Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Self Talk

No, I am not Dr. Phil. But in my Sunday School class the other day on the identity of the believer in Christ, I made the statement that a Christian should have no self-esteem. Which I think took some people in the class aback a bit, before I could complete my explanation. So I'm doing so more fully here. But what do you think? Is self-esteem Biblical? Is having high self-esteem to be a mark of the mature Christian? And if not, how should we then view ourselves? In short, how does a Biblical psychology inform our self-image?

Before we go too far, let's define some terms, that often get used somewhat interchangeably, but shouldn't be. Let's start with self-esteem. Which refers to esteeming myself, or holding myself in high regard. Thinking highly of myself, regarding myself as special, worthy of merit. Does this sound like a characteristic of a mature Christian, Biblically speaking? I think not. In fact we find Biblical commands to believers to do just the opposite. For example, Romans 12:3, where Paul says: "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." Or again in Philippians 2:3 where he commands: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves." Self-esteem has no place in the heart and mind and life of the follower of Christ. We are to esteem Christ and hold Him in high regard, and esteem others as more important than ourselves. Our problem is not that we love ourselves too little - it's that we love ourselves too much!

But how then are we to understand who we are, our sense of identity? This is where the concept of self-image comes in. Self-image is simply how we see ourselves, who we believe ourselves to be. It's how we answer the "who am I" question. And everyone, Christian or not, has a self-image. Everyone has some way of identifying themselves, and living out that identity day by day. It may be based on all kinds of things, like relationships, career, possessions, position, you name it. But self-image is like a nose - we all have one. And for the Christian, then, the critical thing is to have a self-image or identity based on the truths of God's Word, rather than on the passing and changeable things and relationships of this world. The Christian is to have a proper, a Biblically-informed self-image, not a good self-image. We are to identify ourselves first and foremost with Christ, and understand who He has declared us to be. Such as a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), free from condemnation (Romans 8:1), adopted as children and heirs (Romans 8:16-17), righteous before Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

But there's still one term that's connected to these two that we haven't considered. And that is self-worth. Which is my own sense of value or purpose. See, this is what I think the self-esteem movement is really after. Trying to instill a sense of value in people, by artificially inflating their view of themselves in an attempt to ascribe some intrinsic value to the self. But in doing so they miss the point. Because in and of ourselves, we have no intrinsic value. Yes, we are created in the image of God and endowed with a certain amount of dignity because of that, and as bearers of the imago dei we are separated from and more valuable than the animals. But even this value is not intrinsic, not in and of ourselves. It flows from God, the Creator who imbued man with this value. But more than that, for the Christian, our sense of self-worth should be infinite. Again, not because of any value or worth we have in ourselves, but because we are of value to God the Father. In fact so valuable that He ordained from eternity past that we should be redeemed from our sin by no less a price than the death of His own Son. If someone is looking for a sense of value or worth, I can't think of any better source.

But you see that the self-worth of the believer in Christ is not based on any distinction or merit that we have before God, and certainly not based on any false sens of self-esteem that we might try to build up. It's based on the sovereign grace and eternal purposes and decrees of God in electing and saving and sanctifying us as a people for Himself. For His glory, not for ours.

You know, Dr. Phil is right about one thing when it comes to having a proper self-image and self-worth. It really is all about relationships. At least one relationship - a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Like they say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then...


James Kubecki said...

Good stuff. I would say self esteem is decidedly not biblical.

And hey, we're in good company:

John Piper
John MacArthur
Al Mohler, not to mention New York Magazine
Ken Ham

and many others...

Hope all the links don't get this tagged as spam... :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comment James. Go figure, maybe we're all reading from the same Book, eh?