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Galatians 2:20I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (NKJV; emphasis mine)

(Previous devotionals can be found at www.seriousfaith.com)

That the church has been influenced by, and inundated with, worldly psychology is not even arguable. The only debate is how pervasive the influence is, and whether or not it is a negative development.

It’s certainly beyond the scope of this Devotional, and probably my intellect, to address this entire issue, but the subject of “self esteem” is one that I’ve had many inquiries about lately. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t hear good, faithful sincere Christians talk about “self esteem”. With Christian leaders of no less stature than James Dobson and Rick Warren using the term regularly, it seems it would be prudent to take look at the phrase.

You think I would know better by now. Every time I touch an issue like this I am inundated with “who do you think you are?” emails. This is understandable from worldly “professionals” who do not hold Biblical wisdom on par with “mental health care” credentials… but it’s unfortunate that, in my experience, the majority of CHRISTIANS don’t consider Biblical wisdom as even equal, much less greater, than words from someone with “Doctor” before their name or a string of letters after. (We’re talking about so-called mental-health; not physical medicine). I would propose to you, Christian, that the Bible is THE standard when it comes to the “mental health” of the very humans that were created by the Author of Scripture. The Bible alone claims inspiration (2Tim 3.16-17), sufficiency (2Pet 1.3) and perfection (Psalms 19). So it is either ALL those things, or it is a fraud.

Does that mean that humans cannot study human behavior? Or use that research and accumulated knowledge to create a profession that has expert knowledge in the field of “mental health” (which is a fancy way of saying “how people think and act”)? Not at all. I believe that there can be “professionals” in the sense that someone focuses on and studies human behavior and becomes very knowledgeable, and adept at applying God’s principles to it. But “mental health care” is only accurate, effective and productive where is supports, explains, enhances and parallels what GOD proclaims about human behavior.

Therein lies the problem. The modern “mental health” industry places their knowledge and theory ABOVE what Scripture proclaims, and attempts to explain human behavior apart from God, and most especially apart from the factor of SIN. The Bible is considered a quaint, and mostly out of date book of principles that over simplifies human behavior and contributes the ills of human behavior to the cop-out called “sin”.

In my experience, I have found three different definitions of “self esteem” when Christians talk about it. One definition is no different than what you hear on Dr. Phil or get from any secular therapist. The second is a not much different, but dressed up or cloaked in Christian terminology. The third is a Biblical rendition that in reality shouldn’t contain the word “self” at all.

Let’s compare a few aspects of “self esteem” along these three lines of thought. “World” would be the common secular use. “Christianized” would be the self-esteem that has made it’s way into the Church but differs little from the secular accept for Biblical window dressing; and “Biblical” is the Scriptural position on “esteem” whether it be the “self” version or the “God” version (you’ll understand what I mean by that in a minute).

Before we get to that comparison, I want you to consider something. It is almost universally true that something the WORLD promotes, will always be backwards from what God promotes. So just the popularity and acceptance of “self esteem” by the world, and by popular “Christian” movements, should cause us considerable suspicion and caution.

Self Esteem (ie, self-love, self-approval, self-acceptance, self-focus)

  • Worldly – love of self
  • Christianized – love yourself because you are special to God
  • Biblical – deny self; you are loved or lovable because God is merciful and chose to love you
  • Worldly – love yourself because you deserve it
  • Christianized – love yourself because you are special to God and unique in creation therefore you deserve it
  • Biblical – you are a sinner just like every other human, deserving of condemnation; but God in His mercy chose to love you and save you anyway
  • Worldly – you’re a good person and you should feel good about yourself
  • Christianized – conceptual admission of sin, but saying people are sinners is “negative” and destroys self esteem; a “group” acknowledgment of sin, but not a personal application
  • Biblical – there is none good, no not one; all have sinned and gone astray; but God in His mercy chose to save us anyway
  • Worldly – you can’t love others until you learn to love yourself
  • Christianized – you can’t love others until you learn to love yourself the way Christ loves you
  • Biblical – deny yourself, serve others, forsake yourself; this is true love that results in loving others
  • Worldly – you deserve love and deserve happiness
  • Christianized – you deserve the “abundant life” that “Christ paid for on the cross”
  • Biblical – you deserve hell and condemnation, but God in His great love and mercy drew you to Himself, and through sacrificing His only Son, provided a way for you to escape condemnation and inherit eternal blessings as an adopted child
  • Worldly – you should develop and cultivate a strong self esteem
  • Christianized – cloaked in “faith-talk” or “positive” language, you proclaim what you are, and what you deserve
  • Biblical – you are a slave to Christ, bought and paid for with His spilled-out blood that paid for your sins with no rights or focus on self
  • Wordly – blessed are the people who learn to love themselves
  • Christianized – blessed are the people who learn to expect and strive for the “abundant life” they deserve because they are Christians
  • Biblical – blessed are the poor in spirit (those who realize how helpless and unworthy they are)
  • Worldly – low self esteem is negative, even a sickness that is the root of most of man’s problems
  • Christianized – low self esteem keeps us from being happy and enjoying all the abundance that God wants for us
  • Biblical – true SELF esteem is contrary to Scripture and “self” is to be denied, moritified and disciplined daily
  • Worldly – your esteem (self-goodness) is self-originated and inherent in human nature
  • Christianized – we are basically good but sin tarnishes our goodness
  • Biblical – the only esteem you have or deserve is Christ-originated, and is based on what God thinks about you only because His Son’s sacrifice makes you righteous

Well, you get the point. The worldly version of self esteem is wholly contrary to Scripture. The “Christianized” version of self esteem has found its way into the Church via “Christian counselors and therapists” who have been trained and certified by the exact same organizations that certify secular “professionals”. Top selling self-help success books wrapped in out-of-context Bible verses or poorly translated verses give pop psychology an air of Biblical accuracy. Many of the top selling Christian books today would be great “personal success” books if you just removed all the references to Scripture and they would fit in with little difficulty with the same type of books written by secular authors.

