Developing Healthy Self-Esteem
Rodney J. Buchanan
In the Scripture reading today, we hear the Lord saying to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” It seems that when most people think of God coming to them and saying something, they think of him saying something about what is wrong with them. They often associate the voice of God with a guilty conscience. But, more often, the voice of God comes to announce our extraordinary worth to God and his plan to use us. This personal worth is inseparably tied to the fact that we were made by God. And our worth to God started before we were born. We have worth because we were born in the mind of God before we even entered our mother’s womb. We were valuable to God before the world began — because already we had begun in his mind and imagination. We are the product of his creativity and love. That is something that can never change or ever be taken away from us — indeed, it is the only thing we cannot lose.
What concerns me about the way we talk of self-esteem today is that it seems to be tied to our abilities. We tell children: “You can be whatever you choose to be!” Of course, this is not true. If I spent 12 hours a day practicing the piano I could never play like Joanna or Linda. I could never play the guitar like Jeremy. I will never be able to paint like Rissie Strayer. I will never be able to comprehend mathematical science like John Noonan. I will never be able to run like David Overholt — regardless of how many hours I would train. There are many things I cannot do, and the things I can do are often not as good as other people can do them. That reality dawns on children sooner than later, and so the questions is: Then what? The truth is, you can’t be anything you want to be, but you can be everything God wants you to be. That is where your identity and self-esteem must be grounded or it will eventually fall apart.
The American culture places extreme value on outer appearance. We value youth, beauty, athletic ability, intelligence, education, wealth and fame. But what happens when you have it all and lose it. What happens when Superman becomes a wheelchair man? What happens when a supermodel gains some super weight or gets super old? What happens when a super intelligent person has a stroke? What happens when a superstar ends up in jail or addicted to drugs? What happens when you have a super career and lose it? What then? Where do you get your feelings of esteem and personal worth, when everything on which you have based your value has vanished?
In this passage from Jeremiah, the first thing I see is: An accurate view of yourself comes from an understanding of God’s view of who you are. When God told Jeremiah that he valued him and had plans to use his life, Jeremiah protested that he was only a child and could not possibly be of value to God. But the Lord said, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you” (Jeremiah 1:6-7). God had plans for Jeremiah that Jeremiah could not understand. Jeremiah saw himself as having no value, but God saw him as having great value. His value was not how he saw himself, or even how others saw him. His value was in how God saw him. You may not seem like much in your own estimation, but it is who you are in God’s eyes that matters. The kind of self-esteem that says, “I’m worth something because I am doing well and others look up to me” is a black hole from which many people never escape. If your feelings of self-worth are based on how you see yourself, or how others see you, then you are hooked to the wrong star. You will spend your life climbing the ladder of success only to find it was leaning against the wrong building.
If you take a tour through the Developmental Center (for the developmentally disabled and mentally retarded) here in town you will see many individuals who cannot get out of bed by themselves, let alone go to school or play sports. Many of them have never been able to contribute anything to society and never will — they are totally dependent on society to take care of them. Many cannot speak. They are not physically attractive. They will never have a relationship except with their caretakers. They will never earn an income. They cannot control their bodily functions. Of what value are they? According to the Scripture they are of inestimable worth to God. They are as much a part of his creation as a the doctors, nurses and aides who take care of them. Their worth to society is the very fact that they dependent on society. They are God’s gift to us. God is teaching us the value of taking care of people who can never return the favor in any way. And yet, those who work with them can tell you that they receive a great deal from these people. God is showing us the value of human life when life is all these individuals have. God has said, “For every living soul belongs to me” (Ezekiel 18:4).
The Bible says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Your life has value because you were created in the image of God, regardless of what you are able, or unable, to do. Your life finds meaning only in a relationship with the God in whose image you were created. He has a purpose and plan for your life that is different from every other person who was ever created. He says, “I know the plans I have for you.” (Jeremiah 29:11). You are so important to him that, as Jesus said, “the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7).
The second thing I see in this passage from Jeremiah is: An accurate view of yourself comes from knowing the truth about who you are. The truth was that Jeremiah was only a child in his experience and understanding. According to the world’s standards he had nothing to offer. If it had not been for God putting his words in Jeremiah’s mouth, he would have had nothing to say. But because God had created him, as he has all of us, for a special purpose, God did not want him to disparage himself. He said to Jeremiah, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’”
There is good news and bad news here. The bad news is: We are nothing without God. But the good news is: With God we are something special. There is eternal significance to our lives. In the beginning, the Bible says, “God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Good news and bad news. We were made from dirt, but God breathed his life into us. We understand that Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But we also understand that Paul was correct when he said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). The truth is that without God we are nothing, but with him we are everything. If we remain in him our lives will produce much fruit. We understand the truth that we are sinners, for the Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But we also understand that we, “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). The apostle Paul catalogues a long list of sins prevalent in the world, and then says, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). We are, at the same time, sinners and those who are loved and valued by God. The Bible says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Peter tells God’s truth about us when he writes, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). The truth about us is this: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). We were made for the glory of God, and that is where our self-esteem should come.
