Three Views of Self

By Wayne Jackson

In one of his compositions, poet John Donne had this phrase: “No man is an island.” Whatever the expression meant to him, it contains a general truth.

None of us lives an isolated existence. While we see ourselves in a certain light, others may view us quite differently. Our Creator assesses us with absolute accuracy!

Our View of Ourselves

One’s view of himself can be very misleading, and to a degree most likely is usually the case.

Robert Burns wrote a poem titled “To a Louse” in which he described an uppity woman who strutted into church one Sunday in all her finery, totally unaware there was a louse crawling on her bonnet. Obviously she viewed herself as a woman of beauty and dignity. But one line has it: “If we could only see ourselves as other people see us.”

Five times in the book of Proverbs, Solomon speaks of those who are self-deceived. He describes how some are perceived in their own eyes. They view themselves as wise (3:7), or as always being right (12:15; 21:2), or clean (16:2), or pure (30:12). But they are looking into reflections of self-deception.

One can only have a correct perception of himself when he looks into the mirror of God’s word, and does not forget the imperfect image he sees (cf. Jas. 1:23-24). Paul cautions us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Rom. 12:3).

On the other hand, it is no sin to express a confidence in one’s dedication to the Savior. Paul did not hesitate to catalog his sacrificial credentials when such was to the advantage of the gospel (Phil. 3:4ff).

How Others View Us

While no one should strive to dishonestly solicit an inaccurate impression of himself by others, scripture does emphasize the power and necessity of providing a good example for others (1 Cor. 11:1; Tit. 2:7). Even when we do our best, there are times when others will view us negatively.

Not even the blessed Son of God was exempt from negative criticism. He was accused of being born of fornication, of being a despised Samaritan, being demon possessed, and of joining in league with Satan (Jn. 8:41, 48; Mt. 12:24).

By way of contrast, some are seen as paragons of virtue when they are just the opposite. Sports stars are applauded, when some of them are moral trash. Even some preachers are elevated beyond the status of their character.

In the Old Testament, Saul, Israel’s first king, began his administration in a reign of glory. He was deemed “goodlier” than all others in Israel. He stood above the people from his shoulders upward, and the women composed songs to celebrate his courage and victories (1 Sam. 9:2; 18:7). But he became a major character disappointment.

Barnabas had a good reputation, earned and well deserved (Acts 4:36-37). Likely Ananias and Sapphira wanted the same acclamation (note the contrasting conjunction in Acts 5:1) and attempted to hijack it—the subterfuge costing them their lives (vv. 1-11).

God’s View of You

Paramount, however, above all others (even though they are important) is the Lord’s view of us, for he does not merely observe the externals; instead, he sees the heart (1 Sam. 16:7; Jn. 2:25; Acts 1:24).

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were notorious for their religious theatrics. They were “show-offs” when giving their contributions, they struck a pose on the street corners as they prayed, and when they fasted they “disfigured their faces” (Mt. 6:1-18). They even made self-serving speeches, congratulating themselves for their supposed virtues (Lk. 18:11-12).

But the Son of God saw the matter differently, and in Matthew 23 he peeled off their hypocritical hides, exposing to the bone their self-centered wickedness.

The concluding document of the New Testament is the book of Revelation. Chapters two and three contain seven letters dispatched by Christ to seven congregations in Asia Minor. These were not the only churches of that region, but they are representative of congregations as a whole.

Each of these epistles contains the phrase, “I know” (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). Whether the phrase accompanied a commendation or a condemnation, the Savior viewed these brothers and sisters with precise accuracy. He indicated they would be judged accordingly—either with reward or punishment, consistent with the divine standard of judgment.

A wonderful study can be engaged by pursuing an investigation of the phrase, “in the sight of God” (found nineteen times in the Scriptures). The action or state may be applauded or condemned.

For example, those who are pretentious in one way, but act in quite another, are an abomination “in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:15). Those who take care for their aged loved ones are pleasing “in the sight of God” (1 Tim. 5:4).

Let each of us soberly reflect upon these different analytical views. (See also: The Bible and Self-Esteem.)

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.