“Christian self-esteem” (the term as commonly used today) in essence is no different than its secular counterpart, while being deceptively disguised in Christian terminology to make it acceptable and palatable to ill-informed and generally doctrinally lazy Christians. I realize that is a very strong, even harsh, opinion but it’s one that needs to be considered.

Lest you think I’m one of those “negative” nit-pickers who is making much ado about nothing, consider the following verses (many of which were hinted at in the bulleted comparison above) and tell me how “self esteem” (the worldly or Christianized versions) fit in with Scripture:

  • Galatians 2:20I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (NKJV; emphasis mine)

  • Matthew 16:24-26Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (NKJV; emphasis mine)

  • Matthew 5:3Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (NKJV; emphasis mine)

  • Romans 3:10-18As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (NKJV; emphasis mine)

  • Jeremiah 17:9“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? (NKJV; emphasis mine)

  • Ephesians 2:1And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, (NKJV; emphasis mine)

  • Romans 12:10Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; (NKJV; emphasis mine)

  • Mark 9:35And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all. (NKJV; emphasis mine)

That’s a mere taste of the dozens of similar verses that could be listed. This issue is only important because of how common the talk of “self esteem” has become with Christians. There is very little difference in how much of an issue it is with the average Christian today compared to the non-Christian. Self esteem, self esteem, self esteem…. you hear it from the pulpit, on Christian TV and read about it constantly on the Christian Best Seller book list.

Many verses are taken out of context to support the Christian implemenation of self esteem. Here’s a favorite:

Matthew 22:37-39Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (NKJV; emphasis mine)

This verse, and others like it, are often quoted as support for the idea of “learn to love yourself”. However, this not only completely misses the meaning of the verse, but ignores dozens of other verses that proclaim or imply “self love” as a problem, not a need. In Matthew, the writer is actually clearly stating that people have NO PROBLEM loving themselves. The difficulty is learning to love OTHERS the same way we naturally love ourselves. We might say it this way today, “hey, you should learn to love others the same way you obviously love yourself given how you are so concerned with your own needs and desires all the time.”

It is the obvious and common human experience that people love SELF – me, I, mine – first and foremost. Children don’t have to be taught self love and self interest. Back in the old days we use to refer to self love as SELFISHNESS. Now self love and self esteem are promoted as the missing ingredient to all things healthy. Is it any coincidence that the rise of this idea corresponds to the delcine of God’s influence in western society?

Are there people that truly hate themselves? Sure, but they are the exception by far, and are typically very, very spiritually and emotionally sick. I’m not talking about a kind of healthy Biblical “self hate” – hatred of the sin in my life that I struggle constantly with; hatred of the selfish tendencies I have; hatred of my predisposition to do what is contrary to God. I’m talking about a self hate that is based in false guilt, self pity or true demonic oppression and seeks to destroy others and itself. That type of self hate is rare in a world of humans who are sick with self-love.

We do not have a problem with a LACK of self love, self approval or self interest…. we have a problem with the world becoming increasingly consumed and captivated with all things “self” as we move farther and farther away from sound doctrine and sound Bible teaching.

Personally, I wish we would coin another phrase and not use “self esteem” at all because the level of discernment is so low today among Christians, that most accept the phrase to mean exactly the same thing they hear from Dr. Laura, Oprah or Robert Schuller. I have a friend who uses the term in his conversation, and I realize that he does actually mean it in Biblical way. I told him the other day at lunch that I wish we could figure out another way to say “self esteem” when talking about our “worth derived from God because He saved us by the blood of His Son”.

The word “self” and “esteem” should not be used together
in the Christian vocabulary if it really means “love yourself”
which unfortunately IS the typical meaning as used today.

Our “esteem” only exists in so much as we are esteemed by God because we are His children, bought with His Son’s blood, and offered only because of God’s mercy and love. There is no SELF anywhere in there unless you want to talk about wickedness, sin and condemnation.

Whenever I talk to someone about this issue, the best I have come up with is this: Christian self-esteem is the process by which I come to accurately understand and see my true nature and worth, both before I was saved (and deserved death and condemnation) and after I was born again (and now deserve eternal life, but not because of anything good about me).

Bible-esteem? Christ-esteem? Christian-esteem? I don’t know if any of those phrases accurately and clearly present the idea. But I DO know that SELF-esteem when taken at face value is at best not supported by Scripture, and at worst, is contrary to it.

Lord God, Help us not to water down or distort Your Word by allowing the world’s wisdom to take precedence. Help us to understand both “self” and “esteem” only as You have revealed it to us in your inspired Word. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Contemplation: Have you ever thought about any of this? Have you accepted the ideas of self-esteem without ever thinking about what it really means or what God has to say about it? Is the current infatuation with self-esteem really harmful, or am I just making a big deal about nothing?

Application: In these days of religious confusion, Christians should be very cautious about adopting the ideas and language of the world. The distinction between Christianity and humanism grows ever dimmer. It is possible to define self-esteem in such a way as to be Biblical, but the common usage of the phrase in the Church today differs little from the world’s version.

James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)

  1. What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
  2. What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
  3. What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?


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