The third thing I see in this passage from Jeremiah is: An accurate view of yourself comes from a humble view of who you are. Throughout his life, Jeremiah maintained a sense of humility. He did not see God’s calling on his life as something about which he could feel superior. Even Jesus did not exalt himself. The Bible says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. . .” (Philippians 2:5-7). Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Self esteem comes from humility, not pride, for God has said, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). We are actually seeking God’s esteem, not self-esteem.
The way some talk about self-esteem, it almost sounds like it is good to feel proud and superior to others. What happens when you have great self-esteem and your evaluation of yourself is inaccurate? There are those who see themselves as very attractive physically, but are not. There are those who think of themselves as very intelligent, but who destroy their lives with their foolishness. What happens when you have very good feelings about yourself, but you are a very bad person. We seem to have a steady dose of politicians who have this particular problem. Their over-rated self-worth is a delusion. The Bible says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).And again, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
How much better to say with Paul, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10). The Bible says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). The point is that the focus is off of yourself. Inferiority is just another form of pride. It is feeling bad that you are not as good or better than others. Pride is a matter of being self-focused. A person who feels constantly inferior is merely someone who is focused upon themselves. As we grow in God, we turn the focus away from ourselves and we focus upon God. We focus on the gifts of others and we rejoice with them for what God has given them. There will always be someone who can do what we do better than we can do it, but we continue to do what God has called us to do. If God has given you something you can do, do it with all your might. The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24). Don’t worry about what you can’t do, concentrate on what you can do. Don’t worry about whether it is as good as someone else can do it, do the best you can do. What if only very best tennis player would enter the contest. What if no one else would come to Wimbledon because they knew they were not the top seed? What if only the best preachers preached? This pulpit would be empty here today. What if only the best singer sang? What if only the wealthiest person gave? What if only the best teacher taught?
We are to be full of confidence, because God has made us and has called us to serve him. There is no one else like you in the world — God has seen to that. No one else has your particular personality and gifts. You look the way you do, because that is the way he wanted you to look. You have exactly the amount of potential intelligence and ability as he planned for you to have. There will always be someone with more than you have, but there will never be anyone exactly like you. You are his gift to the world, exactly as you are. You can throw down his gifts to you, or you can pick up those abilities and develop them to the full. You can try to live in your own strength, or you can lean upon his strength for the full development of what he has given you.
What I am trying to say is this: One day your looks will change. Your abilities will diminish. You will not be able to think or remember as you once did. You may lose friends or even lose your spouse. What then? On what will you base your self-esteem? If your self-esteem is based on your looks, intelligence, education, youth, or abilities then your self-esteem will be shattered. The only thing that will last — the only thing that no one can take from you — is your relationship with God and your value to him. All your feelings about yourself, others, and life must come from him or you will live in disillusionment and despair. This relationship will guide you in your youth and sustain you later in life as well. It will provide you with the meaning and fulfillment that only God can give.
The story is told of an American tourist in Paris who picked up an amber necklace in a trinket shop. When he arrived at New York and went through customs he was shocked at the high duty he had to pay. When he came home, he had the necklace appraised, and the jeweler told him he would give $25,000 for the necklace. He was stunned and suspected that there was a reason for the offer. He took the necklace to an expert who appraised it at an astronomical amount. When he asked the appraiser what made the necklace so valuable, he told him to look into the magnifying glass and see for himself. When he placed his eye next to the glass, he saw an inscription which read: “From Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine.” It was the name on the necklace that gave it extraordinary worth.
Inscribed on your life is the name of your Owner. He has made you with his own hands and written his name across your life. Your value is found in that inscription. You belong to him and he wants to use your life. He has made you and your are his. You are unique. You are special because you are special to him. No one else can take your place in his heart. And neither can anyone else take your place in this world.
Posted with permission:
A Biblical View of Self-Esteem; An Explanation of Key Verses
Definitions from Webster's Unabridged Dictionary
|Self-Esteem: Undo PRIDE in oneself (p. 1646)
Pride: Overhigh opinion of oneself; conceit (p. 1428)
Humility: Absence of PRIDE or self-assertion (p. 884)
Taken in proper context, the attached Biblical references clearly indicate that there is no Biblical basis for self-esteem, self-love, self-acceptance, self-confidence, self-forgiveness, self-assertion, "proper" self-image, self-actualization, or any of the other selfisms advocated by the worldly system of psychology.
