“The Christian’s Unique Self-Image” Deuteronomy 9:1-29 May 9, 2010
SI: You’ve probably noticed by now that Deuteronomy is a series of sermons.
Moses is preaching to the Israelites as they stand on the Jordan River,
about to cross over and take possession of the Promised Land.
In these sermons he’s presenting the life of faith.
He shows over and over that the way we think and act is shaped by God’s grace.
Our lives are to be a response to God’s grace.
He pushes that home over and over again. That’s really the single note that is
sounded throughout Deuteronomy. Because God is gracious, you must respond
to him in love and obedience. That’s why Deuteronomy has been called
the Romans of the Old Testament.
We’ll read all of chapter nine.
As we read, look for what this chapter tells us about ourselves.
INTRO: In 1969 a psychologist named Nathaniel Brandon published a paper
titled The Psychology of Self-Esteem.
In that paper he argued that feelings of self-esteem are the key to success in life.
His paper was highly-acclaimed in psychological circles.
And then his theory was embraced by education.
Self-esteem became the new key to success in schools.
In the mid 80s, the California Legislature established a self-esteem task force.
You know the rest of the story. The self-esteem movement swept the nation.
It’s moved out of psychology and educational theory,
and into American pop culture.
It’s become part of our vocabulary and our way of thinking about people and life.
“You know what her problem is?”, someone says about a girl who is struggling,
“She has low self-esteem.” And we nod in agreement.
Yes, if she felt better about herself, then she wouldn’t have those problems.
There was an article in the Wall Street Journal in August of last year about
the self-esteem movement and its effect on education.
“There are now 15,000 scholarly articles on the subject. And what do they show? That high self-esteem doesn’t improve grades, reduce anti-social behavior, deter alcohol drinking or do much of anything good for kids. In fact, telling kids how smart they are can be counter- productive. Many children who are convinced that they are little geniuses tend not to put much effort into their work. Others are troubled by the latent anxiety of adults who feel it necessary to praise them constantly.”
The article goes on to say that studies have shown that bullies have very high sense
of self-esteem. And they use that to intimidate and control others.
Isn’t that funny? The way many Americans think, if they saw a kid bullying
they would said, He’s doing that because of low self-esteem.
When, in fact, the opposite is true. He thinks of himself much more highly
than these wimps he’s beating up for lunch money.
The self-esteem movement has also entered the church.
In the 80s a well-known mega-church pastor with a huge TV ministry
wrote a book called Self Esteem: The New Reformation.
He said, we’ve got to take the historic theology of the church,
and present it in terms of self-esteem.
So he did that in the book—
he redefined sin and salvation in terms of self-esteem.
“the core of sin is a lack of self-esteem . . . Sin is psychological self-abuse . . . the most serious sin is one that causes me to say, ‘I am unworthy. I may have no claim to divine sonship if you examine me at my worst.’ Once a person believes he is an ‘unworthy sinner,’ it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.”
He also said:
“To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image—from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust”
“Christ is the Ideal One, for he was Self-Esteem Incarnate.”
That book was strongly criticized by many Christians, and rightly so.
But the self-esteem movement has found a place in many churches anyway.
There is a deep reluctance to emphasize doctrines that will make people feel bad
about themselves. A number of prominent ministers avoid mention of sin.
Or if they do, they talk about it as doing things that hurt you and other people,
rather than as that which offends the holiness of God and incurs his wrath.
Just about the time the secular world is starting to see the serious flaws
with self-esteem psychology, and its failure to make us good people—
the church is buying into it.
So how should a Christian think about himself?
What self-image should we have?
What self-image should we teach our children to have?
The self-esteem movement may be flawed, but it got one thing dead right.
The way you think about yourself is crucial.
John Calvin said that the knowledge of ourselves and the knowledge of God are
inseparable. And what we think about ourselves, will affect the way we think
about God. And that will affect the outcome of our lives.
That’s why the Apostle Paul says at the conclusion of his greatest letter:
“Think of yourself with sober judgment.”
