The Search For Significance, by Robert S. McGee, is a powerful book confronting the lies that rob the average person who has not really ever parsed the scriptures to understand the meaning of new life in Christ.
This article, written by Dr. Steven Riser in 2004, is a summary of the book I’ve shared and given to hundreds of people since 1989 when I first read the book. I offer it to you now with hopes that you will be free, and freely live the life God intended for you.
With love and faithful service in Christ,
Have you ever said to yourself: “God doesn’t really care about me… I am an unlovable, worthless person… Nobody will ever love me…I’ll never be able to change…I’ve been a failure all my life…I guess I’ll always be a failure…If people really knew me, they wouldn’t like me?”
Have you ever asked yourself, “What effect, if any, does the Bible have on my self esteem?” Do we seek for security and purpose from worldly sources: personal success, status, beauty, wealth and the approval of others? Is our self-esteem based of the others’ approval or on our experience of the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ? Why is it so difficult to turn on the light of objectivity on ourselves by ourselves (Jer. 17:9, 10)? Why are we so afraid to take an honest look within ourselves? Are we afraid of what we will find (1 John 1:7)? And even if we discover what’s wrong with us, are we afraid that nothing can help us?
Whether our hurts are mild or severe, it is wise to be honest about them in the context of affirming relationships so that healing can begin. King David said in Psalm 51:6, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (Note: David said this after living a lie, hiding his sin with Bathsheba, for the better part of a year.) The Lord desires truth and honesty at the deepest level and wants us to experience his forgiveness, love and power. The Psalms give us great insight into what it means to be honest with God.
In this article we shall consider the biblical basis for our self-worth. We will seek:
1) To identify and understand the nature of man’s search for significance.
2) To recognize and challenge inadequate answers in our search and
3) To understand and apply God’s solutions to our search for significance.
As you read this article, ask God for the courage to be honest. Give Him permission to shine the Spirit’s light on your thoughts, feelings, words, attitudes and actions. Ask God to turn His light on in your life (Psalm 139: 23, 24).
1. We Need to Identify and Understand the Nature of Man’s Search for Significance
Most of us have such a desire for the love and approval of others that we live to please them (vs. pleasing God). Those who live for the approval of others are never satisfied, at least not for very long. A very basic personal need of each individual is to regard himself as a worthwhile human being. The need we have for the approval of others underscores a greater need—the need for self worth.
The Scriptures provide the essentials for discovering our true significance, purpose and worth. The basic purpose why we were created is to honor and glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Our value is derived from the fact that we are a special creation of God—created in His image. The first step in discovering our self-worth is understanding the truth that makes life significant.
Some secular psychologists focus on self-esteem with the goal of simply feeling good about ourselves. A biblical self-concept focuses on self-worth based on an accurate perception of God, ourselves and others.
Self-esteem (feeling good about ourselves) is not enough, we need to have self: acceptance, worth, and respect. Understanding this basic need opens the door to understanding what motivates our attitudes and actions. Since our need for self-worth and significance is God-given, only God knows how to best fulfill these needs.
Many of us make the serious mistake of trying to meet legitimate God-given needs in illegitimate ways. Many are deceived into believing that the basis of our self-worth is our performance and ability to please others. For better or for worse, our self-esteem and view of God is usually a mirror of our parents’ attitude toward us. For most of us, our parents and especially our fathers serve as our models of the character of our heavenly Father.
A basic question we need to ask ourselves is, “Am I trusting in the death of Christ for my sins and His resurrection to give me new life?” If we would have a healthy self-concept, we must give up our efforts to achieve righteousness and trust in Christ’s death and His resurrection alone to enable us to experience God’s love and forgiveness.
The key to a biblical self-concept is to recognize that: Personal worth is a gift of God. It is not earned or achieved, cannot be added to or taken away from, need not be proved and must not be denied. We do nothing to qualify for it. It is ours because of Christ. As with any gift, it must be consciously received or accepted with thanksgiving.
We need to under go a transition from (works) a “have to” mentality to (grace) a “want to” mentality. Changing our thinking requires: knowledge and application of God’s Word, the power of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement of others. Christ is the source of security, significance and self worth—the only one who promises and never fails.
