15 December 2017

Identity and Self-Esteem Part Two

In light of our God-given identity, why do so many Christians struggle with low self-esteem? How can we live out of His fullness and nurture a healthy selfesteem?

Quite simply, by the grace of God brought to us by faith in Jesus. God’s grace really is ‘amazing’ yet it is one of the most misunderstood of His gifts as often our understanding of grace limits it to being about forgiveness; it includes forgiveness but it is not just about forgiveness. Grace extends beyond this and signifies God’s favour and heart toward us; He is ‘for’ us. God’s grace, or favour, is God looking toward us in order to benefit us. Even though we are undeserving, He looks toward us for our good, which further reveals the essence of God’s nature, His heart of unfailing love and absolute acceptance of us.

So what does God’s grace bring us?

God’s grace is limitless and immense but in the context we are exploring, it brings us a new identity and new life, as well as a new power by His Spirit. The notes in my Bible describe this grace as, “a Godgiven resource that makes possible holy living… His grace is powerful and all enabling to the believer. His grace facilitates our abilities to conquer every weakness as we yield to absolute trust or reliance upon God…” His grace, therefore, gives us a supernatural ability that leads to transformation and enables us to do what we cannot do for ourselves. God’s grace is ever-present; it comes to us every moment of every day, surrounds us, and floods us as we trust and rely on Him. There is never a time when, as we open up to Him, God by His grace cannot come and enable us to look beyond our struggles and ourselves, and allow Him to complete what He has begun in us.

How can we nurture a healthy self-esteem?

Firstly, once we become aware of the existence of some expressions of low self-esteem in our lives, and have a desire to be free of them, it is helpful to acknowledge and pay attention to them. This self-awareness (note self-awareness is not self-examination) helps us identify what really is true of us and at this point it is crucial to bring whatever that may be to the Lord. Do not avoid what is true of you in these moments; avoid the temptation to construct something acceptable to God. Often we bring to Him what we think or feel we should be, but it is essential to bring what is actually going on in our hearts and minds. Do not hold back or hide anything; it is only when we are honest with Him that His grace can come, as we ask for His help and enabling power to begin to change us.

Secondly, we recognise that this is an on-going journey. Paul tells us we are to work out our salvation in His presence (Phil 2:12) and this suggests that these disruptions and distortions in our lives do not disappear overnight. In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” and, for me, these words convey the nature of this journey. When we first trust in Jesus, the course of our lives immediately takes a new path or way.

As we continue on this way, we learn the truth about Him and who we are in Him, and we start to experience more of His life in us. As we walk with Him, steeping ourselves in all truth we come into, and live out of, the fullness of His life!

How is truth important in nurturing a healthy selfesteem?

What happened in Genesis 3 resulted in us living in a fallen world where everything is disrupted and distorted. This fallen world is ruled by the father of lies who, John tells us, does not hold to the truth “for there is no truth in him” (John 8: 43-45). Consequently, this lack of truth infiltrates every aspect of our lives and manifests itself in our minds (thinking), hearts (feelings), will (actions), and distorts the opinion we have of ourselves or evaluation we make of ourselves, which can result in low self-esteem. However, as Christians our worth or value is not in the opinion or evaluation we have of ourselves (formed by lies) but in the worth and value God places in us (the truth). This is great news; in Christ, we no longer need to live believing or bound by these lies.

So how can we lay hold of this truth and make it our own?

We do it by building a strong Biblical identity and part of this involves recognising and rejecting the lies of the enemy as well as receiving and believing the truth of the Word of God. Paul describes this as, “the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

This renewing of our minds happens chiefly in two ways: by the work and action of God’s enabling grace and Spirit in us and by spending time steeping ourselves in the Word of God, which is our authentic and authoritative basis for developing our new identity.

Renewing our mind starts in our thinking. Associated with low self-esteem are negative, destructive thoughts and we recognise these thoughts are a strategy of the enemy. We also need to understand the following: Not all our thoughts are our thoughts! The enemy is a master at dropping thoughts into our mind with the intention of wreaking havoc in our thinking. Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” This clearly suggests that the enemy’s sole agenda is to put an end to any thoughts we have of the good plans and purposes Christ has for us and to cause only doubt, confusion and unbelief. So we need to be continually aware of our thinking and thought processes, always measuring them up with the truth of what God says of us and what we know of Him, thereby establishing whether they are God-thoughts or the enemy’s.

Once you recognise a thought from the enemy, you reject and replace it by substituting it with the truth of God’s Word, which is always life-giving and leads us into further truth and greater freedom. In other words, we must ‘change the record’ playing in our minds – and start to ponder and declare the many truths of His Word that tell us God is love and light and life (John 1). This thinking filled with the truth of God’s Word (right thinking) will change what we believe in our hearts and ultimately change our actions (right practice). This is the process of renewal; our thinking, beliefs and actions are all changed and we become transformed more and more into Christ’s likeness.

We are not our feelings!

Dr Sturt’s definition of good self-esteem says, “We are fully in touch with our emotions but not controlled by them.” God’s Word tells us that our hearts are deceptive (Jeremiah 17:9) which means they cannot always be trusted. In light of that, we should not always let our feelings dictate to us. Our feelings can, if allowed, change the course of our day or, in some cases, our lives! There are different types and levels of feelings and they require different treatment. Some feelings, for example, should be ignored (‘I can’t be bothered’); others stem from wrong thinking (fear and condemnation) and others can run a lot deeper (hurt, betrayal, anger) and they need careful treatment. Often this is where people become stuck. These feelings need brought to the Lord – something we may initially find very difficult. Knowing God, as our Abba Father, that He is ‘for’ us and we are infinitely precious to Him, is crucial. As we open our hearts to Him and bring what is true of us (hiding nothing) to Him; as we release these to Him, His grace comes and brings His power and love, enabling us to find life and hope in Him again.

Therefore, we must be (or allow God to be) in command of our thoughts and our feelings – not the other way round. We have to decide to “choose life… listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Holding onto our negative thoughts and feelings ensures that we remain focussed on them, stay stuck and live our lives shaped by them. Releasing them to the Lord, however, enables us to move beyond them. David in the Psalms frequently cried out to the Lord with what was true of him, often in total despair but always came to that place beyond his feelings to stand on the truth that God is trustworthy and put his hope in His unfailing love (Psalm 147:11). The Father’s promise is that, as we make this choice, submitting to His action in us by His grace and Spirit (which really is the process of dying to self), we will become “alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11). It is by His enabling grace that we can shift our focus from ourselves and fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) who makes us alive in Him, as He is our Life.

Understanding our identity and nurturing a healthy self-esteem starts and ends with our relationship with God. As we begin to grasp His original intentions for us, and how He is ‘for’ us, we are inspired to trust Him. The more we trust Him, the more we can begin to receive and believe the truth of what He says of us and how He values us, and live out of that truth. His life, which is already in us, wells up in us and we begin to know His fullness in every way (Ephesians 1:23).

Ironically, the more we understand our identity and nurture our self-esteem the less important ‘self’ becomes; the end result of renewing our minds and transformation into His likeness is that we only want to live our lives completely abandoned to Him and His purposes for His glory.

WORDS Agnes Hamilton Pastoral Care Assistant Belfast Bible College