Personal discouragement and a feeling of worthlessness are hallmarks of our troubled times. A reader of The Plain Truth wrote, "I have often looked longingly at the guns hanging on my wall, and thought that maybe that would be the best way out." He wrote of feelings of "inferiority, guilt, and worthlessness." How unfortunate! Yet many suffer from similar feelings. If you are one of these unfortunate souls, it's high time you adopted a new view of yourself and the rest of humanity!
Depression, as one writer put it in a recent Plain Truth, is a "gray menace." Depression and discouragement will gnaw at you until they destroy you — if you let them. And nothing is more depressing than the idea that you, as an individual, are worthless. We all have low points. None of us is immune from occasional despondency. But no one has to live with it on a chronic basis. Some people are very consistent they are always discouraged. They live in "the pits." They have adopted a permanent posture of personal worthlessness. They are like the character Joe Bfsplk in the now defunct Lil' Abner comic strip everywhere they go there is a dark cloud over their head. Such people have suffered a massive loss of self-esteem. They have lost their zest for life and any sense of personal worth. They feel neither competent to live nor worthy of life. They are self-destructive. As a result of this chronic depression such people are not even beginning to live up to their own human potential. They have not yet discovered the talents, abilities and qualities that lie within themselves. Their flag is flying at half-mast over the death of the self, and they are unable to climb out of the crypt of despair into which they have fallen. For all intents and purposes such people are through. They have lost their reason to live. Worse, they have lost their will to live. You may well be such a person. If so, there is something you can do about it. You can begin by changing your view of man in general. Then you can change your view of yourself.
The Biblical Perspective
It is believed, in some circles, that the Bible's view of man is essentially negative. It is quite true that the Bible pulls no punches in exposing the evil aspects of man's nature. The prophet Jeremiah, for example, said: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9.) We have all experienced the deceitfulness of our own hearts. That is why we can say unanimously: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." How often have we all betrayed our own best intentions and done the very thing we were trying to avoid! This is undoubtedly what Paul was talking about in Romans. He wrote: "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Rom. 7:15). He concluded that sin dwelt within his very being. There is a part of man's nature that is sinful, evil. Sooner or later this evil asserts itself. In the final analysis, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Every day of our lives, knowingly or unknowingly, we are locked in a struggle against evil. Each day presents us with temptations, moral dilemmas, and challenges. But this does not mean that man is essentially evil. This does not mean that man is intrinsically evil or predominantly evil. Think about this: Do we do evil most of the time? Are the majority of our acts evil? Or do many, if not most, of us commit evil acts only occasionally? The best way to understand this matter of "human nature" is to go back to the beginning. We are told in Genesis 1:27: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." That's the first and most basic point of understanding: Man is created in the image of God. When God surveyed the physical creation, including the man and woman, He observed that "it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Man, created in God's image, is "very good"! He is not intrinsically evil. He is essentially a good creation. Man was created with vast potential, both for this life and for the life to come. The Creator built into man talents, skills, brain power, tactile dexterity and other qualities that place man on a unique plane far above that of the animal kingdom. Man is not an animal! Man is a reflection of God. Granted, man sinned. According to the Genesis record, Adam and Eve yielded to the temptings of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The apostle Paul, commenting on this, wrote: "Therefore... sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and... death spread to all men because all men sinned..." (Rom. 5:12).
The Capacity for Choice
God did not create man sinful. Sin came into the human world when Adam sinned by listening to the serpent. But Adam was not intrinsically evil. He was created morally neutral. He had neither sinned nor done good. He had done nothing. But he was not a "bad" creation or an inferior product. As a created entity he was "very good." But he had the capacity for evil. And he had equal capacity for good. The deck was not stacked against man from the beginning. He was created with freedom of choice! Man has always had a choice. God had told the Israelites in the days of Moses: "See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey.... But if your heart turns away..." (Deut. 30:15-17). They had an equal choice between obeying or turning away from God and missing the mark of His standard of behavior. When man chooses to sin (literally, "miss the mark"), it is because he has the free capacity to make such a negative choice. How could God hold us accountable for evil if we had no choice but to perform it because of the way He made us? But He did not make us automatons. Man is a creature with the capacity for choice. But, man is accountable to God for his choices. If man sins he is said to be "condemned." If man avoids sin he is said to be "righteous." Since all have sinned at some point or another, all are guilty — all initially exist in a state of moral condemnation.
