Written By: Ben Bennett
For most of my life I believed I was a worthless sinner, only tolerated by God because of Jesus’ work on the cross. Sure, I “knew” that God loved me, but I believed that I was still a “wretch” with minimal value.
Throughout my years in ministry, I’ve known many missionaries, college students, men, and women who also view themselves this way, whether consciously or subconsciously. Perhaps you default to holding a similar view? That, at a conscious level, you believe you have little to no value? That there’s something inherently wrong with who you are? That you’ll never fit in, and never measure up? That you’re a failure? And that God agrees, seeing no more value in you than the trash you threw out last night?
Even if you don’t consciously hold these views about yourself, they might still operate in your life on a subconscious level. Because throughout life, especially in our early years, we look to people’s actions and words to define our value.
Have you been bullied or rejected by others? Have you experienced conditional acceptance — gaining the approval of others only when you “performed” as they wanted you to? Perhaps you felt the rejection of a sibling who was constantly annoyed with you, or a parent who was physically or emotionally absent. Or, perhaps, as you were growing up, you weren’t allowed to express your opinions or they were belittled.
All of these scenarios, intentional or not, can communicate that we lack value, leading us to develop negative core beliefs about our worth. This, in a word, is shame–believing “I am bad” or that “something is wrong with who I am.”
Your Self-Image Is Revealed Through Your Actions
We reveal what we believe about ourselves through our thoughts and actions. Do you find yourself procrastinating on tasks, or getting overwhelmed and dreading failure? Do you find yourself getting angry when someone disagrees with, rejects, or embarrasses you? Do you fear conflict, or find yourself trying to make others happy and doing whatever it takes to “keep the peace”?
These reactions reveal negative core beliefs you hold about your worth, otherwise known as low self-worth or low self-esteem. If we’re honest, most of us would admit to struggling with our self-esteem to some extent. If we truly believed we are of great value, we would be steadfast in who we were created to be. We wouldn’t struggle so heavily with these scenarios that reveal our fears, anger, and ways of attempting to manage our value. So, is the solution to just try to develop better self-esteem?
Pop psychology tells us to just believe in ourselves; to essentially just try harder to think positively about ourselves. But there’s a significant problem with this method. What we desperately need is an objective and universal standard of value from an outside source, not a subjective source such as people’s opinions or even our own.
Your True Value
The solution to our struggle of knowing and accepting our worth comes from seeing ourselves as God sees us.
We need to truly believe, deep down in our heart, who God says we are. To live out of new core beliefs that change the way we think, behave, and operate. To know who we are as image bearers of God. To truly believe He specifically made each and every one of us to be unique. It’s why we all have different personalities, gifts, and talents (Psalm 139:13-14).
We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), meaning that we, unlike animals or other aspects of creation, are given distinct dignity and value. The very breath of God breathed life into us, as human beings (Genesis 2:7). God created us and said, “It is very good” (Genesis 1:31). The entire earth has been entrusted to us to rule and reign over (Genesis 1:28).
When mankind chose to sin and turn away from God, the first thing God did was come after us to restore the broken relationship (Genesis 3:9). Our turning away from God never changed our worth or God’s love for us. Once sin entered the world and we were born sinful by nature (Psalm 51:5), we never ceased to be created in the image of God (Genesis 9:6). Our inherent value never changed. Amazing!
I love how Psalm 17:8 expresses God’s love and affection toward us. It says, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” At face value, that may not seem to carry much weight. But the Hebrew word for “apple” literally means “little man.” When you stand close enough to someone, you see a tiny reflection of yourself in their pupils. You see yourself as the “apple” of their eyes. In this Psalm, David is saying this is who you are to God. You are the little man reflected in God’s eyes.
You are always in His vision. You are always the object of his affection and obsession. This is how much you are loved and valued.
God Doesn’t Merely Tolerate You
Jesus didn’t go to the cross to be tortured, die, and defeat death for the sake of trash. In love, He went to the cross to redeem and restore a relationship that was lost. One of the most well-known verses in Scripture says it plainly, in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only son…” God doesn’t merely tolerate or love you as a result of Christ’s work on the cross. Rather, His love was the fuel for Christ’s work. Whether or not we choose to follow Christ, God has radical love for us and deems us to be of great value.
When we seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God, we experience the thriving life we were meant to live. One of knowing God deeply and being known by Him. As a result of Jesus’ work on the cross, we are adopted into His family (Ephesians 1:5), approved of and accepted (Romans 15:7), made right in God’s eyes and blameless (Romans 3:28), becoming an indispensable part of His kingdom work (1 Corinthians 12:22).
We see this clearly when Jesus prayed to God the Father saying, “You sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23b). What an amazing reality!
Living Out the Worth God Has Already Assigned Us
Think about this: If we could get value from our performance, then Jesus died in vain.
Performance is the essence of man-made religion, which teaches us to “do good” in an attempt to be loved by God. But what Christianity teaches is that since we are already loved by God, we do good as a result. We don’t do good in order to earn God’s love, we do good in response to His amazing love. Attempting to perform to get our worth from others will always end in futility.
Jesus’ whole mission on earth was to live the perfect life that we could never live, fully obeying God the Father, and then die, taking the punishment and separation from God that we deserve as a result of our turning from God. Jesus already received the approval of God for us. It is done. Through Jesus, we can be fully loved and fully approved of by God.
Seek Him. He Loves You. You Were Made For This.
If you’re a Christian, rest in your value as an image-bearer, and your identity as a son or daughter adopted into His family. Dwell on who God says you are and how much He values you. You’re not defined by what you’ve done to yourself or others. And you’re definitely not defined by what’s been done to you.
You’re defined ONLY by the value and identity God gives you. Meditate on times in your life where you have felt His love and experienced His acceptance.
If you’re not yet a follower of Jesus, you need to know God loves you, unconditionally, just as you are, and desires so much to be known by you. At this very moment, in fact, He is offering you an invitation to enter into a personal relationship with Him. He wants you to experience the depth of His love, to know and live into your purpose, and to experience His forgiveness. As 1 Timothy 2:4 says, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
In the next post I share five steps that helped me overcome shame and my negative self-image. It will encourage you in practical ways to implement the truths of this post.