Self-consciousness is an undue awareness of oneself, especially when one is being observed by others. The key word in that definition is undue. It is healthy to maintain a casual awareness of the way others perceive us. A moderate level of self-consciousness keeps us from behaving in rude or offensive ways. But self-consciousness as a way of life does not fit with the Bible’s description of a Christian.
Everyone has a focus. We make decisions and view the world based on that focus. Our focus is that which captures our attention, drives our decisions, and dominates our thoughts. A self-conscious person’s focus is on self: How do I look? What do they think of me? Do I fit in? While attention to grooming, manners, and social mores is a God-honoring practice, our self-consciousness becomes sinful when it supersedes God’s calling on our lives. When self-consciousness hinders us from obeying the Lord in any area, it has become a false god. For example, we may feel a prompting from the Holy Spirit to speak to the new guy at work and invite him to church. God-consciousness may propel us to obey, but self-consciousness may keep us at our desk. What will he think? What if he makes fun of me? I might look stupid! Self-conscious thoughts will always win when we have given them too much focus.
John 12:42–44 describes a group of Jewish leaders who believed that Jesus was who He said He was, but, because of self-consciousness, they refused to confess Him openly. Their fear of what other people thought and the likely consequences of a public confession kept them from becoming followers of Christ. Their self-conscious fears were a greater motivation than the faith that could have saved them. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).
When the Holy Spirit creates us anew in Christ, He shifts our focus (2 Corinthians 5:17). Whereas we used to be self-focused, pleasure-focused, or culture-focused, God begins to make us Christ-focused (Hebrews 12:2). As we become more conscious of Christ, we become less conscious of self. Focus on self no longer fits with our new, higher calling as ambassadors for God’s kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are called to die to ourselves and live for Christ alone (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:3–8; Luke 9:23). As John the Baptist said about Christ, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).
As a regular part of our spiritual journeys, we should ask ourselves: Where is my focus? Whom am I striving to please today? An awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence and pleasure is part of what it means to live in “the fear of the Lord” (see Proverbs 1:7; Psalm 111:10). We cultivate the fear of the Lord by being intentionally aware that He is watching and evaluating everything we think, say, or do. Pleasing God is our highest goal and distracts us from over-focus on ourselves. When we notice we have become too self-conscious, the remedy is to humble ourselves before God and offer Him our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1–2; Colossians 3:1–3). Our focus shifts to thoughts of glorifying Him and reflecting His majesty through our surrender (1 Corinthians 10:31). When we see ourselves as masterpieces in the making in God’s workshop (Ephesians 2:10), self-consciousness cannot rule our lives.