Chapter Two

Attitudes Toward Self

Part One
"How should I look at me?" is a problem question most Christians find extremely difficult to answer. No one who has been a Christian long has escaped the intense personal struggle of deciding how to feel about self. It is an intimate, perplexing struggle which can be resolved by no one but the individual Christian.

Christians commonly feel guilty about the way they look at themselves. Occasionally a Christian will experience a deep sense of happiness and contentment because he feels good about his life. Such moments create a natural high and deep sense of well-being. Yet, such moments frequently are followed by strong guilt feelings because he felt good about himself. He feels it is wrong to be happy with who and what he is because pride has triumphed over humility. In a feeling of uncertainty, he actually tries to eliminate any positive views of self. He reasons, "The Christian must know he is nothing and Christ is everything."

There are frequent moments when Christians look at themselves as being nothing. In these moments, they chide themselves, lecture themselves, condemn themselves, declare how terrible they have been, and confess how shamefully they have failed. Feeling depressed and miserable, they hold themselves in contempt. The result is horrible self-images which produce useless, nonproductive Christians. They are convinced they are spiritual failures who could not possibly be of value to Christ.

It is essential that a Christian understand the proper spiritual attitudes which he should have toward himself. First, if he does not understand the proper way to view himself, his spiritual frustration will produce spiritual inactivity and uselessness. Second, the way a Christian looks at himself powerfully influences the way he looks at God and Christ. The New Testament established two parameters which define the boundaries of Christians' attitudes toward self. This chapter is devoted to the first attitude.

Faith and Servitude
Jesus gave the first parameter attitude in Luke 17:5-10:

And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye would say unto this sycamore tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou planted in the sea; and it would obey you. But who is there of you having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, Come straightway and sit down to meat; and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do.

The context of this passage centers on two frightening responsibilities declared by Jesus (vv. 1-4). First, one must not cause others to stumble. It is better to drown in the sea with a millstone around one's neck than to cause another to stumble. The declaration that it is better to be killed than to discourage a person following Jesus is quite sobering. Obviously, no Christian lives for himself alone. He must be a constructive spiritual example of those who observe his life.

The second responsibility was that of forgiveness. One is to rebuke a sinful brother and to forgive a penitent brother. Forgiveness is difficult because (1) it is exercised only when one has been wronged, and (2) it demands one be spiritually mature in dealing with his own feelings and hurts. Jesus made it more demanding: if one is sinned against by the same person seven times in a day, and each time is asked for forgiveness, he is to forgive all seven times. Can there be a more difficult demand in human relationships?

The apostles reacted to these two responsibilities by saying, "Lord, increase our faith." They unquestionably understood the difficulty of both responsibilities. The only way they could be the example they must be and to forgive as they must was to have more faith. To their credit, rather than complaining about Jesus' expectations, they asked for the faith necessary to fulfill the responsibilities.

The text began with the request for faith. Jesus acknowledged that their faith was smaller than a tiny mustard seed. Though they had faith enough to leave personal involvements, families, and friends to follow Jesus unquestioningly on a daily basis, that did not equal a mustard seed.

It must be noted that the Twelve did not remain men of mustard seed faith. After the resurrection of Jesus and the establishment of the church, they became living and dying sacrifices for the Lord. They preached Christ and established congregations in hostile pagan communities. No obstacle or discouragement could hide the reality of Christ within their lives. In one generation they were directly responsible for preaching the gospel to the known world. Some of the better-organized persecution in history was powerless to stop them.

In the text, Jesus asked the Twelve a peculiar question. If they sent a bondservant out to plow or keep sheep, how would they treat him when he returned that evening? Would they have prepared his meal and cared for him? Or, would they instruct him to hurry and to prepare their meal? Would they thank the servant for doing what he was commanded and expected to do? The answers were self-evident in their society. The master never served the servant; the servant always served the master. When the servant worked hard, he had done nothing more than was expected and proper.

Jesus then made this obvious application to them: when they did everything commanded, they had done nothing more than was expected. Even in perfect obedience, they only would have fulfilled their rightful, basic responsibility. Even in complete obedience, they should consider themselves as unprofitable servants.

Increasing Faith
What is the relationship between the apostles asking for more faith, Jesus acknowledging they needed more faith, and Jesus' lesson about the obedient servant? At first it seems to be a disjointed sequence of unrelated ideas. The essence of faith is a keen awareness of total dependence on God. To speak of faith is to talk about confidence or trust. The Apostles' request for increased faith was a request for increased confidence and trust in Him and God. They were asking Jesus to increase their level of dependence on Him. Faith exists to the degree that a person actually depends on God and Christ.

To increase personal faith, one must firmly understand who depends on whom. "Am I dependent on Christ or is He dependent on me? Am I God's source of security, or is He mine? Does God serve me, or do I serve God? Who is in the role of need and dependence, and who is in the role of power and sustainer?" A person can increase his trust in God only when he increases his awareness of the extent of his dependence on God.

For Jesus to increase their faith, they had to understand they were as responsible to God as a bondservant was to his master. They were not doing God a favor by learning not to be a stumbling block and to forgive. They were not making an extraordinary sacrifice; they were accepting their rightful responsibility. To grow in faith, they had to accept the servant's role of complete dependence and total servitude.

An "affirming" faith is easily developed. It is a declared faith primarily expressed by words. It demonstrates itself by saying, "I believe..." Such faith could not fulfill Jesus' expectations.