That brings us to Moses’ sermon in Deuteronomy 9. It’s a magnificent message
on self-image. He says to Israel. This is how you have to think of yourself.
Believer’s self-image is unique. It seems to be a contradiction. Here it is:
I am a great sinner, and at the same time, I am greatly loved.
Let’s look at those two points,
and then see what kind of people this self-image causes us to be.
MP#1 What’s my Christian self-image? First, I am a great sinner.
Moses drives this point home hard. Listen Israelites. Listen sons of Abraham.
Never forget this about yourselves. Burn this into your conscience.
You are a stiff-necked people.
You’ve shown this time and time again.
When I was on Mt. Sinai, getting Ten Commandments from the hand of God—
you were down at the bottom of the mountain, worshipping a golden calf.
Provoking God to anger with your idolatry.
That wasn’t the only time. There was the time at Taberah, and Massah,
and Kibroth Hattaavah where you complained about your life.
And then, there was that time at Kadesh Barnea when you refused to enter
the Promised Land and said you wished you were back in Egypt.
You wished you were slaves again instead of following God on this crazy mission.
And throughout this recital of Israel’s sins he not only calls them stiff-necked:
but arrogant, stubborn, rebellious, provocative and idolatrous.
You can imagine the Israelites saying: But Moses. That’s not us.
That was our parents’ generation. They were the ones who did those things.
They were the generation who died in the wilderness.
Why are you coming down so hard on us for the things they did?
We’re different. We’re not like them.
Moses shakes his head and says: You have the same heart.
When you enter the Promised Land, you’re going have great success.
And when that happens, you’re going to be tempted to think,
We’ve done this because of our righteousness.
We’ve accomplished this because we are such good people.
But it’s not your goodness that gives you success—
it’s because of God’s justice that he’s wiping out the Canaanites.
It’s because of God’s faithfulness to Abraham you’re getting the land.
You’re still a stiff-necked people. Don’t forget that.
Don’t deny that you have the very same sinful hearts that your parents had.
Understand this about yourselves and believe it—
You have a sinful nature that can stain and corrupt every attitude,
motive, thought, word, and deed. And one of the worst positions to be in,
is to deny that. And think that deep down you’re a good person.
This was the very thing that Jesus clashed with the Pharisees about.
The problem with the Pharisees was that they did not take sin seriously enough.
Like many Christians today, they had an inadequate view of their own sinfulness.
They thought what many people think. Of course I’m a sinner. Isn’t everybody?
I’ve done some bad things in my life, but deep down, I’m a good person.
And the things I’ve done aren’t so bad they can’t be made up for by good things.
And the Pharisees did do good things. They were in many ways obedient.
But remember Jesus said their so-called righteousness actually condemned them.
Because it was stained by their sinful motives and cancelled out by their sins.
Their good deeds didn’t amount to a hill of beans, compared to holy law of God.
The church father Augustine called our good deeds our splendid sins.
And, of course, in addition to our splendid sins, there is that huge mountain
of our ordinary sins—all the ugly, petty, mean, selfish, ungrateful
things we’ve thought and said and done all our lives long.
You can see why this doesn’t preach good in a culture of self-esteem?
If you have a true, biblical self-image, you’re going to feel bad about yourself.
You know that Moses was speaking to you when he said to the Israelites
you are a stiff-necked people. You know that if you had been in the desert,
you would have complained with the best of them.
The Apostle Paul believed this about himself. He said:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
King David did to. He said: I am a worm and not a man.
When I compare myself to what I was made to be,
and what I ought to be, and what my conscience requires me to be,
and what other people need me to be, and what God deserves for me to be—
When I compare myself to all that, I am nothing.
And there are times when I am filled with shame and disgust for
the things I’ve thought and said and done.
Do you see yourself that way? Is that your self-image?
Can you say: I am a great sinner? You have to. Because it’s the only way
you can really affirm the other truth about who you are.
MP#2 I am greatly loved.
That’s also my self-image as I Christian. I am a person who is greatly loved.
