"For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it is not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).
Here is a good snapshot of the Apostle Paul's self image-and counsel for our own self-image. When we read these verses carefully, we see that Paul attributes everything good that he has done to God's grace, while not denying that he has done them! And done them well!
If Paul were ever tempted to be puffed up because of his good deeds or his Mediterranean stardom, he had only to remember his humble origins. Same with you and me.
And yet, don't ask Paul to deprecate himself and deny that he has been obedient, because he won't. He has been obedient, he has worked hard, and he is not embarrassed to tell you. He wants you to be obedient and work hard too. He elsewhere tells us:
"Let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor" (Galatians 6:4).
This is a man with a balanced self-image. Sometimes the word "balance" is a cover for wishy-washiness, indecision, or dubious compromise, but I mean it here in the best sense. Paul holds on to both poles-a recognition that all he has is from God, and a recognition that he is a new and empowered creation in Christ who has actually done some things right in his life. In fact, he has "worked harder than any of them."
What would you think of a person you know who talked that way? Would you think him proud? Deluded? Ignorant of the gospel of grace? We might have thought so if we didn't have these words of Scripture and this example from God himself. Praise be to God, who shows us full-orbed truth: Everything we are is of Him. And we are not trash.