Having a serious and sober—and biblical—assessment of ourselves is the only way to proceed as a Christian. It is NOT about thinking how wonderful we are, how great we are, or how competent we are. It is seeing ourselves as fallen and finite creatures who without the grace of God could just as easily have been a Hitler or a Stalin as anyone else.
It is commonplace today to hear that the best thing we can do for our self is to affirm our self, think highly of our self, have a great self-image, and imagine ourselves to be the cream of the crop. Plenty of Christians are pushing this idea as well. They think the way to go is have all these really neat thoughts about who we are, while never thinking anything negative about ourselves.
Simply consider the pastor of the largest church in America. In 2015 Joel Osteen’s book The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life Today was released. It was all about affirming yourself, feeling good about yourself, and being in love with yourself. Here are a few quotes from the book:
“I am blessed. I am prosperous. I am successful.”
“I am victorious. I am talented. I am creative.”
“I am wise. I am healthy. I am in shape.”
“I am energetic. I am happy. I am positive.”
“I am passionate. I am strong. I am confident.”
“I am secure. I am beautiful. I am attractive.”
Now is there a place for some positive and encouraging thoughts about ourselves? Yes, so there is some truth in all this of course. Always being down and negative and morose is not so healthy. But having a good view of self is NOT based on how terrific and wonderful we are—it is based on how wonderful and terrific Christ is.
Jesus said we are to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. But again, that is based on a biblical view of self. It is recognising that we are fallen and failed sinners, who are far from such terrific folks we might think we are. Even as believers we still recognise the sin and selfishness in ourselves, and how far we have to go to become truly Christlike.
If we merely compare ourselves with others, we might think we are pretty good, but when we compare ourselves to a holy and perfect God we come up real short indeed. And having a proper view of ourselves helps in so many ways. All the great preachers have pointed this out. Simply consider two—of many—quotes from Charles Spurgeon:
Beware of no man more than of yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.
“Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said something quite similar: “When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad.” Exactly right. This quote comes from his collection of expository sermons on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
It has been printed in various editions. Here I want to quote from it further, using the Eerdmans edition, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (two volumes in one, 1959, 1981). Chapter 6 looks at Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek”. What Lloyd-Jones has to say on all this is light years away from the sub-biblical slop that too many popular preachers today are saying. He says this: