salvation. We will be judged according to what we do with what we are given (Luke 12:48).
   Christ's parable of the talents shows that God rewards us according to the effort we expend (Matt. 25:14-21). More will be required from those who have been given much.

The right self-concept

   What, then, is the self-concept that we as Christians should have? Just this: The right self-concept is realizing our own potential. And we can only realize what our potential is if we realize who and what we are and have been.
   We have been given, through God's mercy, the knowledge of God's way. If we deceive ourselves into believing that we are anything other than what we are — unworthy benefactors of God's grace — we become like the person described in James 1:23-24:
   "For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was."
   The bottom line of true humility is recognizing that we have problems because of ourselves — because of the carnal nature still within us. What we were before conversion can prevent us from attaining salvation and eternal life if we don't overcome.
   James continues, "But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed" (verse 25).
   Paul admonishes, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). If we let Christ's mind reside in us and guide us, we're going to accomplish great feats — we're going to accomplish wonderful works that please God. If we have the mind of Christ, we're going to be doing our Father's business, just as Christ did (John 9:4).
   To perform the works that please God, we need to have God's Spirit residing in us, along with a childlike attitude — a submissive, teachable attitude, one that yields to God's way in everything.

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Good News MagazineApril 1982VOL. XXIX, NO. 4
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