Man Is Justified by God
However, the man who is forgiven of sin is said to be "justified" — that is, he is considered as righteous before God. Once forgiven, man again becomes righteous. But no man can become righteous on the basis of his own works or merit. Such righteousness has to be imparted from God as a gift; it is the "righteousness of God" given to man — not our own intrinsic righteousness, or "works of righteousness," that saves us from condemnation. (For more on this vital point, read our free reprint titled "No! You Can't Earn Your Salvation." Also the booklet What Will You Be Doing in the Next Life?) Christians, who are forgiven and justified by faith in the sacrifice of Christ, do not exist in a chronic state of guilt. Paul made that very clear in Romans 8:1. He wrote: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." How abundantly clear! Christians stand justified before God. Their guilt for moral failure has been removed as an act of God's mercy. They do not have to bear the burden of chronic, gnawing guilt! They have been freed from the penalty of sin that once hung over their heads like a sword of Damocles. Does this mean that Christians never again sin? Not at all. Christians do sin! That's what Paul was saying about himself in the passage quoted earlier (Rom. 7:15). Paul sinned — even as an apostle of God. But he was not condemned. He did not live in a perpetual state of guilt. He was delivered from that by Jesus Christ (Rom. 7:24-25). The apostle Paul did not adopt a "whipped dog" posture about himself, even though he admitted to sin. He did not feel he needed to grovel in humiliation before man and God. Rather, he had adopted a spiritually mature attitude toward his own humanity. He had found the solution to his own sinfulness — or rather, it had found him. There is no denying our moral guilt before God. Every human being who has ever lived (except Jesus Christ) has been guilty of sin. But, by the same token, everyone has been "guilty" of doing good! Our deeds have not been exclusively evil, have they? Have we not all done good from time to time as well? Of course we have. That is why Paul could also say, "When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves..." (Rom. 2:14). That's a very important point! It is possible to do "by nature" right things as much as it is possible to yield to the negative side of our nature and do wrong things! But it is for the wrong things we have all done that Christ had to be sacrificed. Man's nature is a mixture of good and evil potential. Man has negative and positive capacities. But he is neither intrinsically good nor intrinsically evil by nature. When man sins he does so by choice. But the same is true when he does good. Each person has within himself the capacity for monumental evil. As Jesus said: "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man" (Mark 7:21-23). Jesus knows "what is in" man. He knows that we have the capacity for enormous evil. He recognizes that we are but dust. He knows our frame. He understands that "the flesh is weak."
Man Needs Extra Help
Yet Jesus was optimistic about man's capacity for good. He knew that with the help of the Holy Spirit, man is capable of much good. He promised to send, as a help to man, the Holy Spirit — in Greek, paraclete, meaning literally "a help alongside" (John 14:15-17, 26, 16:13, etc.). This Spirit would provide Christians with dynamic power (Acts 1:8) with which to overcome the negative aspects of their nature. Paul spoke plainly of the kind of fruit that would be borne by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Christians: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23). Man is capable of producing good fruit. With the help of the Holy Spirit the sky is the limit. Man can soar to undreamed — of heights. He has at his disposal the same power that created the universe. Man can, with God's help, realize his own maximum potential — both in this life and in the life to come. No man need be discouraged in the light of this knowledge! No one needs to live in a chronic state of guilt and fear. No one needs to adopt a "whipped dog" posture about life. There is help. There is hope. But each individual must assume the responsibility for himself. Each must avail himself of the mercy, power and freedom of God. We must all "work out" our own salvation (Phil. 2:12). We must take the initiative in the face of God's calling and offer. We must generate from within ourselves the will to reach out our hands to God in humble acceptance of His magnificent offer.
Man — In the Image of God
To know God is to know true freedom. It means freedom from guilt. Freedom from self-doubt. Freedom from chronic discouragement. Freedom from a sense of worthlessness. Man is worth something. Man is worth so much that God gave His only begotten Son for him! (John 3:16.) To God man is the pinnacle of His creation. He is the ultimate expression of divine ingenuity. Man is created in the image of God. Man, in all of his beautiful sizes, shapes, skin colors and types, is a child of God. Man, in two sexes, is created in the image of God. For man to realize who and what he is brings joy beyond expression. It is a leap to new plateaus of hope and anticipation for the future. It is to be fulfilled in this life also. For many "Christianity" is basically a religion of the afterlife. But real Christianity is a religion of "the now" — it is a way of life. It is a way of tapping into one's potential as a human being created in the image of a creative God. Each individual has unique abilities and talents — some greater and some lesser than other human beings. We are encouraged to function "according to our several abilities" — that is, to do the best we can with what we have to do with. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might" (Eccl. 9:10). There is nothing to do in the grave except to wait unconsciously in dark oblivion for the resurrection call of the Creator. Now is the time to act. Today is the time of your salvation if you have been called of God. This is your moment in the sun, your time of personal fulfillment. It is a time of hope and joy. It is a time to revel in your talents and abilities. Time to use them fully in order to glorify God. It is a time to use the power of the Holy Spirit to fight against the unseen forces of evil and to gain the victory over the negative side of your own nature. It is a time of forgiveness, a time of personal peace with God. You have been reconciled if you have been forgiven. You have been granted the priceless gift of guiltlessness. There is nothing to be sad and upset about. As the writer of Hebrews said: "Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet..." (Heb. 12:12-13). You, as a created child of God, have incredible potential — both in this life and that which is to come. Once you are within the sphere of God's influence, and led by the power of His Holy Spirit, you can begin to realize that potential. You can soar to new heights of accomplishment. When you come to realize who and what you are in terms of God's purposes, your life will take on new and profound meaning. You will have new direction — a sense of vision and destiny. As a Spirit-led child of God you will no longer be weighted down with a back-breaking load of guilt. You will no longer feel a loss of self-esteem. Instead you will have a divinely imparted sense of identity. In Christ you can have your sins "removed as far as the east is from the west." You can walk freely in the bright light of revelation and forgiveness, knowing that you are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. Then, and only then, will you begin to live up to the incredible potential for which you were born!