The faith of dependence is difficult to develop because it is a functioning faith. It places confidence and security in God through actions. It obeys, and it trusts promises. While it is not hesitant to say it believes, its trust does not stop with mere words.

Growing faith is a dependent faith which knows the Lord cannot expect too much of His servants. That faith knows even perfect obedience only has accepted rightful responsibility. Doing all one has the power to do is doing no more than what is rightfully expected. Obedience is not a monumental accomplishment; it is a Christian's basic responsibility.

Faith Or Arrogance?
How do these thoughts relate to a Christian's attitude toward self? First, they are relevant because of the ease with which a serving, obedient Christian can develop attitudes of arrogance, of self-strength, and of self-dependence. His attitude can become, "Lord, you should be proud of me--look at all I do for you!" Or, "Lord, you might be able to do without me, but it would be hard." He thus reverses roles with Christ. Christ depends on him more than he depends on Christ. As self-dependence grows, faith diminishes. Ironically, this person thinks he is growing in faith while his faith actually shrinks.

Peter is the classic example of this problem. When Jesus foretold His death, Peter rebuked Him saying such was impossible (Matt. 16:21,22). At the last supper when Jesus said the disciples would be scattered, Peter said he would never be offended (Matt. 26:31-35). In the garden, Peter did put his life on the line by defending Jesus with a sword. Yet, in all of this, Peter's confidence was not is Jesus. It was in Peter. He did not need for Jesus to take care of him. He was going to take care of Jesus. Prior to fleeing from the garden, this self-declared servant unto death would have professed great faith in Jesus. However, he neither had great faith or was a true servant. Because confident Peter depended on himself rather than Jesus, he denied the Lord three times. His failure to be dependent dismantled his faith.

Second, the passage relates to attitudes toward self because it stresses Christians must not exaggerate the importance and significance of their service and obedience. The Apostles are an excellent example of this problem. Did they not argue over who was to be the greatest (Luke 9:46-48)? Were they not jealous about the seating around the throne (Mark 10:35-44)? Did they not ask, "Lord, what will be our reward since we left everything to follow you" (Matt. 19:27)? The Apostles held such attitudes because they attached great significance to their obedience and their following Jesus. They forgot they were simply servants fulfilling their rightful responsibility.

While every Christian should want to serve in the finest capacity and obey as fully as possible, no one should exaggerate the significance of his service and obedience. While God is deeply pleased with service and obedience, Christians never do more than they should do.

Third, the text relates to Christian attitudes toward self because of the ease with which Christian can feel abused or feel sorry for themselves. Christians can deceive themselves into believing that service and obedience give them a special bargaining power with God. Some Christians obey and serve to gain a bargaining advantage with the Lord or to acquire spiritual insurance against hardship. They expect protection against physical suffering and disaster. Guaranteed earthly happiness and security are expected. When the inevitable sorrow, crisis, or hardship comes, this Christian feels betrayed. The bargain has been broken; the Lord did not keep the agreement. Confident that they are victims of gross injustice, they feel abused and sorry for themselves. In their bewilderment, their faith is in jeopardy. These feelings and attitudes are as old a Job. Again, the person has forgotten he is dependent, he is the servant.

If a master sent a servant out to plow at sunrise, the servant would be expected to plow all day. If he plowed well accomplishing twice what was expected, the master would not say, "You did so well today, forget about plowing for a while." If plowing remained, he would be expected to do just as well the next day. If he plowed exceptionally the whole season, the master would not say, "You plowed so well this year, I will never ask you to plow again." Instead, the master would send him to plow each year expecting work well done. If the servant plowed well all his life, the master would be pleased and regard him as an exceptional servant. Even so, he would only have done the work of a servant. He accomplished only what was expected. No one would consider the master abusive because the servant was continually expected to do exceptional work.

The attitude of great Christian faith begins with the awareness of total dependence on Jesus. Each Christian must understand, "I do not feed, clothe, support, or sustain the Lord. He was not made King, Lord and Savior by my hand or power. I came to Him. His position, power, and being are not dependent on me."

The first parameter Christian attitude toward self is this: "I am forever the Lord's servant. Though I shall serve with all my being to do the best of my ability, I am still a servant. I have only accepted my responsibility." Only the knowledge and admission of dependence will enable a Christian to grow in faith and in usefulness to the Lord.


  1. Explain why the question, "How should I look at me?" is a problem question.
  2. Explain why some Christians feel guilty because they feel good about themselves.
  3. Why must Christians have proper spiritual attitudes toward self?
  4. Why did the Apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith in Luke 17:5? Discuss the responsibilities Jesus had given them.
  5. Explain Jesus' point in the illustration about the hard-working servant who had to prepare the master's supper before eating.
  6. What must a person understand to increase his faith?
  7. Describe an "affirming" faith.
  8. Describe the faith of dependence.
  9. What does a growing, dependent faith know?
  10. Discuss how obedience can result in an arrogant attitude.
  11. Discuss how obedience can result in a Christian exaggerating his importance.
  12. Why is it easy for some Christians to feel abused?
  13. What is the first parameter attitude of a Christian toward himself?

Thought Questions

  1. Give your own explanation of the importance of this attitude: "I am and forever shall be a servant of the Lord."
  2. Why must a Christian have this attitude?
  3. If a Christian does not have this attitude, what will be the consequences?
  4. What do you consider to be the most important lesson in this chapter?
transcribed by Donna Carson
Copyright © 1983, David Chadwell
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