The Bible's answer for our emotional "problems": turn from self to Christ (and His all-sufficient Word).
New Testament Verses
Matthew 22:36-40 -- Jesus gives two great commandments: (1) Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; (2) Love your neighbor as yourself -- there is no third command to love yourself. Jesus is saying, "as you already love yourself" -- "as" is used in the same way in Eph 5:25,28,33, indicating a state of current existence, not a command. Jesus knows we already love ourselves and thereby commands us to love others with this same commitment.
Luke 10:25-37 -- Example given by Jesus to illustrate the "love neighbor as yourself" command, presents a story of self-sacrifice (not self-love) towards an object of hate (a Samaritan)!
Matthew 16:24,25 -- Deny self, i.e., say no to self; not told to self-affirm, self-gratify, or self-actualize.
Luke 9:23 -- Deny self, i.e., put self to death, daily; not told to self-affirm, self-gratify, or self-actualize.
Matthew 20:26,27 -- The great are the servants, not the ones served.
Matthew 23:11,12 -- The great are the servants; the humble will be exalted.
Luke 22:24-27 -- The servant is the greatest, not the proud.
Luke14:26 -- Cannot be a disciple of Jesus, unless deny even yourself.
2 Tim 3:2-5 -- "Lovers of Self" listed with other "detestable" sins such as slanderers, the treacherous, abusive, proud, conceited; therefore, high self-esteem/pride is a sin!
John 12:25 -- Lover of one's own life (self) will lose eternal life.
John 13:16,17 -- Humble service is a command.
John 15:5 -- Apart from God, i.e., lover of self vs. lover of God, you can do nothing.
1 Cor 1:18,19 -- Message of the cross (denial of self) is foolishness to those perishing (i.e., to the psychological self-worshipers).
1 Cor 4:3-5 -- Objective judgments are ours to make, but those regarding overall worth or esteem belong to the Lord.
1 Cor 13:2-- Self-esteem advocates teach we must be of value to ourselves in order to be able to love others, but God tells us that we are nothing, unless and until we love others.
1 Cor 13:4,5 -- Definitions of what love is not -- not envy, not boasting, not proud, and not self-seeking.
2 Cor 3:5 -- No competence in ourselves (no pride), but only from God.
2 Cor 5:15 -- Live for Christ, via humble service, not for yourself.
2 Cor 10:12,18 -- Look to Christ for comparison, not to yourself; i.e., no self-esteem gospel.
Eph 3:8; 1 Tim 1:15; Rom 7:24 -- Sounds as if Paul has a terrible self-esteem problem! Paul recognizes his rotten condition, to be resolved only through the gospel of the cross, which is a "humble servant" attitude.
Rom 12:3 -- Don't think of yourself too highly, but with sober judgment -- notice that Paul makes no mention of the possibility of one under-valuing himself.
Gal 6:3,4 -- Sober evaluation should be made not on the basis of how one is doing in comparison with others, but by comparing oneself with Scriptural standards, and of course, Scriptural standards stress humility and putting self to death (denial of self), not boosting one's self-esteem.
1 Cor 10:24 --Nobody should ever seek his own good, but the good of others.
Eph 5:21 -- Submit to others for Christ's sake: i.e., humble submission, not pride.
2 Cor 11:30 -- If boast in anything, boast in weakness!
Phil 2:3 -- Do not act out of self-concerns, but for others, and then in humility.
Heb 13:17 -- Submit to your spiritual leaders, not your self-desires.
1 Pet 5:5-7 -- Be humble toward others because God opposes the proud.
Col 3:12 -- Christians should clothe themselves in humility.
Eph 4:2 -- We are commanded to be completely humble and gentle.
James 4:10 -- Humility leads to esteem -- esteem from the Lord.
Luke 6:31 -- The golden rule: Jesus could confidently make this statement because He knew we already loved ourselves; i.e., if hating ourselves was our natural condition (as the "self-esteemers" tell us), then it would make us happy to be treated badly (as it would confirm our hateful feelings of ourselves), and Jesus would, thereby, be telling us to treat others with the same contempt and loathing that we desire for ourselves.
Luke 6:32 -- The fact that Jesus refers to "sinners" (i.e., enemies of God) as practicing the, "I'll love you if you love me first," philosophy, the self-esteem teaching that, "You have to love yourself before you are able to love others," must, thereby, also be rejected as being ungodly.
1 John 2:16,17 -- Man's "boasting of what he has and does" (i.e., self-esteem/pride) is not the will of God, but is "of the world."
