Sermon Illustrations on Self-Image


The Danger of Trusting Yourself

Over the years, I’ve read about many leaders who failed ethically in their leadership. Can you guess what they had in common? They all thought it could never happen to them. There was a false sense of security. They thought they were incapable of ruining their lives and the lives of others. Learning that was very sobering to me, because I shared the same attitude. I thought I was above such possibilities, and that scared me. At that moment, I made two decisions: First, I will not trust myself. Second, I will become accountable to someone other than myself. I believe those decisions have helped to keep me on track and able to lead myself and others. Lack of accountability in our personal life will certainly lead to problems in our public life. We saw that time and time again with high-profile CEOs a few years ago. A Chinese proverb says,“When you see a good man, think of emulating him; when you see a bad man, examine your heart.”

John Maxwell, The Toughest Person To Lead Is Always Yourself (Thomas Nelson, 2012)


I’m Great at What I Do

I’m a college professor — I have been for almost a decade. I work reasonably hard at my job, and I think I do it fairly well. In fact, in my honest and solitary moments, when there’s no occasion false humility, I’d say I’m a better-than-average teacher.

I’m in good company. A recent study revealed that 94 percent of the people who do what I do think they’re doing a better-than average job. And it’s not just college professors. “A survey of one million high-school seniors found that 70 percent thought they were above average in leadership ability, and only 2 percent thought they were below average.”

In terms of ability to get along with others, all students thought they were above average, 60 percent thought they were in the top 10 percent, and 25 percent thought they were in the top 1 percent!”’ Clearly, a lot of people are wrong about how they stack up in comparison with their peers.

Fortunately, I’m not one of them. Am I?

Greg Ten Elsof, I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life, Eerdmans, 2009.

In God’s Image

Pop psychology is wrong when it tells you to look inside yourself and find your value. The magazines are wrong when they suggest you are only as good as you are thin, muscular, pimple-free, or perfumed. The movies mislead you when they imply that your value increases as your stamina, intelligence, or net worth grows. Religious leaders lie when they urge you to grade your significance according to your church attendance, self-discipline, or spirituality. According to the Bible you are good simply because God made you in his image. Period. He cherishes you because you bear a resemblance to him. And you will only be satisfied when you engage in your role as an image bearer of God….

Max Lucado, Unshakable Hope, Thomas Nelson.

To Look White

Many minorities actually try to change their appearance to look more light-skinned or white. Eliza Noh, assistant professor of Asian American studies at California State University of Fullerton describes how her sister got plastic surgery to make her eyes and nose appear more European-looking because she thought her own appearance as a minority was “ugly.”

There is a boom for plastic surgery in China and Korea, where some clinics perform as many as one hundred procedures a day to reshape eyelids, noses, and faces. Dr. Kim Byung-Gun says, “They always tell me they don’t like their faces…the Chinese and Korean patients tell me that they want to have faces like Americans. The idea of beauty is more westernized recently. That means the Asian people want to have a little less Asian, more westernized appearance. They don’t like big cheekbones or small eyes. They want to have big, bright eyes with slender, nice facial bones.

Adrian Pei, The Minority Experience: Navigating Emotional and Organizational Realities, Intervarsity Press.

Two Sketches

In 2013, the soap company Dove released a series of short films featuring women who were the subjects of an FBI-trained forensic artist. Without actually seeing the women, the artist would draw each woman based on how she described herself. Later, the artist would draw the same woman based on how a stranger described her.

The reveal was shocking. The sketches drawn from the stranger’s description were always more beautiful than the ones in which the women described themselves. The point: many women don’t realize how beautiful they are. The ad was an attempt to help women accept themselves and find greater contentment in their intrinsic beauty.

Donald Miller, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen.


Maria Goff and Insecurity

Insecurity is a funny thing. It makes us into someone we’re not as a way to cope with someone we used to be. For me, it started at home. Growing up, my dad had been critical of my mother’s weight, and he evidently didn’t want my sister and me to look like her. One day my dad called us into the bathroom.

He was standing by a scale he had placed on the floor with his arm extended, inviting us to step up. I can’t remember the number that appeared, but I remember being so humiliated. This was another moment for me. I began to believe the lie that the love and acceptance and approval I longed for was conditional and depended on my outer appearance. This happened in high school, but when I left for college this untruth found a corner of my suitcase to hide in. When I unpacked my clothes in my dorm room, I unpacked the lie too.

Taken from Maria Goff, Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want. B&H Publishing Group.

Nothing to Hide

The relationship between wartime leaders Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been well chronicled by historians of the period. On one visit to the United States, Roosevelt wheeled himself right into the British Prime Minister’s bedroom, opened the door to find Churchill completely naked and yet unashamed. Churchill’s response was classic: “You see, Mr. President, we British have nothing to hide.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.


Our Moral Superiority

Researchers at the University of London concluded that “a substantial majority of individuals believe themselves to be morally superior to the average person” and that this illusion of ours is “uniquely strong and prevalent.” They write, “Most people strongly believe they are just, virtuous, and moral; yet regard the average person as distinctly less so.”

And among their study participants, “virtually all individuals irrationally inflated their moral qualities, and the absolute and relative magnitude of this irrationality was greater than that in the other domains of positive self-evaluation.”1 And we have a lot of self-delusions. Perhaps you’ve heard that 93 percent of us genuinely believe we’re above-average drivers.

Perhaps you’ve seen studies that show we also think we’re smarter than average. And we’re friendlier too. Plus we’re more ambitious than average. You might think with all of this awesomeness, we might have an ego problem, but good news: we also rate ourselves as more modest than others!

So, yes, we’re better at everything than everybody, but at least we’re humble about it. That’s not surprising because we’re us, and, you know, we’re cool like that. But what about people we assume simply must be less moral than us? Murderers, thieves, and the like—surely they’d have a more reasonable assessment, right?

Why, no, actually. The incarcerated population also thinks they’re more moral than everyone else. Prisoners find themselves to be kinder than the average person. And more generous. The professor who conducted the study of prisoners wrote, “The results showcase how potent the self-enhancement motive is. It is very important for people to consider themselves good, valued, and esteemed, no matter what objective circumstances might be.”

Brent Hansen, The Truth about Us: The Very Good News about How Very Bad We Are, Baker Publishing Group.


We Wear Time

Our selves are fashioned; we are adorned with histories that incline us to saunter, swagger, or shuffle. Given our histories, some of us move through the world with a cape; some of us don baggy sweaters we hide behind; some of us still experience the world as if exposed. The question isn’t whether we have a style but which style we’ve (unconsciously) adopted given our histories. We wear time.

James K. A. Smith, How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now (Brazos Press, 2022).


Whose the Fairest of Them All?

In Disney’s Snow White, when the wicked witch stares in the mirror, she asks a basic question: “Who’s the fairest of them all?” It is a natural, human tendency to measure ourselves against others. But what if that mirror provides a cracked perspective? How do we resist the temptation to define ourselves externally, via comparison with others, and instead develop an integrated self, content within our own parameters? Are there feelings of frustration and inadequacy burrowed into our psyche that we may not even be aware of?

Craig Detweiler, Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, p.129.


Nothing to Hide

The relationship between wartime leaders Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been well chronicled by historians of the period. On one visit to the United States, Roosevelt wheeled himself right into the British Prime Minister’s bedroom, opened the door to find Churchill completely naked and yet unashamed. Churchill’s response was classic: “You see, Mr. President, we British have nothing to hide.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

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