Seeing Ourselves as God sees us

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My topic this morning is ‘Seeing ourselves as God sees us’. You’ll see that heading on the back of the service sheet where there is space for you to make some notes if you would like to do that. And could you also turn to the Letter to the Philippians. We’ll be coming back to that a bit later.

How we see ourselves and how we understand our place in the world – our self-image – has a profound impact on us. You could even say that it shapes the whole of our lives. I had to go to London for a meeting the other day and I picked up a copy of Metro Newspaper. The headline reads: ‘The Rise of DIY Plastic Surgery’. Let me quote from the article:

Obsession with celebrity culture is driving people to perform DIY cosmetic surgery, an expert warned yesterday. In the worst case, a man gave himself a nose job with a chisel and replaced the cartilage he removed with a chicken bone… Others have cut their stomachs in DIY tummy tucks, and used glue to try to pin back their ears. [A doctor] said the cult of fame was leading people to focus on looks and giving them a ‘totally distorted’ image of themselves.’

That, of course, is at the extreme end of the spectrum. But problems are widespread and not getting better despite the unprecedented prosperity of our age.

Someone has written:

Alone, I am bored, I am weary, I hate myself, I am disgusted with myself… I cannot get away, for I love my prison and I hate it. For my prison is myself… I love and loath myself.

According to the mental health charity Mind:

Suicide accounts for 20 per cent of all deaths amongst young people aged 15-24 … Around 19,000 young people attempt suicide every year and about 700 of these die as a result … The suicide rate in young men has doubled since 1985 …

Now I want to ask four questions on this issue of how we see ourselves: First, what is the world’s perspective on this issue of how we see ourselves? Secondly, what is the problem with the world’s perspective? Thirdly, how can we know how God sees us? Fourthly, how does God see us?


It is widely recognised, of course, that self-image and self-esteem is a big issue. Low self-esteem, especially, is regarded as a major cause of unhappiness and of failure to fulfil our potential. So, for instance, the BBC website talks in these terms:

… all agree that high self-esteem means that we appreciate ourselves and our personal worth. More specifically, it means:•we have a positive attitude •we value ourselves highly •we're convinced of our own abilities •we see ourselves as competent, in control of our own lives and able to do what we want.In addition, we compare ourselves favourably with others. Low self-esteem can mean helplessness, powerlessness and even depression.

And a GP writes:

… self-esteem is how you estimate yourself. To do that you need to ask yourself certain questions: •Do I like myself? •Do I think I'm a good human being? •Am I someone deserving of love? •Do I deserve happiness? •Do I really feel - both in my mind and deep in my guts - that I'm an OK person? People with low self-esteem find it hard to answer 'yes' to these questions.

What, then, is regarded as the solution if we have low self-esteem? The same GP has these suggestions:

… you can take on board a very important fact, which is that you are a wonderful, individual and special person - and there is no one quite like you… So if nature has bothered to make you utterly unique, don't you feel that you should accept that you're important, and that you have as much right as anyone else to be on this planet? You have other rights too. One of them is the right to make mistakes. Don't forget that 'to err is human' …

And here are his technique to improve self-esteem:

•… find 10 minutes every day to be alone and to just sit and do nothing. •Accentuate the positive.•List 50 things you like about yourself. If you're seriously lacking in self-esteem this could take weeks! But persevere.•When you have reached your 50 good things, keep the list somewhere you can see it all the time. •Try to record one more, new thing you like about yourself every day for the rest of your life!

In other words, don’t be totally unrealistic, but think positively, because really you’re special, and you’re OK. Get a hold of that, and you’ll be fine. That’s the world’s perspective – in a fairly moderate form.


There are (at least) four problems with this approach.