Phil 2:5-8 -- One's "attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus" -- i.e., "made Himself nothing," "taking the form of a servant," "humbled Himself," "became obedient to death." In general, one should have an attitude of a humble servant-loving, self-sacrificing, compassionate, submissive, obedient, courageous, and holy -- i.e., no "selfisms" at all, only "otherisms"!
2 Cor 12:6,7 -- Even though Paul would have possibly been warranted in having a so-called "healthy" self-esteem, he refused to boast; God, also, didn't want Paul to have high self-esteem -- i.e., conceit.
Old Testament Verses
Gen 18:27 -- Abraham, a believer at this time, has a proper view of self before God -- "I am nothing but dust and ashes."
Exodus 3:11,12-- God didn't build up Moses' self-esteem, but only promised to be with him.
Judges 6:14-16 -- God didn't build up Gideon's self-esteem, but only promised to be with him.
Judges 7:2 -- God reduced Gideon's forces to such a ridiculously low level that they would have to exalt God, not self, when victory came.
Job 1:8 -- Job's true status, in which he could "rightfully" boast ("a man who fears God and shuns evil").
Job 25:5,6 -- God views man as a maggot and worm -- hardly a "high self-esteem" teaching.
Job 42:6 -- Proper attitude toward sin is self-despising and repentance.
Proverbs 22:4 -- Humility and fear of the Lord bring honor and life.
Proverbs 16:5, Proverbs 16:18, Proverbs 16:19 -- Pride leads to destruction; better to be lowly in spirit.
Proverbs 18:12 -- Downfall of man is pride; humility required for esteem and honor.
Deuteronomy 10:12 -- God requires a humble walk, and love and service to Him.
Deuteronomy 8:17,18 -- Everything comes from the Lord; therefore, have no pride.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 -- Have a God-centered orientation, not self-centered.
Micah 6:8 -- God requires a humble walk.
Psalm 62:9 -- On God's balance scale, man weighs less than nothing, i.e., negative weight or worth.
Ezekiel 6:9; Ezekiel 20:43; Ezekiel 36:31 -- Sin brings self-loathing in one's "own sight" (KJV) (i.e., self-image); therefore, a "proper" self-image in response to sin is a low one (i.e., low self-esteem), not self-acceptance or self-love.
Isaiah 41:24; Isaiah 2:22 -- What is man's truth worth -- "less than nothing;" "of no account."
Isaiah 47:8,10,11 -- Pride/high self-esteem leads to disaster and calamity.
Jeremiah 1:6-9 -- God didn't build up Jeremiah's self-esteem, but promised to be with him and put words in his mouth.
Psalm 115:1 -- Don't seek glory for self, but for the glory of the Lord.
Psalm 36:2 -- The man who flatters himself, i.e., high self-esteem, is unable to even detect his own sin, let alone hate it.
Psalm 34:18 -- The Lord works in the lives of the humble, not those with high self-esteem.
Psalm 51:17 -- True worship is with humility, not good self-image.
Psalm 101:5 -- God will not tolerate the proud; i.e., those with high self-esteem.
Isaiah 6:5 -- Faced with God's holiness, Isaiah debases self, not exalts self.
Proverbs 15:33 -- Humility before honor.
Proverbs 29:23 -- Pride, i.e., self-esteem, only lowers man, while humility gains honor.
Proverbs 6:16-19 -- Haughty eyes, i.e., a proud look, listed along with seven other sins that are detestable to the Lord.
Proverbs 8:13 -- The Lord hates pride.
Proverbs 11:2 -- With pride comes disgrace, while wisdom comes with humility.
Proverbs 13:10 -- Pride breeds quarrels.
Proverbs 21:4 -- Pride is a trait of the wicked, and is sin.
Proverbs 25:27 -- Not honorable to seek one's own honor.
1 Kings 3:5-9 -- Solomon's humble request was for discernment and wisdom (not high self-esteem), which God honored with wisdom and riches and God-esteem.
Proverbs 26:12 -- More hope for a fool than a man with high self-esteem, i.e., a man wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs 27:2 -- Don't praise yourself, i.e., high self-esteem, let others instead.
Proverbs 28:26 -- Those with good self-esteem are trusting in themselves, and therefore, are fools.
Psalm 31:23 -- The Lord will pay back the proud, in full.
Psalm 18:27 -- The Lord saves the humble, but brings low the proud.
Psalm 138:6 -- The Lord looks favorably on the humble, and unfavorably on the proud.
Job 40:4 -- Job recognizes he has no self-worth in God's sight.
