We need to see ourselves as we really are:
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:
I can see my own utter nothingness and helplessness face to face with the demands of the gospel and the law of God. I am aware, when I am honest with myself, of the sin and the evil that are within me, and that drag me down. And I am ready to face both these things. But how much more difficult it is to allow other people to say things like that about me! I instinctively resent it. We all of us prefer to condemn ourselves than to allow somebody else to condemn us. I say of myself that I am a sinner, but instinctively I do not like anybody else to say I am a sinner. p. 65
He goes on to explain:
What, then, is meekness? I think we can sum it up in this way. Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. It is therefore two things. It is my attitude towards myself, and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others. You see how inevitably it follows being `poor in spirit’ and `mourning’. A man can never be meek unless he is poor in spirit. A man can never be meek unless he has seen himself as a vile sinner. These other things must come first. But when I have that true view of myself in terms of poverty of spirit, and mourning because of my sinfulness, I am led on to see that there must be an absence of pride. The meek man is not proud of himself, he does not in any sense glory in himself. He feels that there is nothing in himself of which he can boast. It also means that he does not assert himself. You see, it is a negation of the popular psychology of the day which says `assert yourself’, `express your personality’. The man who is meek does not want to do so; he is so ashamed of it. The meek man likewise does not demand anything for himself. He does not take all his rights as claims. He does not make demands for his position, his privileges, his possessions, his status in life. No, he is like the man depicted by Paul in Philippians ii. `Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’ Christ did not assert that right to equality with God; He deliberately did not. And that is the point to which you and I have to come.
Then let me go further; the man who is meek is not even sensitive about himself. He is not always watching himself and his own interests. He is not always on the defensive. We all know about this, do we not? Is it not one of the greatest curses in life as a result of the fall—this sensitivity about self? We spend the whole of our lives watching ourselves. But when a man becomes meek he has finished with all that; he no longer worries about himself and what other people say. To be truly meek means we no longer protect ourselves, because we see there is nothing worth defending. So we are not on the defensive; all that is gone. The man who is truly meek never pities himself, he is never sorry for himself. He never talks to himself and says, ‘You are having a hard time, how unkind these people are not to understand you’. He never thinks: ‘How wonderful I really am, if only other people gave me a chance.’ Self-pity! What hours and years we waste in this! But the man who has become meek has finished with all that. To be meek, in other words, means that you have finished with yourself altogether, and you come to see you have no rights or deserts at all. You come to realize that nobody can harm you. John Bunyan puts it perfectly. ‘He that is down need fear no fall.’ When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad. You need not worry about what men may say or do; you know you deserve it all and more. Once again, therefore, I would define meekness like this. The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do. That, it seems to me, is its essential quality. pp. 68-69
One further quote from this important chapter:
That is meekness. But it also means that we are ready to listen and to learn; that we have such a poor idea of ourselves and our own capabilities that we are ready to listen to others. Above all we must be ready to be taught by the Spirit, and led by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Meekness always implies a teachable spirit. It is what we see again in the case of our Lord Himself. Though he was the Second Person in the blessed Holy Trinity, He became man, He deliberately humbled Himself to the extent that He was dependent entirely upon what God gave Him, what God taught Him and what God told Him to do. He humbled Himself to that, and that is what is meant by being meek. We must be ready to learn and listen and especially must we surrender ourselves to the Spirit. p. 70
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.
And when we see ourselves in light of the Perfect Light of Christ, we will be humble and meek, and we will be far less likely to condemn others, knowing there is still so much sin and self in our own lives. I repeat – for the third time – this great line from MLJ: “When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad.”