There are several elements which work together over time to promote a healthy sense of self worth: humility, honesty, affirming relationships, right thinking, godly wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s Power. Secondly,
2. We Must Recognize and Challenge Inadequate Bases for our Self-Esteem
There are four false beliefs resulting from Satan’s deceptions with corresponding negative
The Performance Trap: “I must meet certain standards in order to feel good about myself.”
Consequences: the fear of failure; perfectionism; being driven to succeed; manipulating others to achieve success; withdrawal from healthy risks, anger, resentment, pride, depression and low motivation.
God’s Answer: Justification (by grace through faith)—just as if I had never sinned. Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because of justification, I am completely forgiven and fully pleasing to God, I no longer need to fear failure.
Results of God’s Solution: Increasing freedom from the fear of failure; desire to pursue the right things: Christ and His kingdom; greater love for Christ and desire to please Him through loving and serving others.
There are many reasons why we should want to obey God. Here are seven:
• Christ’s love motivates us to live for Him. (2 Cor. 5:14)
• Sin is destructive and should be avoided. (Gal. 6:7-8)
• Our Heavenly Fatherly lovingly disciplines us for wrongdoing. (Heb. 12: 6)
• His commands are good: they are an expression of His love and wisdom. (Rom. 12: 2)
• We will receive eternal rewards for faithfulness and obedience. (Gal. 6: 10)
• Christ knows what’s best and wants what’s best and is worthy of our obedience.
• Everything God does is worthy of our love, loyalty, trust and obedience.
The Approval Addiction: “I must be approved (accepted) by others to feel good about myself.”
Consequences: the fear of rejection; attempting to please others at any cost; overly sensitive to criticism; withdrawing from others to avoid disapproval, being easily manipulated, codependency; control, depression, etc.
God’s Answer: Reconciliation—brought into a right relationship with God. Colossians 1:21-22: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…” Because of reconciliation, I am totally accepted by God. I no longer have to fear rejection. God is at peace with me.
Results of God’s Solution: Increasing freedom from the fear of rejection; willingness to be
open and vulnerable, able to relax around others; willingness to take criticism; desire to please God no matter what others think.
How does God feel about me? 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: Substitute the word “God” for the word
“love”. My Heavenly Father is: (1) Very patient and kind; (2) not envious, never boastful; (3) not arrogant; (4) never rude nor self-seeking; (5) not quick to take offense; (6) keeps no score of wrongs; (7) does not gloat over my sins but is glad when truth prevails; (8) knows no limit to His endurance, no end to His trust; (9) always hopeful and patient.
The Blame Game: “Those who fail are unworthy of love and deserve to be punished.”
Consequences: The fear of punishment; punishing others; blaming others for personal failure; withdrawal from God and others; driven to avoid failure.
God’s Answer: Propitiation—God’s holiness and justice is satisfied by Christ’s death in our place. 1 John 4:9-11: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (cf. Romans 8:1) Because of propitiation, I am deeply loved by God. I no longer have to fear punishment or punish myself or others.
Results of God’s Solution: Increasing freedom from the fear of punishment; patience and
kindness toward others; being quick to apply forgiveness – to gain and maintain a clear conscience; a deep-seated love for Christ.
Shame: “I just can’t help it, that’s just the way I am. I cannot change. I am hopeless.”
Consequences: feelings of shame, hopelessness, inferiority; passivity; loss of creativity; isolation; withdrawal from others, resigned to failure; a feeling of helplessness.
God’s Answer: Regeneration—being spiritually reborn by the Word and Spirit of God. John 3:3-6: “In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (cf. Titus 3:5) Because of regeneration, I am a new creation—complete in Christ. I no longer need to experience the pain of shame. I have a new nature, a new heart, a new occupant on the throne, a new source of identity—who I am in Christ!
Results of God’s Solution: Christ-centered, self-confidence; joy, courage, peace; a desire to know Christ.
We Need to Apply God’s Solutions to Our Search for Significance.
The Holy Spirit—the source of change—Galatians 5:22-23. What obstacles keep us from
experiencing Christ’s presence and power in our lives?