Jeremiah 9:23,24 -- Don't let your attributes be the source of your glorifying, or you have chosen the wrong object for your boasting -- the object should be God! Whatever we have is from God, not of our own doing, so our boasts should be towards Him; praise the Lord, not self.
Jeremiah 17:7,8 -- A happy and worry-free man is one who places his confidence in the Lord, not in himself; i.e., no self-confidence teaching, but God-confidence instead!
Isaiah 66:2-- God-esteem (the only kind that counts) goes to the meek, humble, and God-fearing.
Psalm 139:13-15 -- The Psalmist uses God's wonderful creation (man) to exalt God (the Creator), not self (the creation).
I posted these in different articles, but they go here too:
I hear people who seem to think that upon becoming a Christian their lives should have suddenly gotten "better", that they shouldn't have to deal with the regular every day problems, and trials like they were before. So their "faith" weakens because they assume that Jesus isn't "doing anything". The false teachers that preach the prosperity gospel and the so called healing ministries that tell people that if you become a Christian that God will heal your body and mind and you won't have health problems anymore, only make this problem worse, because they're not only teaching lies, they're telling people that it's all about them, and it's not. It's about Him. When we become saved, we don't suddenly embark on a life of recreation and ease; a life of just happiness; no, when we sign up to be a Christian, we are signing up to be soldiers in a war! The last time I checked, most soldiers in a war zone, wouldn't consider their lives as lives of recreation and ease! .....
This is also very true of many people who live with pain, like me, or people who deal with chronic depression. (which many people who live with pain battle with as well.) The temptation is to make your life all about you, and as believers, we can not do that! It must be about God and about others! So often people don't seem to get that if they change their focus and put their focus on God instead of how miserable their lives are, and make an effort to help others in similar predicaments, that their own lives will actually improve too! As humans tainted with sin, it's practically beat into us by the world to focus on ourselves. You hear it all the time out in the world: "take care of yourself" "take care of #1" along with the nice sounding line that if you don't take care of yourself, that you can't help others. But with God it doesn't work that way. He never tells us to to take care of ourselves first. He says just the opposite. He says that we are to make Him number 1 in our lives and all others should be number 2, with ourselves coming in last. But, (back to the topic, lol) to hear these false teachers talk, it is about us, because that's what they focus on. That alone should throw up a great big red flag for anyone that's read their bibles, but for some reason it doesn't. Probably because we are so indoctrinated with the worldview that we should put ourselves first, so we just don't stop to think about it.....
I think that this was probably one of the biggest lessons I had to learn when I got saved, as it's so much the opposite of what the world teaches, and it pervades everything! Think about it: the biggest thing that pervades worldly thinking has to do with what the world calls "self esteem". That's the basis of where they get that doctrine of "take care of yourself, put yourself first" etc. That core teaching is the core of just about everything else taught in this world and it grabs Christians too without them even knowing it's wrong. They even try to use the bible to teach it. How many people do you know that honestly think that the bible says, "God helps those that help themselves"? The vast majority of people think that's in the bible! But it's not! The bible teaches the opposite of that! God's Word says that we are not to rely on ourselves, but rather that we are to rely on Him!
The Biblical View of Self-Image
The fact is that the self-image movement is neither Biblical nor scientific. It is a fad that will eventually pass away after doing incredible damage in our society and unfortunately in all too many churches. By God’s grace and the truth of His Word, believers need not be taken in by Satan’s lies. We can choose to live by the infallible, never changing Word of God!
Few would disagree with the following statement: How people think of themselves will to a large degree determine how they will think of others, how they will think of God, how they will obtain and maintain all their relationships, and how they will make decisions. There is no area of life that will not be directly or indirectly affected by the way we view ourselves. However, there are two vastly different views on the subject of self-image:
The UnBiblical View of Self-Image, Self-Worth, Self-Esteem and Self-Love
The basic teaching in pop-psychology today is that people in general have a low self-image, self-esteem, self-worth, self-love, etc. They do not think that they are very good, they do not love themselves, they do not accept themselves the way they are, they lack self-confidence, etc. People behave poorly because they view themselves in this manner. If people could improve their self-image, then they would feel better about themselves and perform better in life. Everyone, of course, has a bad self-image, there are however, varying degrees. Also, since people do not want others to know how badly they perceive themselves, they tend to cover up their poor self-image with different methods: some with shyness — so that people will not catch on to how bad they really are. Others may show-off trying to prove that they are really okay.
According to the self-image proponents: sexual promiscuity, suicide, crime, abortion, depression, poor mental health, stress, unhappiness, lack of success in life, the inability to love God and to accept His free gift of salvation, the inability to love others, and the inability to love self, are all the results of a poor self-image or low self-esteem.
