How a person envisions or defines himself is one of the most influential facets of a person’s world view and his place in it. This image is intertwined with his confidence which enables him to face adversity, meet challenges, and focus on threats unfettered by the shackles of fear. If one does not have a proper image or vision of his place in life, his confidence suffers along with his ability to cope with life. The result is fear or anxiety. People can become more depressive or aggressive resulting in very controlling behavior. Fear, anxiety, depression and/or aggression then produce the strife and suffering we witness in families, workplaces, communities, and nations – anywhere people interact.
Fear often affects a person’s life by paralyzing action. An antidote is fearless confidence defined in scripture that is generated by a standard which is not based on self, but on God. Although the ideal of faith and trust in God is simple to state, the nuances of application are profound and contradictory to man’s inherit spirit. Even after initially securing the appropriate scriptural approach, self has a way of misdirecting our confidence, substituting a corrupted basis for the proper personal image. Our self-image is the lens that filters our every thought and dictates whether we advance bravely or shrink back timidly in our daily lives.
It is our heart that determines whether we initiate our own actions or criticize the actions of others (Proverbs 4:23-26). In fact, our heart is the center of our decision making and reveals our outward attitude and approach towards life. For instance, “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, But by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13), and “A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
Our “self-image” is also closely intertwined with what psychologist’s call “self-confidence” and “self-esteem.” Some dictionaries list these terms as synonyms which cause a merging of their meanings. Though these two are related there is a difference in their concepts.
Confidence conveys security and assurance in one’s ability to do and to accomplish. It answers the question, “What can I do?”. However, esteem is not about abilities but is about one’s value. It answers the question, “What am I worth?” Therefore, “self-confidence” is how individuals evaluate their personal abilities while “self-esteem” is how an individual evaluates their personal worth.
For example, if we value or esteem ourselves by our abilities, we are vulnerable to despair or depression when our abilities fail to achieve our expectations. It is when we fail that our self-confidence is tested. Successive failures cause us to question our ability. Eventually, our self-confidence fails, and our self-esteem crumbles. When this happens, we then question our value or worth and label ourselves as a “loser”. Depressed self-esteem further hammers our self-confidence. Thus, a vicious cycle ensues.
There is a flip side to this. Some people do not succumb to depression. They resort to control and aggression to restore their confidence which leads to maniac, zealot, and tyrannic behavior. This results in empiric leaders such as gang leaders, despots, tyrants, dictators, and totalitarians. Or on a personal level, it creates people who attempt to control life and those around them.
The only way to stop a continual falling or failing is by realizing the foundation of one’s thinking is flawed, and it must change to have a different outcome. We must break the foundational cycle of linking our confidence to our abilities and to our humanly perceived value. A key to breaking the cycle is to stop connecting our confidence to false or temporary standards.
The most common false standard we tend to base our confidence in is that of material success. There is nothing wrong per se with material success. Solomon states in Ecclesiastes 7:12 that “For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense….” The Hebrew for “defense” literally means “shade” or “protection”. Material success provides a feeling of security and safety against the rigors of life. However, there is an issue in such confidence. Material success is uncertain. Not a guarantee. (I Timothy 6:17; Proverbs 27:24). Material success can be very deceptive and dangerous for spiritually minded people (Mark 10: 17-25).
Another common false standard is that of our abilities. Abilities include skills, talents, intelligence, experience, and even wisdom. Just like possessions, abilities promote the feeling of security and confidence and thus can be just as deceptive and very addictive. Such strengths and abilities tend to develop hero complexes. Ever wonder why so many people are enthralled with Marvel and DC movies and the superheroes they portray? History reveals that entire societies have been built around heroes and messiahs.
We too can build a self-image “empire” around our abilities which will affect how we interact with others. If we get angry when we perceive we are not receiving the respect or acknowledgement we deserve, we need to take a very hard look at whether we put too much confidence in our abilities.
It is best to define our abilities as gifts to use to serve others not as those from which we can engender accolades: “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” “. . . . If anyone [serves], let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever.” (I Corinthians 4.7, I Peter 4:11).
Health, Youth and Strength
Health, youth, and strength is also a false standard in which to place our confidence. There is no doubt that youth and health and strength enable one to be mobile and active to pursue physical endeavors. However, this ability should not define us. Solomon knew there was no assurance for tomorrow: “I returned and saw under the sun that— The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all. For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, Like birds caught in a snare, So the sons of men are snared in an evil time, When it falls suddenly upon them” (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12).
Solomon also gives us the best description of the temporal or vanity of youth: “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor Him in your youth before you grow old and say, ‘Life is not pleasant anymore.’ Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly.
“Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades. Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint. Remember him before you become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets; before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire. Remember him before you near the grave, your everlasting home, when the mourners will weep at your funeral.
“Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:1–7 NLT). The bottom line is to not let health, or youth or strength or the lack thereof define your image and confidence.”
The subtle and dangerous trap of confidence in one’s “rightness” stems from the need to be right — confidence in one’s relative righteousness thus comparing oneself to others which is not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12). A parable in Luke 18:9-14, speaks to those who trust in themselves, that they are righteous, while despising others. The need to be right is so built into our self-image and self-confidence. However, self-righteousness is the most dangerous false standard. It destroys relationships at work, in the home, and in any social circumstances.
There are many other false foundations in which to place our confidence. They are all false foundations because they are all measured against the relative versus the absolute. When we take any false standard and compare among ourselves, it is a relative comparison. However, when we begin comparing the false standards in relation to God, they fall apart. They are all based on envy and pride.
Envy and pride are esteem and confidence based on comparing ourselves among those we view as competitors. We want to know how we rank. When we are busy deciding where each of us sit in comparison to one another, we fail to do what God calls us to do – both individually and collectively (Mark 9:33-41). It is important that we do not stand in judgement and compare ourselves to those who strive to serve God. “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).
So, self-image has a significant impact on individual human behavior. And it seldom reflects truth. There is no biblical basis for self-image, self-confidence, and self-esteem. In the beginning we defined confidence as that which answers the question, “”What can I do?” We defined esteem as, “What am I worth?” None of the false standards contain the true answers. But Paul give us the answers in the book of Romans:
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified”( Romans 8:28–30).
These verses answer what we can do if we do not trust in “self”. These verses answer from where our confidence and esteem should originate. Be conformed to the image of Christ.