First, it seriously underplays our potential. Just to say, ‘Maybe you’re not perfect but you’re OK’ falls far short of what God intends for us. So when the apostle Paul is praying for the Philippians he is confident, he says (1.6)…

… that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

And he goes on (in 1.10-11) to tell them that he’s praying that they will be…

… pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

That’s what we’re made for – and not just to be fairly OK compared to the next guy. So ironically, the positive thinking approach is not nearly positive enough about what is possible for us, so it can never satisfy our deepest longings. We yearn to be more than the world offers us. But at the same time the world’s approach fails to recognise just how far we are from that. So:

Secondly, it seriously underplays our problems. When the world tells us to feel deep down in our guts that we’re OK people, and when it tells us to focus on all things we like about ourselves, it is completely failing to deal with the fact that when we look inside ourselves there is a great deal that we don’t like at all because it is not at all likeable and it is not OK. We may not be all bad, but we know when we’re being honest with ourselves that some of what we think and say and do cannot be sorted simply with a bit of positive thinking. We cannot deal with what must frankly be called the evil within us by sweeping it under the carpet and pretending it doesn’t exist. There is a real danger that if we tell people they’re OK when they know they’re not, then we just compound their despair, because we show that we don’t understand, and we have no hope to offer.

The third problem with the world’s approach is that it puts us at the centre. It asks us to think even more about ourselves. And it tells us that the solution to our problems lies within us. So it exacerbates our natural self-centredness – and that helps no-one.

Then, fourthly, the world’s approach ignores the elephant in the room (if I can put it like that). The elephant in the room – the big issue that is so obvious but that people do their best to ignore –is the decay and death that we all face. Unless we can find some solution to it, the fact of decay and death shatters any hope that our search for lasting significance will be successful. No amount of positive thinking can change the fact that this morning we are one day closer to death than we were yesterday.

So the world’s approach to the self-image issue seriously underplays both our potential and our problems; it disastrously puts us at the centre; and it ignores the biggest issue of all.

What we need is to see ourselves as God sees us. So, next question:


We can know because he tells us. That’s what we’ve got here in the Bible. This is God’s perspective on the world and on us. Of course, we have to take God at his word. We have to trust that what he says is true. And that’s the essence of faith. Faith enables us to break free. We are no longer shackled to our self-centred view of ourselves. We can radically shift our perspective, and begin to see ourselves through God’s eyes.

So, for instance, there is more wisdom on the self-image and self-esteem issue in this little Letter to the Philippians – less than four pages long – than in all the self-help books that all the publishing houses of all the world have ever pumped out into the market.

When we read the Bible, then, and take God at his word, what do we find? This is my final heading:


The key to seeing ourselves as God sees us is to look at Jesus. That, in a nutshell, is how we get a right perspective on ourselves. That is how we can hold together both honesty about how we are now and hope for how we can be in the future. That is how we can learn a healthy self-image. Don’t look at yourself. Look at Jesus. Only as we do that do we see ourselves accurately. So, what do we find when we look at Jesus? Here are seven things we learn.

First, we are not at the centre of the universe. Jesus is. The Letter to the Philippians is saturated in Jesus. Read it through for yourself some time this coming week and you’ll see what I mean. Paul says (1.21):

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Now that is positive thinking! And why is dying gain? 1.23:

I desire to depart [that is, to die] and be with Christ.

And Christ is not just the centre of Paul’s existence. He is the centre of everything. 2.9-10:

Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The world does not revolve around us. It revolves around Jesus. It is healthy for us to realise that.

Secondly, we are God’s good creation. Jesus made us. And Jesus became one of us. Colossians 1.16:

For by him all things were created…

And Philippians 2.7-8 tells how the Son of God took on human likeness and became man. There can be no higher dignity than to know that Jesus made us, and became one of us.

Thirdly, our wickedness is great. We sent Jesus to the cross. Philippians 2.8:

he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

It is quite possible to have self-esteem that is too high. In fact that might be a far larger problem than too little self esteem. Paul says in Philippians 2.3:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Think of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. The Pharisee says, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men’ – in other words, he thinks he’s better than others. That’s what the world would call high self esteem. The tax collector says, ‘God, have mercy on me a sinner’. He has a problem of low self-esteem, if you like. But, of course, it’s the tax collector and not the Pharisee, says, Jesus, who goes home in the right with God.

Self-satisfaction and self-righteousness are bigger dangers – far bigger in the long run – than low self-esteem. Looking at the crucifixion of Jesus brings low the self-satisfied. The cross exposes the depth of our sin. We all, as part of humanity collectively, sent him to his death. We all share responsibility for that. Yes, the cross is God’s plan to deal with sin, but the heavy price that Jesus pays is a measure of how grievous our sin is.