What is the cure then for all of these problems? According to the self-image advocates, it is to build a good self-image (and a strong sense of self-worth) into the lives of all people. If what they are saying is true, then we as Christians had better jump on the self-image bandwagon. As a matter of fact, if people are unable to love God and others because of a poor self-image, then building self-esteem in our children, our spouses, our unsaved friends, ourselves and the entire world should become a primary goal of the church.
The Biblical View of Self-Image, Self-Worth, Self-Esteem and Self-Love
The power of the human mind to deceive itself seems infinite. We need to pray Psalms 139:23,24: "Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way" often! One study of two-hundred criminals revealed that not one of those criminals believed he was evil. Each criminal thought of himself as basically a good person even when planning a crime (The Washington Star, Aug. 15, 1976).
One of the Bible’s major aims is to correct man’s high view of himself; yet, it is now interpreted by Christian leaders to intend just the opposite. How can creatures who are constantly told (in the Word of God) that they think too highly of themselves, be convinced that their problem is in fact low self-esteem? Left to our own observations and imaginations such a thing is possible (Jer. 17:9,10: "The heart is more deceitful than all else. . ."), but the Bible does not cater to our self-deception, it seeks to correct it.
C.S. Lewis, writing before the self-esteem fad took off, made this interesting observation, "The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says, ‘well done,’ is pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, ‘I have pleased him; all is well,’ to thinking, ‘what a fine person I must be to have done it.’" If Lewis were to write such words today, would they be well received? I doubt it!
What do the Scriptures have to say about how we view ourselves?
Jesus taught the virtue of humility (Luke 18:14), and the importance of self-denial, rather than self-love (Matt 16:24).
The Epistles are in hardy agreement with the words of Jesus (cp. I Tim. 1:15; Rom. 7:24; 12:3; and Phip. 2:3-8). As a matter of fact, nowhere in the Bible are we warned not to think more lowly of ourselves than we ought. Yet, there should be many such Scriptures if our problem is lack of self-esteem. There are, however, five and a half pages in the Nave’s Topical Bible on the subject of pride, including Prov. 16:5,18 and 19. In addition, there are three pages on self-denial. There are no references to self-image or any word meaning the same. Only in II Tim. 3:2 does the concept of self-love appear, and then it is a vice (see below). Clearly, the Bible does not present self-esteem as man’s problem. In fact, the opposite of self-esteem, pride, is certainly stated to be a problem.
In the New Testament, neither John the Baptist (Lk. 3:16) nor the prodigal son (Lk. 15:21) were corrected when they declared themselves unworthy. Yet Norman Wright says, "Worthiness is a feeling of ‘I am good.’" If this is true, then what do we do with Jesus’ statement, ‘there is none good but one, that is God.’
Note the Old Testament examples of Gideon (Jud. 6:15); Isaiah (Isa. 6:5); Amos (Amos 7:14); Job (Job 42:6); and Moses (Exod. 3:11; 4:10-13). Each of these men were used of God when they recognized the Lord’s greatness and their own smallness. II Cor. 12:9,10 also teaches us that we find God’s strength only when we recognize our own weakness.
II Tim. 3:16,17 and II Pet. 1:3 explains that God’s Word is sufficient to equip us to be godly people, and that everything concerning life and godliness is found in His Word. This being the case, we must ask the question: "Why is there no mention of self-esteem in all of the Scriptures?"
The answer to that question surely lies in the fact that our relationship with God is not based on our righteousness or our worth to Him, but upon His grace (Titus 3:4-7). Rather, we are sinners who can do nothing to impress or please God (Rom. 3:23; 5:6-8).
KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SELF-IMAGE AND BIBLICAL IMAGE:
GOD IN HIS WORD:
1) Love God & others (Mt. 22:37)
2) Build up others (Heb. 10:24,25)
3) None righteous (Rom. 3:23)
4) Heart is deceitful (Jer. 17:9)
5) Put others first (Phip. 2:1-4)
6) Be humble (Rom. 12:3)
7) We are sinners (Rom. 3:10,11)
8) Walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16)
9) Deny yourself (Mt. 16:24-26)
10) Put confidence in God (Phip. 4:13)
SELF-IMAGE ADVOCATES SAY:
1) Love yourself
2) Build your self-esteem
3) You are good
4) Believe in yourself
5) Put yourself first
6) Think highly of yourself
7) You are of great value
8) Do what you want to do
9) Find yourself
10) Have self-confidence
SOME FALSEHOODS ANSWERED
We must love ourselves
Self-image advocates claim that Scripture commands us to love ourselves. The main verse they use to support this claim is Matthew 22:39b which says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Based on a faulty interpretation of this passage many teachers - of the self-image theory - see this as a clear Biblical command for us to love ourselves. However, nowhere in this passage (Mtt. 22:36-40) is there a command from the Lord for us to love ourselves
As a matter of fact, there is no place in Scripture where we are told to love ourselves. Instead, it is always assumed that we already love ourselves (Note "as yourself" in the passage in study). Nevertheless, we are told that what Jesus meant to say is that we have to learn to love ourselves first, before we can love others. In other words, there are really three commandments given here (even though Jesus said that there are "two"). We are commanded to love God and our neighbor; then, Jesus concludes by saying, "On these two commandments depend the whole Law. . ." If Jesus says that there are two commandments here how dare we claim that there are three!
