In America today, self esteem is not only touted as perhaps the root to progress in every area of your life, it is a staple doctrine for teachers, counselors, psychologists and ‘BFF’s’ everywhere you go.
Wikipedia defines Self-esteem as: “… a term used in psychology to reflect a person’s overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, “I am competent-incompetent”) and emotions (for example, triumph-despair, pride-shame). Behavior may reflect self-esteem (for example, assertiveness-shyness, confidence-caution).” One social commentator wrote, “Self-esteem is a core identity issue, essential to personal validation and our ability to experience joy. Once achieved, it comes from the inside out. But it is assaulted or stunted from the outside in. A woman with low self-esteem does not feel good about herself because she has absorbed negative messages about women from the culture and/or relationships.”
Interestingly, Webster’s Dictionary defines self-esteem this way: “–noun 1. a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect. 2. an inordinately or exaggeratedly favorable impression of oneself. Origin: 1650–60. —Synonyms See pride.
I found this to be quite revealing. As scripture reflects on self-esteem, we are most often pointed away from one’s self, and towards others. Our lives, we are told, are to be Christ centered, or ‘others centered’ (see the awesome book, The Jesus Style, by Gale Erwin), and not self-centered. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about going through life in a state of self-loathing and walking about with your head hung thinking that this is somehow the secret to a happy life; not at all. I, like God, want all people to live a fulfilled and joyful life, a life abundant. But I want that joy to be real, not mustered-up enthusiasm based on false hopes, unreal expectations and lies about the human ‘condition’ or false, unbiblical ‘name-it-and-claim-it’ charismania.
When we look into God’s word He seems to be clear on this. Self-esteem defined by the world’s standards is not the direction we need to be going. When you read the dictionary definition of self-esteem, it not only implies pride, but names it a synonym and includes as the secondary definition for the word; pride. While having pride in and of itself is not sinful if it is based on just biblical cause (proud to be a Christian, proud to be a lover of Jesus, proud to have read through my bible in a year for the third year in a row…), pride as in worldly a state of ‘inordinately or exaggeratedly favorable impression of oneself’ is not only unhealthy, it is unbiblical.
The gospel of Mark records these words spoken by Jesus: “34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Not only are we called to deny ourselves (ourselves meaning our fleshly and worldly desires) the way we want to do things, but we are to bear with Christian humility the things that the world throws at us as we devote our live to following Jesus. Our high school counselors will look at our emotionally and hormonally charged teens questioning an ‘alternative’ lifestyle and encourage them to do what you ‘feel is right’, and ‘whatever your heart is telling you to do, stand proud of who you are, and fight against those who do not support you’. The reality is, that an alternative lifestyle is one that Jesus spoke of above, and Paul writes of in Philippians 2:3-4 reminds us “3Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind; let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Compared to the way the world handles things, that is truly an alternative lifestyle.
Living in such a way that we long to serve others, thinking purposefully to esteem yourself lower than others, considering the interests, thoughts, pains, past and spiritual condition of others before you act, speak or make any decision is a lifestyle that all Christians should seek to live in, and is obviously in opposition to the world. I know, I know… this is not how we are taught to think. Freud and his cronies have been trying to tell us the opposite; that deep down man is good and that all we need to do is simply ‘tap into’ that good and learn how to express it. But to properly express it, we have to believe it, and to believe it we have to convince ourselves that our lifestyle choice of sin is really the best for us, as long as we believe it to be true. Yet at the same time, psychologist will agree that one of the best ways to feel better about yourself is to do kind things for other people. Random acts of kindness and all that.
Here is where God and the world depart. God tells us to live for others. Man tells us to live for ourselves. Man tells us we need to lift ourselves up and empower ourselves to overcome our adversities, or simply to accept ourselves for who we are and live with it. God tells us that the only power we have comes from Him, and that our works are like filthy rags. Ultimately the world leads us to a sense of self-pride that in the end forces the hair on the back of the neck and stand up in defiance while screaming, ‘we will do this MY way and if you don’t like it you are a hypocritical bigot!’ Every reference to pride in the New Testament is in a negative way. God tells us to kneel in repentance, humble before Him, so that He can heal us.
Self-esteem the world’s way leads to tragic ends that force us into a worldview in opposition of God. Biblical pride, is pride placed in one who we choose to Lord over us. Biblical self-esteem is esteeming ourselves as lowly sinners in desperate need of salvation, and living in the joy of the Spirit. As I Thessalonians 2:20 says of Jesus: “You are our glory and our joy!”