“You must base your self-image on what God’s Word says about you, rather than on false, fickle standards…”

“How you see yourself and how you feel about yourself will have a tremendous impact on how far you go in life…”

“Self-esteem is that deep-down feeling you have about yourself. It’s how you regard yourself, your opinion or judgment of your own value…”

“Your self-image is much like a self-portrait; it is who and what you picture yourself to be…Who do you think you are?”

Sounds like a good biblical counselor doesn’t it?

It’s actually Joel Osteen!

And he’s right. Right in these partial definitions of self-image and self-esteem, and right in his assessment of how beneficial an accurate self-image is. As he says in chapter 7 of Your Best Life Now:

“A healthy self-image is one of the key factors in the success and happiness of any individual. The reason your self-concept is so important is: You will probably speak, act, and react as the person you think you are. Psychologists have proved that you will most consistently perform in a manner that is in harmony with the image you have of yourself.”

It’s common sense, isn’t it? As Osteen says:

“If you see yourself as unqualified, insignificant, unattractive, inferior, or inadequate, you will probably act in accordance with your thoughts…On the other hand, individuals who view themselves as God sees them are usually happy about who they are.”

He’s also right to note that our self-image may be largely the result of what other people have said about us or to us, how others have regarded us. Thus, his main challenge in this chapter is well worth hearing:

“The question is, does your image of who you are line up correctly with who God says you are?”

A great question. Unfortunately, Osteen’s answer about who God says we are is all wrong in all three tenses of our self-image – past, present, and future tense.

Past Tense: Who I Was

Although Osteen makes passing reference to a few flaws and imperfections that some of us may have, he doesn’t go anywhere near far enough in his understanding of the fall and the corrupting impact of sin upon us.

It’s a vital part of our self-image to understand that we were “born dead in sins,” with hearts that are “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” that “all the imaginations of our hearts are only evil continually,” and that God is justly angry with us in that state. You won’t find this humbling biblical view of who we were anywhere in Osteen’s writing.

Instead of sins, we seemingly have but a few minor flaws which we are not only to accept but even love, because “that’s how our heavenly Father loves us.” Osteen even seems comfortable with the inevitable head-swelling, chest-puffing effect of this teaching:

“We must learn to love ourselves, faults and all, not because we are egotists or because we want to excuse our shortcomings, but because that’s how our heavenly Father loves us. You can hold your head up high and walk with confidence knowing that God loves you unconditionally.”

Some might say that Osteen is referring to the Christian here. Part of the problem is that Osteen rarely if ever distinguishes between the Christian and the non-Christian. Everyone is addressed in the same general way, without discrimination.

But even if we do say Osteen is speaking to a Christian here, the Christian must always remember what he was before conversion. No matter how assured and sanctified he becomes, he must always remember what he once was. We see this repeatedly in the Apostle Paul’s testimony and in other eminent Christians through the years. A healthy self-image must take account of how unhealthy we are.

Present Tense: Who I Am

There are four important areas of self-image in the present tense.

1. I am now a saint. This is the most important – and ought to be the most prominent – part of the Christian’s self-image. Consider this sample of summary statements about what God has done for us, all through Christ, all by grace, and all essential elements of our self-image.

  • I am born again
  • I am forgiven
  • I am justified
  • I am accepted
  • I am redeemed
  • I am adopted
  • I am indwelt by God, and so on, and on…

2. I am still a sinner. Although all the above are true, our original corrupt nature is still very much part of us. Again, this is both a cause for our humility (Romans 7) and a springboard for entering more and more into God’s steady love for us despite our ongoing sins and sinfulness.

3. I am gifted by God. Although giftedness is where the world wrongly starts with self-image, Christians must not over-react by ignoring it. We must not let our prioritizing of the spiritual, and our views of our total depravity and our ongoing battle with sin, squeeze out all consideration of how God has blessed us with natural gifts. There’s nothing wrong, and plenty right, with us encouraging ourselves and other Christians by recognizing God’s blessing each other with attractive and helpful personalities, and also wonderful natural gifts and abilities.

4. I am blessed with relationships. Osteen’s view of self-image is way too selfish. It is entirely focused on the individual, isolated and detached from other people. But a large part of who we are is defined by who we are related to and involved with in our lives. We cannot define ourselves without defining ourselves in relation to others – our value to them and they to us.

Future Tense: Who I Will Be

A big part of being human is having a future focus; looking ahead to the kind of person we want to be and what we will do in the future. Joel Osteen certainly has a future tense in his view of self-image but it’s entirely focused on success in this world – what we will earn, what we will own, what we will achieve. It’s all about winning here below, about becoming a champion in our careers and other earthly spheres.

The Bible’s view of our future is very much focused on heaven (and then the new heavens and the new earth) and about what God will yet do to us, for us, and with us as He glorifies our souls at death and then our bodies at the general resurrection. This future hope creates joyful optimism and anticipation as we look ahead to how God will transform our imperfect images into His perfect image. In words that encapsulate the past, present, and future tenses of a healthy self-image, the Apostle John wrote:

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).

This is the seventh post in a series on Joel Osteen’s book, “Your Best Life Now.” Previous posts were A Book That Begins With A LiePositive NegativityYour Average Life Now, The Worst Ever (Mis)Quotation Of The Bible, My Favorite Joel Osteen Quote, and Triviality of Trivialities.