Ephesians 5:28,29 is another passage used by the teachers of the self-image philosophy to promote self-love. We are told that we must first learn to love ourselves before we can love our spouse, but the passage clearly states that there has never been a person who did not love himself. Our problem has never been lack of self-love, but too much concern for self. There is however one time in Scripture where self-love is mentioned: II Tim. 3:2. There we find the love of self at the top of a list of sins that will characterize the last days. It is interesting to note, as well, that the Greek word used for love in this verse (phileo) speaks of emotional love as opposed to self-sacrificing love (agapao) in the other passages. In other words, the only verse in the New Testament that speaks of us loving ourselves emotionally (feeling good about ourselves, etc.) is a warning that this is a sin to avoid.
We are Worthy of God’s Love
William Kirwin in Biblical Concepts for Christian Counseling (p107) says, "It is as if Christ has said, you are of such worth to me that I am going to die; even experience Hell so that you might be adopted as My brothers and sisters." Donna Faster wrote, "Of course the greatest demonstration of a person’s worth to God was shown in giving us His Son (Building a Child’s Self-Esteem, p6). Wrong, the sending of God’s Son is not a demonstration of our worth, but the greatest demonstration of the love, grace, mercy and kindness of our God. The truth is that God saves us not because He sees anything of value in us, but despite the fact that there is nothing in us worthy of saving (Rom. 5:6-10; Tit. 3:4-7; Eph. 2:4-9). Such a statement wounds our pride, but it is true nevertheless.
The self-worth advocates destroy the concept of grace. The very definition of grace is God giving us what we do not deserve. If we are worthy of His salvation then eternal life is not a gift of grace but a reward based on our value, or good works. This is a concept totally refuted in Scripture (Eph. 2:8,9). For a person to come to Christ, they must first recognize their need for salvation. Teaching them that they are worthy in the eyes of God is to do them a terribly cruel and unbiblical injustice. The more we view ourselves Biblically the more precious the love, grace and mercy of our God becomes. If we consider ourselves worthy of any of God’s blessings we have grossly cheapened His free gift of love and grace.
Satan Loves It When We Think Badly of Ourselves
Self-image teachers would like us to believe that we must have a good self-image or else the devil has a strong foothold in our life. They believe that a poor self-image will keep us from recognizing our worth to God and therefore we won’t accept His gift of salvation. In truth Satan doesn’t care what we think about ourselves as long as we are preoccupied with SELF. If he can keep us wrapped up with self he can keep us from being occupied with God and others as we are instructed in Scripture (Phip. 2:3-8).
Man’s problem has always been pride. From the beginning man wanted to be like God (Gen. 3:5). The devil, himself, is the author of sinful pride (Isa. 14:13,14). This kind of attitude and high opinion of himself not only got Satan kicked out of heaven and ****ed to eternal punishment, but it also became his favorite tool to keep from trusting in God.
THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF SELF
Jay Adams in The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, Self-Image says, "While there is no concern evidenced in the Bible about having too little self-esteem, and therefore no directions for enhancing self-esteem, God does indicate that He wants us to evaluate ourselves - so far as it is possible to do so - accurately" (p113). In Romans 12:3 Paul is instructing his readers how to evaluate themselves concerning the different gifts that God has given to them. In doing so, he provides the principle that we should use to evaluate ourselves concerning every area of our lives. In that passage, "sound judgment" means (and demands) that a reasoned judgment, based on evidence, be made. Note that Paul’s warning is against thinking too highly of ourselves. He says nothing about being careful not to think to lowly of ourselves, since this is never a problem discussed in Scripture.
When we evaluate ourselves according to sound judgment what do we find? As believers we will find that God has reached down to us totally by grace to save unworthy sinners, making us a very child of God! We have been made worthy by God (cp Rev. 3:4), not because we deserved it but because of God’s love. We also now know, by the Scriptures, that God has uniquely equipped us to serve and minister for Him in this world and in His church. Our value is not based upon a comparison of ourselves with others (as a matter of fact that is forbidden, II Cor. 10:12), but upon the position that we have in Christ and the gifts with which He has equipped us to live for Him.