I am loved by my Father in heaven.
I am loved by my Savior Jesus Christ. That’s my identity.
Reader’s Digest had some stories about mothers for Mother’s Day
that people had send in from all over the country.
One of the stories said:
While waiting in a bookstore for a guest author to sign her latest book, I leafed through some
of the Civil War novels she had written. The woman in line behind me commented, “Those
are the best books I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put them down.” Before I could reply, the author
looked over and said, “Oh, cut it out, Mom!”
Knowing that your mother loves you, and is always for you and supports you,
shapes your self-image. How much more if you can truly see God’s love
Where do you see God’s love in this passage?
When you first read this chapter, it’s perplexing.
Because it seems that God is inconsistent and full of threats.
Moses recounts this history of God’s dealing with Israel.
First he says he loves them, and has brought them out of Egypt.
Then they worship the golden calf and he says he’s going to destroy them.
So Moses prays and begs God not to do it, and he says he won’t.
But then they rebel at Kadesh Barnea, and God says that’s the last straw,
get out of the way, Moses, I’m really going to destroy them this time.
So Moses fasts and prays again, and God relents.
And he says that he won’t destroy them.
What’s going on? Is God changing his mind?
Is our relationship with God like that?
Do we not know where we stand?
Is he changing his mind about us every time we sin?
No. God is completely consistent and we know exactly where we stand with him.
First of all, we have to acknowledge that these threats of judgment are real.
God doesn’t make empty threats. He does see and judge all sin—even our sins.
The Bible says: “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?”
But second, we have to see that God is absolutely loving toward his people.
We stand in an unchanging relationship of grace with him.
Look what God does for Israel in this story. Look at how he shows his love.
Here they are, ungrateful, complaining, turning to idols.
So who does the Lord give them? He gives them Moses.
Moses is one of them. He’s a Hebrew. These are his people.
But even though he is horrified and angry with their idolatry, he loves them.
He deals with their idolatry and then he pleads with God for them.
And he brings them to the banks of the Jordan, about to enter the Promised Land.
Who is Moses a picture of? Who does he foreshadow?
You know the answer. Moses foreshadows Jesus Christ.
You can think of the Old Testament as the church in its childhood.
God used very concrete examples to teach them about salvation.
He have them people and events that pointed forward to the Messiah.
As New Testament believers, we can look back at these Old Testament pictures,
and gain an even deeper understanding and appreciation for Christ.
There’s this dramatic picture of the removal of our sin.
Moses takes the golden calf, burns it, crushes it, grinds it,
and throws it into a stream to be carried away.
It’s a picture of our Savior’s work for us.
He completely destroyed our sin by burning, crushing, and grinding it
in his suffering and death, and he carried it away forever by his resurrection.
Moses doesn’t mention it here, but when this happened he actually prayed:
Lord, blot my name out of the book of life rather than destroy these people.
Send me to hell, Lord, if it will spare these people I love so much.
And there is this encouraging picture of Christ’s intercession for us.
Moses pleading with the Lord for Israel. Remember, O God, your promises.
May it never be said among the heathen that you hated this people.
They are your inheritance. Overlook their sins.
The Bible says that Christ always lives to make intercession for us.
That’s an incredible thought. That he is sitting at the right hand of God the Father,
acting as your Mediator, pleading for you.. Father I’ve died for this person.
These terrible sins he’s committing right now, I’ve already paid for them.
He’s my inheritance. You gave him to me. I claim him as my own.
And you see, I’m sure, that without a lively sense of your sin—
you cannot fully grasp the greatness of Christ’s love.
Augustine once again put it so well: “The more desperate my disease,
the greater honor to the Physician who cured me.”
Once again, this doesn’t go over in a culture of self-esteem.
Because the most basic message of self-esteem is “believe in yourself.”
That’s the message in every children’s movie made in the last 20 years.
Believe in yourself. Find your worth within.
But the Gospel is believe in Christ.
Find your worth by looking outside yourself. By catching a glimpse
of how greatly loved you are by God the Father through his Son.
