Column: Image

This summer I had the chance to serve two mission fields that were polar opposites. For the first six weeks of the summer I lived in a cabin without air conditioning on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii, where I was working as a counselor at Camp Kupono. For the next six weeks I interned in the office of Sen. Tim Scott.

I went from wearing shorts and flip-flops and playing knock-out on the basketball court to suits and heels and briefings on workforce and the environment. But as I look back on my summer of ministry, there is a common thread tying everyone I met together: the idol of appearance.

We live in a world of two extremes pointing to one focus: ourselves. On the one hand, we are surrounded by perfectly photoshopped tabloid covers. Movie plots focus on the pitiful character with the wrong hair, wrong clothes, and wrong glasses who finds love and success only after a complete makeover by a sympathetic sidekick. It’s hard to escape from unreachable requirements of perfection, and the fight to achieve it takes our focus away from the Christian’s goal of glorifying God.

But on the other hand, society is beginning to move away from its unrealistic expectations. As celebrities release unphotoshopped photos of themselves, the media has begun to promote the message, “size doesn’t matter, it’s the inside that counts.” But as the attention moves toward a “just be yourself” mentality, we are no closer to the image of Christ. We are still focusing on ourselves: our intelligence and our accomplishments. It is just as easy for selfish sinners to hold our “inner self” above God, as it is our “outer self.”

These opposite extremes would seem to contradict each other, but both are just tools that Satan uses to take our attention away from grace. Both appeal to our pride, a pride stemming back to the garden, a pride that seeks to find satisfaction and assurance somewhere within our self.

Both perspectives are prideful, causing us to worship ourselves rather than our Creator. First, when we disregard exterior beauty we take away from the beauty that God created by making men and women in His own image. Psalm 139:14 says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We were handmade by the perfect Artist, and our bodies are His masterpieces. Our outward appearance is important because it points to the God for whom and by whom we were created.

Second, Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” The inner man is dirty, stained and only good when cleansed by the blood of Jesus. There is nothing beautiful about our sinful soul. We are fallen, and it is our fallen pride that seeks to find beauty in the ugly.

But there is hope! We have a Savior whose sacrifice turns our ashes into beauty and our pride into proclamations of grace. Instead of focusing on ourselves, inside or outside, we need to focus on the One who made us. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice we are free to live life in light of our new identity in Christ.