1. Too selfish in motivation—we must have as our ambition to please and glorify Christ (1 Cor.10:31; 2 Cor. 5:15)
2. Too mechanical—Christ Himself, not rules or process, is the source of security, joy and
meaning. (Phil. 1:21)
3. Too mystical—too much dependence on feelings—feelings are not God’s primary means of communication.
4. Too little discernment—failure to realize the nature and depth of the love and power available to us in Christ.
5. Too little repentance—harboring sin which is deceptive, destructive and breaks our fellowship with Christ.
Renewing the Mind—the spiritual battleground—Romans 12:1-3; Luke 17:10.
First, we expose our negative thoughts, false beliefs and traps that trigger our negative emotions. We can begin to allow God’s Word and Spirit to transform us by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). Renewing our minds comes from meditating and assimilating God’s Word into our lives (Psa. 1:1-3). Paul teaches that there are certain types of thoughts that should occupy our minds (Phil. 4:8). The battle with sin is fought and won or lost in our hearts and minds (2 Cor. 10:5; Rom. 8:5-11). We should experience an overwhelming thankfulness for our forgiveness in response to God’s grace.The weapons of our warfare —Ephesians 6:13-17; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5—Our offensive weapon is: the Sword of the Spirit
What are our basic options in responding to specific situations?
(1) a.Satan’s deceptions; b. False beliefs; c. ungodly thoughts; d. negative emotions; e. ungodly actions
(2) a. God’s solutions; b. God’s truth; c. godly thoughts; d. fruit of the spirit; e. godly actions
(3) Biblical repentance, in part, involves: rejecting false beliefs and affirming godly truth.
(4) There can be no permanent, positive change apart from continual, sincere and godly repentance. Guilt vs. Conviction—Romans 8:1—There is now no condemnation for those who are in
(1) There is no burden which produces pain, fear and alienation like the feeling of guilt.
(2) The good news is that Christ has freed us from the guilt and condemnation that our sins deserve.
(3) Because of Christ’s death on our behalf, we are absolved and acquitted of our guilt—declared not guilty.
(4) Christians are freed from guilt, but we are still subject to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.
(5) Our status as God’s children and our self-worth are secure by the grace of God. (John 1:12-13)
(6) Conviction deals with sinful attitudes and actions; it deals with fellowship, not relationship.
(7) Guilt means liability to be punished for our sins; because of Christ we are no longer liable to be punished.
(8) The remedy for guilt is to trust Jesus as our savior from sin being justified by faith. (Romans 8:1)
(9) The remedy for conviction is confession—agreeing with God concerning our sin. (I John 1:9)
Who is the real you? Your old nature or your new nature? The answer is simple: the one that will be with you for all eternity. If you only have one nature (your sinful, selfish human nature) then that is the real you (Eph. 2:3-4). If you have a new nature (given to you by the Holy Spirit) then that is the real you (2 Cor. 5:17). If you want to have a healthy biblical self-concept, you need to recognize the real you (Eph. 4:3). The Apostle Paul clearly distinguished between the character and results of the old nature and the new nature. The differences center around four words: know, consider, present and obey.
To Know—we need to know the basic facts about who we are in Christ (Romans 6:3-10)
To Consider—we need to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11)
To Present—we need to present ourselves as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:12-13)
To Obey—perpetuate our commitment through moment by moment obedience to Christ (Romans 6:15-18) Our goal is to honor Christ because He is worthy of our faith, love, loyal and obedience.
We honor Christ by accurately representing Him in every thought, action, relationship, and conversation—bearing His image.
How do we apply these truths to our lives?
• Understand the four truths of redemption and the corresponding four false beliefs. The ability to understand truth and recognize deception is a vital first step.
• Learn to reject the lies and replace them with biblical truths so we can renew our minds. Look for ways to accurately represent Christ in every situation and relationship.
• Teach these truths to others—communicate spiritual truths as God gives you opportunity. We are
stewards of the important spiritual truths contained in the Gospel.
• Keep on keeping on—develop a godly tenacity and keep following Christ (Jn. 8:32). In due time we shall reap if we don’t get discouraged and give up (Gal. 6:9b).
Realize that you are deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, totally accepted, and complete in Christ because of what He has done on your behalf. You are free! Free to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
Credit to: The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee, Rapha Publishing, Houston, TX, 1985.