“Self-esteem” is a concept that is very popular today, particularly in education. It is interesting to note that the
is near the bottom in many academic
areas compared to the rest of the world, but we rank number one in “self
esteem.” In many cases, we are training our young people to know little or nothing
but to feel very good about themselves in the process. They are being taught to
stand up for their rights when they should be learning to stand up for what is
Even in some Christian circles, “self-esteem” is taught as a very important component of the Christian life. Some even push the idea that sin is low self-esteem, while salvation is high self-esteem. This is an extreme teaching, and it is far away from Biblical truth, but it is nevertheless out there. Following are a number of quotes from the book, Self-Esteem:The New Reformation, by retired pastor Robert H. Schuller, who ought to know better.
“…Sin is any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem … the core of sin is a lack of self-esteem…”
“Sin is psychological self-abuse ... the most serious sin is one that causes me to say, 'I am unworthy. I may have no claim to divine sonship if you examine me at my worst.' For once a person believes he is an 'unworthy sinner,' it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.”
“To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image – from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust.”
“Jesus never called a person a sinner.”
“The Cross sanctifies the ego trip. For the Cross protected our Lord's perfect self-esteem from turning into sinful pride.” (What? Jesus could have succumbed to sinful pride? Heresy!!!)
These statements by Schuller are just the opposite of the truth. A person must recognize his terrible condition as a totally helpless, hopeless, vile sinner BEFORE salvation is possible. We stand before God as guilty, lost sinners, and we have no method of salvation other than to “throw ourselves on the mercy of the court” on the basis of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God saves us by his grace, totally without any merit of our own. "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20, NKJV).
Jesus’ View of Self-Esteem
Jesus said, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:28, NKJV).
Some use this to justify “self-esteem” as Biblical, saying that Jesus was teaching that “You must learn to love yourself first so you can love others.” Is this true? Please note the following, based on the Scripture quoted above:
(1) The emphasis is on loving the Lord first and our neighbor second.
(2) There is an assumption that we already love ourselves. The reality is that every human is born helplessly and hopelessly in love with himself. This is stated quite well in the following quote from my longtime friend and co-worker, Ed Cardwell: “I think some people we have known over the years suffer from too much of the world’s ‘self-esteem.’ Just ask any thug, criminal, or general meathead bully. They think they are the most important person in the world, and if they don't get their way you might just suffer severely if you happen to be in their way.” This doesn’t sound like someone who needs to learn to love himself.
(3) Self-love is not commanded; it is assumed. There is nowhere in the Bible a commandment to learn to love ourselves. That would be like a commandment to teach our children to sin. They will sin by nature. It would be a Biblical absurdity for God to command us to do those things which we will automatically do because of who and what we are. We will love ourselves without any instruction to do so. "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church" (Ephesians 5:29, NKJV).
(4) Love for God and love for others is what needs to be learned. These things are what Jesus commanded, and His commands are based on things we otherwise would not do without His instruction to do so.
Paul’s View of Self-Esteem
Some say that Paul was very arrogant because he referred to himself numerous times as worth “imitating” when it comes to spiritual growth and maturity.
"Therefore I urge you, imitate me" (1 Corinthians 4:16, NKJV).
"Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, NKJV).
"Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern" (Philippians 3:17, NKJV).
"And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 1:6, NKJV).
"For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you … to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us" (2 Thessalonians 3:7,9).
Paul did not say these things in arrogance. He had grown in the Lord to the point that he recognized he could say these things because he had learned Godly humility. He had matured, he was imitating Christ, and he knew that if others imitated him, they would also be imitating Christ. Maturity according to Paul is boasting in nothing but Christ’s grace and his own weakness. "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14, NKJV).
Paul didn't start out as a humble servant. Before his conversion, he was quite proud of himself. …though I also might have confidence in the flesh. "If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Philippians 3:4-6, NKJV).
He was the overseer at the stoning of Stephen. "…and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul" (Acts 7:58, NKJV).
He was fanatical, the haughty persecutor of the early church. "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison" (Acts 8:3, NKJV). "Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1-2, NKJV).
In grace, he was informed of his error by "…Jesus whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:5, NKJV). Soon Paul recognized the worthlessness of his background and human achievement, and counted all these things "...as rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8, NKJV).
Once his view of Christ was proper, Paul's view of himself began to decrease. This continued as he got older. Paul’s view of himself diminished and his dependence on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ increased. Notice the common thread of GRACE than runs through the three steps in the progression of Paul’s view of himself:
(1) Paul begins by recognizing himself as the very least of all the apostles. He knew he had persecuted the church “ignorantly in unbelief.” "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; (High self-esteem?) but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief (I Timothy 1:12-13, NKJV). For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the
. But by the grace
of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I
labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God
which was with me " (1 Corinthians 15:9-10, NKJV). church
(2) Next, he recognizes himself as “less than the least of all the saints.” Not only did he see himself as the least of the apostles, but now as less than the least of all believers. "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8, NKJV). He became more and more aware of his own worthlessness as he saw the magnificent grace of God at work in his life. If we humans were already righteous, there would be no need for the grace of God.
(3) Finally, near the end of his life, Paul recognizes himself as “the chief of sinners.” "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15, NKJV). By comparison to the righteousness of God, we are nothing but helpless, vile sinners, and each one of us should see ourselves as “the chief of sinners.” That is quite an indictment of self, but it illustrates the tremendous grace of God. "…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more…" (Romans 5:20, NKJV).
Only by the grace of God was Paul able to be a humble and effective servant of God, although he was the least of the apostles, the least of all the saints, and the chief of sinners. While in his depravity, man thinks he is higher than the highest, better than the best, greater than the greatest. Paul’s self-evaluation is the exact opposite: lower than the lowest, worse than the worst, less than the least.
Other key Scriptures touch on this topic of self-esteem:
"For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3).
"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells…" (Romans 7:18).
The only Scripture that has both the word “self” and the word “esteem” in it is Philippians 2:3. "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself" (NKJV).
"…greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" (I John 4:4).
"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5, NKJV).
"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (I Corinthians 15:10, NKJV).
Paul knew he could take no credit for what God had made of Him. He was privileged to be a choice servant of the Lord, to lead many to Christ, to pen roughly half of the New Testament, yet he could take no credit. It was all by the grace of God.
Self-esteem is not a Biblical concept. We need Christ-esteem, not self-esteem. Proper “self-esteem” is not self-esteem at all. It is Christ-esteem. Paul did not have “self-esteem,” but he had “Christ-esteem.”
"He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30, NKJV).
"…that in all things He may have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18, NKJV).
"Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1, NKJV).
Paul described himself and others as:
(1) "servants" - from the Greek word which means "under-rower." An "under-rower" was a slave and an oarsman who served in the lowest level of a ship.
(2) "stewards" - from the Greek word for "house manager." The steward of a household supervised the affairs of a household and was held accountable for the affairs of a household by the owner or master of the house. This word emphasizes responsibility.
Jesus Himself, the great Creator-God of the universe, practiced humility. "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8).
Based on the teachings of Scripture, we need to remove all of this “self-esteem” nonsense from our vocabulary and from our teaching. We need to see that the grace of God is sufficient to deal with all of our sinfulness, and that an emphasis on “self” ultimately results in pride and arrogance, which will lead our Christian lives in the wrong direction.