As Christians, are we supposed to think badly about ourselves? Not at all! The Scriptural position is that we are to focus on God and others, not ourselves (Matt. 22:36-40; Phip. 2:3-8). Any preoccupation with self (either in thinking too highly or too lowly), is an unbiblical response to God’s Word. Scripture starts from the position that we already love ourselves and commands us to love others equally. As a matter of fact, we are to put the interest of others before our own (Phip. 2:3,4).
Most would assume that since both the secular and Christian segments of our society have jumped on the self-image train, apparently the scientific research has revealed that low self-esteem is rampant and the need to build a good self-image is paramount. Such is not the case. As a matter of fact, most research has shown that both children and adults in our society actually esteem themselves too highly. In addition, there appears to be no correlation between self-image and behavior. The following are some such examples:
* The findings of the College Board (through surveys taken from millions of high school seniors who take its tests) found that seventy percent rated themselves above average; two percent as below average. Sixty percent viewed themselves as above average in "athletic ability;" only six percent said they were below average. In "ability to get along with others," zero percent rated themselves below average; sixty percent rated themselves in the top ten percent and twenty-five percent saw themselves in the top one percent (The Inflated Self, p23,24).
* In one study, ninety-four percent of college faculty members think themselves better than their average colleague ("A New Look at Pride," in Your Better Self, p90).
* In a recent issue of Psychological Review, a journal published by the American Psychological Association, an article was written with the subtitle: "The Dark Side of High Self-Esteem." The authors stated, after studying numerous serious empirical studies, "In our view, the benefits of favorable self-opinions accrue primarily to the self, and they are if anything a burden and potential problem to everyone else." (Reported in Fortune, April 29, 1996, pp211-212). Newsweek claimed that although more than ten thousand scientific studies of self-esteem have been conducted, the experts cannot even agree on what it is (Newsweek, Feb. 17, 1992, "Hey, I’m Terrific," pp48-51).
* Perhaps the most comprehensive study of its kind was that which was done by the California State Task Force on Self-Esteem. U.S. News and World Report (April 2, 1990), says concerning this study, "The Bush era turns out to be a perfect time for self-esteem programs. They cost almost nothing. They offer the light of sunny California optimism at a time of great pessimism. They are simple — easily grasped, easily spread. And in public-school systems torn by competing pressure groups, they have no natural enemies. They have only one flaw: They are a terrible idea. First of all, despite the firsthand reports of many teachers, there is almost no research evidence that these programs work. The book Social Importance of Self-Esteem, which is basically all the research turned up by the California task force, says frankly, ‘One of the disappointing aspects of every chapter in this volume. . . is how low the associations between self-esteem and its and potential problem to everyone else" (Reported in Fortune, April 29, 1996, pp211-212). Newsweek claimed that although more than ten thousand scientific studies of self-esteem have been conducted, the experts cannot even agree on what it is (Newsweek, Feb. 17, 1992, "Hey, I’m Terrific," pp48-51).
"How should a Christian view self-esteem?"
Many define self-esteem as “feelings of worth based on their skills, accomplishments, status, financial resources, or appearance.” This kind of self-esteem can lead a person to feel independent and prideful and to indulge in self-worship, which dulls our desire for God. James 4:6 tells us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” If we only trust in our earthly resources, we will inevitably be left with a sense of worth based on pride. Jesus told us, “You also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
This does not mean that Christians should have low self-esteem. It only means that our sense of being a good person should not depend on what we do, but rather on who we are in Christ. We need to humble ourselves before Him, and He will honor us. Psalm 16:2 reminds us, “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’” Christians attain self-worth and esteem by having a right relationship with God. We can know we are valuable because of the high price God paid for us through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.
In one sense, low self-esteem is the opposite of pride. In another sense, low-self-esteem is a form of pride. Some people have low self-esteem because they want people to feel sorry for them, to pay attention to them, to comfort them. Low self-esteem can be a declaration of “look at me” just as much as pride. It simply takes a different route to get to the same destination, that is, self-absorption, self-obsession, and selfishness. Instead, we are to be selfless, to die to self, and to deflect any attention given to us to the great God who created and sustains us.
The Bible tells us that God gave us worth when He purchased us to be His own people (Ephesians 1:14). Because of this, only He is worthy of honor and praise. When we have healthy self-esteem, we will value ourselves enough to not become involved in sin that enslaves us. Instead, we should conduct ourselves with humility, thinking of others as better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Romans 12:3 warns, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
Recommended Resource: The Biblical View of Self-Esteem by Jay Adams.
Posted with permission