Dag Hammerskjold, the highly regarded first Secretary General of the UN was described as ‘a great, good and loveable man’. But he looked into himself and he wrote of ‘that dark counter-centre of evil in our nature’ so that we make even our service of others ‘the foundation of our own life-preserving self-esteem’.

We are not worthless. But we are unworthy. And that is a fact that is brilliantly illuminated by the light of the cross. The message of the cross is that we are under God’s curse and deserve to die.

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse…

...says the apostle Paul in Galatians 3.10. That curse is the curse of death as the just punishment for our sin and rebellion. Our self-image must include the fact – so fundamental to biblical teaching – that each one of us deserves the death penalty at the hands of God. That fact does not do much to strengthen self-centred self-esteem. It is not meant to. It is meant to destroy it. The cross destroys self-centred self-esteem. It humbles us.

Fourthly, we are loved to a magnificent degree. Jesus went to the cross out of love for us. If you want to know that you are loved, you are likely to get a pretty mixed message if you look anywhere else but at Christ. But look at Jesus dying for you and it is hard to see how anyone could doubt his love for them. And that was not a cold calculation. Paul tells the Philippians in 1.8:

God can testify how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

The love of Jesus for us is not only so great that he was ready to lay down his life for us. It is also warm and personal. Look at Jesus, and you will see how loved you are.

Fifthly, we are set in a wonderful family. Jesus gathers us round himself. In Philippians 2.1-2 Paul urges believers to live out the family life in which Christ has set them:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

When we look to Jesus and trust in him then we are never alone. Not only is he with us by his Spirit, but he sets us among brothers and sisters in Christ – our fellow believers – among whom we can learn to love and be loved.

Sixthly, we have a purpose for living that fits who we are. Jesus calls us to serve him. 1 Corinthians 12:

… we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body… God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Ephesians 2.10:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

And seventhly, we have a guaranteed glorious future. We will become like Jesus, we will be raised with Jesus, and we will love God and one another round the throne of Jesus for ever. In Philippians 3.14 Paul says:

I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.

That should be our perspective on our lives. And he goes on (verse 20):

… our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

We have a glorious destiny and an eternal home, and Jesus is going to bring us there, and transform us into the men and women that he wants us to be. And that will satisfy our deepest longings.

In all these ways, the key to seeing ourselves as God sees us is to look at Jesus, and to keep looking at him. Become preoccupied, not with yourself, but with him.

None of that, of course, has to do with our physical appearance, which is largely irrelevant from God’s perspective. No amount of plastic surgery, DIY or not, will impress God.

A false self-image will at best shackle our usefulness in the Kingdom of God. It will damage our effectiveness and reduce what God will do through us. At worst, it will lead us to reject the only path of salvation open to us.

Someone with a self-worth that is seriously awry – wildly off the truth – is like an unbroken horse: incapable of useful work and dangerous to get near. So we need to develop this Christ-centred, cross-centred view of ourselves. As C.S.Lewis puts it in the mouth of his Narnia Christ-figure, the lion Aslan:

You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve. And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth.

We need (to quote again)…

… neither the easy optimism of the humanist, nor the dark pessimism of the cynic, but the radical realism of the Bible.

So let’s remember that we begin to get our self-worth right when we take our eyes off ourselves and put our focus on Jesus. And it needs to be a steady gaze, not just an occasional glance in his direction. When we get him in focus then we get ourselves in focus. Lose sight of him, and our image of ourselves gets hopelessly and dangerously distorted.

You will have a right self-image when you know your value to Jesus. We will have a right self-image when we have no illusions about our sinfulness. We have a right self-worth when we see that we are accepted; when we are clear about our role; and when we understand our future with him. We have a part in God’s plan. And we have a place in God’s family – for ever.

How do you see yourself? What is your self-image? Let’s abandon your own ideas – our self-centred self-satisfaction or our self-centred despair. Instead, let’s learn to see ourselves as God sees us, by looking at Jesus.

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