Someone’s thinking about you right now. Someone’s praying for you.
Someone wants the best for you even when you’re bad.
And that someone is Jesus Christ, the greater Moses.
Who actually did go to hell for you in those horrible hours of darkness
on the cross, so that you could inherit the Promised Land of eternal life.
Do you see yourself that way? Is that your self-image?
Can you say: I am greatly loved? It’s true. You are.
And that makes all the difference.
Now the question,
MP#3 What kind of person does this make you?
If this is your self-image. If you believe these seemingly contradictory things
about yourself—I am a great sinner and I am greatly loved in Christ,
What kind of person will you be?
You’ll be a person the world does not have a category for.
You’ll be humble and bold at the same time.
You’ll be humbled to the dust by the knowledge of your sinfulness.
And you’ll be bold as a lion knowing that in the eyes of the only person
who really matters, you are greatly loved.
The world understands people who are crushed and self-hating.
Who feel hopeless and helpless and despised.
It understand the people who are losers and know it and hate their lives.
And the world certainly understand people who are prideful and boastful
and flaunt their accomplishments.
We live in a time when the those who boast about their greatness
are admired and copied.
But what the world can’t understand or produce is a person
who is truly humble, but not crushed and self-hating,
and at the same time confident and strong, but not prideful.
I recently re-read Elisabeth Elliot’s biography of missionary Amy Carmichael.
She grew up in a Christian home, in late 1800s, but her spiritual life really took off
through her participation in the Keswick Movement in England.
A non-denominational fellowship that held annual conferences emphasizing
a personal relationship with Christ.
Amy like to write, she had a talent, and she often wrote devotional literature.
She took on the pen-name Nobody. That was how she wanted to be known.
As Nobody. That seems over the top. Sounds like false modesty.
But in Amy it was genuine.
She had this deep and profound sense of her sinful unworthiness,
and the grace she had received in Christ.
She wanted nothing to rob the Lord of his glory.
Now you would think that a person like that would be timid and uncertain.
But she wasn’t. This little nobody.
This young Scotch Irish woman was as bold as a lion.
And that boldness came from the even greater certainty of God’s love.
She arrived in India in 1895, thinking that she would be involved in evangelism.
That’s what she did for a number of years, going from village to village,
trying to talk to women about Christ, but usually ending up talking to men.
She eventually gathered around her a small group of believing Indian woman.
And it was through them that she learned a dark secret about Indian life.
That was the practice of child prostitution in the Hindu temples.
This became fire inside her, to rescue these little girls.
The first girl she rescued was a seven year-old named Preena.
There was an eruption of fierce opposition. The temple wanted the girl back.
They began to pressure Amy. You would think that the British authorities
would have been supportive, but their position was that they didn’t want trouble.
And if this little girl’s mother had given her to the temple, that was her choice.
They denied that there was sexual slavery in the temples. Just a rumor.
Amy was branded a trouble-maker.
Some other missionaries even said that she was doing this as a publicity stunt.
And over and above this there was spiritual warfare—a sense of demonic evil
that had been challenged by her bold rescue of this child.
But Amy stood firm in the love of Christ. Those attacks bothered her but didn’t
overwhelm her. And in the coming decades, this Nobody rescued hundreds of
children and brought them to Christ.
There was only one Amy Carmichael—and she had a unique calling.
But you have your own calling from the Lord.
You have the work he has called you to do. You have your own challenges.
You have people in your life who need you and those who oppose you.
What do you need to face the challenges of life that you will face even this week?
Do you need more self-esteem? Is that the message for your children?
No—you need to think of yourself with sober judgment.
Humility that lets you look squarely at your worst failures and say—yes, that’s me.
And boldness that enables you to face the biggest challenges and say—
I can do this, because I’m loved, and Jesus Christ is praying for me.
As we come to the Table this morning—as you take in your hands the symbols
of his death—tell yourself. He did this for me. And let that humble you,
and move you to confession, and then let it raise you to the skies,
and fill you with boldness to live for him this week.