I am revisiting the topic of self-esteem because of a reply I received to a blog post I wrote on the topic a little while back. The self-esteem message is pumped into us from pre-school onward and most people have completely bought the lie that we have to think better of ourselves than we do presently. “Low self-esteem” in a person is blamed on every behavior from unbiblical anger to homicide.
The biblical understanding of low self-esteem is self-love. Jay E. Adams, in his book, The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, Self-Image says that the Bible assumes self-love.
Adams says, “The command is to love your neighbor as you already love yourself. The verse could be translated literally, ‘You must love your neighbor as you are loving yourself.’”
Paul makes the same point in Eph. 5:28-29
So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;
for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does
the church, Ephesians 5:28-29 (NASB)
The Scripture makes clear that we are born with a bend toward loving ourselves and because the desire to love ourselves is so strong, we have to be exhorted to love even our spouses as much or more than we do ourselves. For the man or woman who is indwelt by the Lord Jesus Christ it is not only possible but it is commanded.
Self-love to the point that is promoted in society is ungodly and unbiblical. It wreaks havoc on marriages and other important relationships because in most cases, self-love or self-esteem is selfishness on parade.
To be clear I am not saying that you must never think of yourself or think poorly of yourself for that is equally unbiblical. The Christian is most certainly something special! We were once desperately lost and hopeless people without an ounce of righteousness within (Jer. 17:9, Rom. 3:10-18).
In Christ we are new people, the old ways are gone and the new ways come 2 Cor. 5:17 (NLT).
Because of Christ we have been indwelt by the very Spirit of God! We are now living tabernacles set apart by God to do what He as designed and predestined us to do (Eph 2:10).
Why though does Paul tell us this? Is it to make us “feel good” about ourselves? Is it to raise our self-esteem” or give us “positive vibes about me?” His purpose is to “urge us to become in everyday living what we already are counted to be in Christ.” In other words, he wants us to see that in ourselves we fall short of what we are in Christ.
What’s the harm someone might say in taking a positional truth and applying it to our ego’s so we feel better about ourselves? At the very least we think to highly of ourselves in Christ.
As God’s messenger, I give each of you this warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you. Romans 12:3 (NLT)
Adams notes that Robert Morley, (another psychology type) who wrote this passage proves “we must view ourselves as uniquely wonderful, intrinsically valuable.”
We are “intrinsically valuable?” Paul is asking us to give a sober appraisal of how far we still fall short of who we positionally are in Christ. This is a blow to our pride, not an encouragement for it!!!
It is certainly true that mankind is made in the likeness of God in some sense; (James 3:9. Gen 1:27, 9:6) though the moral and intellectual image has been do defaced it must be restored.
However, these passages are used by self-esteem writers, teachers, and advocates to proof that we are of invaluable worth. This quote from H. Norman Wright illustrates how the lens of faulty interpretation clouds the application of “likeness” passages.
“Sinful men are valuable to God. If God loves sinful men for the redeemable value He sees in them, then we ought to love these men too, including ourselves.”
Here is the major issue and major heresy that it implied by the misuse of these passages.
God did not love us redeem us, save us, because we are lovable. As Adams notes quite accurately, “God’s love was not a response to man’s loveableness.”
Westminster Confession of Faith represents the accurate, historical view of Christianity on this topic: “God…has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature as conditions or causes moving Him thereunto: and all to the praise of His glorious grace.”
“Let’s not underestimate the consequence of this faulty belief system. If we believe we are lovable despite the fact we are fallen creatures who sin every single day we misunderstand the very nature of what grace is. Not only that we insult Christ, who died for our sin, not our minor blemishes that could be over looked. Brokenness and humility and honest of assessment of our own sin nature is the way to the cross. It is not believing that you, because you retain something of God’s image are worthy of redemption or lovable. God saves because of His love, mercy and grace.”
The path of self- love that is being taught is a teaching that is leading many astray.