Growing up in my Christian tradition, there were two conflicting narratives I was taught about myself:
One the one hand, I was taught that I was a child of the King and created in His image (Gen 1:26–27). After all, it wasn’t until humans were created that creation was “very good” (Gen 1:31). And as a Christian, I am also made in the image of Christ, having the divine Spirit of Christ inside of me, “the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). I was taught that my love for other people was borne out of the fact that they were also created in His image, regardless of race, gender, or religion. They were special simply by being human, as was I.
On the other hand, I was taught that we are wretched creatures, always rebelling against God. Even with a world full of Christians I was taught that compared to God my right actions were like filthy rags (Isa 64:6) and there is still “not one who does good, no not one” (Psalm 14:3, 53:3; Romans 3:12). I am totally depraved and must throw myself on the mercy of God at all times because I am always deserving of eternal judgment.
And to be honest, I was never given any ideas for how these two are compatible. If there is a way to hold to both of these ideas at the same time, I was never taught it. So my identity became a roller-coaster, mostly based on my emotions and how I felt that day. If I was down on myself, I deserved it, because I was a wretched sinner. If I was feeling good that day, I also deserved it, because I was a unique human being born in the image of God.
The problem is that both of these ideas are take from the Bible and both are prone to abuses. There are those (including ourselves) who will use the reality of brokenness in our lives to emotionally abuse us and judge us. And there are those (including ourselves) who will use the reality of our image-bearing nature to justify violence and apathy toward the other.
But I think I have found a few simple ideas that have helped me navigate these rough waters:
I Don’t Have to Look Bad to Make God Look Good: Oftentimes I felt like I had to make myself look bad because then that makes God look good. But as I have said in another post, that logic makes no sense. If I have to make myself look bad to make someone else look good, that means they aren’t that good. So my self-rejection actually makes God look mediocre.
A Proper View of Self is Not Prideful: One verse that is often used to justify self-condemnation is Philippians 2, that we should be like Jesus and “not think of ourselves more highly than we ought” but “consider others more important than ourselves.” But the thing to notice is that if we are going to be like Jesus, we will first be confident of our identity because we are confident of our loving relationship with the Father. It is only out of a proper view of self and a confident view of identity that considering others more important than ourselves is healthy. Or more broadly, Jesus’ servanthood does not come out of a low self-esteem but out of a very high self-esteem. And again, if we have to consider ourselves worthless to make others more important than ourselves, that’s not saying much about our view of other people.
Admitting to the Reality of Sin is Not Fear-Mongering: We should have a proper view of ourselves as people who are created in the image of a beautifully creative King who are cherished and love for who they are. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the reality of brokenness we find in our relationships and our own heart. In fact, it’s my proper confidence as a child of God that allows me to admit to my brokenness and confront it with everything I am.
What are other ways you have found to be a selfless child of the King?