Summary: Self-esteem is detrimental to the health of the Christian and to the health of the church. Christians must cultivate humility of spirit that permits them to serve Christ and to serve their fellow saints.

“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” [1]

The message was finished and I had gone to the back of the auditorium to greet the congregation as they were departing the building. One woman, a counsellor in our community, was moving toward me with a clear sense of deliberation. Obviously, she had something to say, and she was going to say it. “Pastor,” she began, “you’re just wrong. If we don’t feel good about ourselves, we’ll never be able to serve God effectively. We have to feel good about ourselves.”

I had stressed in the message that much of the modern educational effort to teach students “self-esteem” was producing a generation of people ill-equipped to function in the world. I had said that students, even when unable to read or to perform simple mathematic calculations, felt “good” about themselves. I argued that modern education efforts were guilty of child abuse through failure to equip youth for life. And the churches were equally guilty of failure to call people to holiness, choosing instead to emphasise the need for people to feel good about themselves.

Some years ago, a commentator on the western cultural scene, wrote, “(W)e have seen a broad shift from a culture of humility to the culture of what you might call the Big Me, from a culture that encouraged people to think humbly of themselves to a culture that encourages people to see themselves as the center of the universe.” [2] We aren’t terribly concerned what reality may be; what matters to us is our perception. What we imagine takes precedence over everything else, even truth.

Is it not odd that nowhere in the Bible are we taught to “feel good about ourselves?” Nowhere are we instructed to build up our self-esteem. Despite the contemporary emphasis on building self-esteem, even from the pulpits of the nation, there exists not a single statement intended to guide us into what is considered the necessary task of building “self-esteem.” We are, however, taught to esteem others, to take pride in the accomplishments and honours others receive, to rejoice in the promotion of others. How strange that despite the emphasis from the contemporary cult of “self-esteem” that there exists no biblical support for promoting self-esteem. Instead, we meet rather pointed commands to avoid thinking highly of oneself!

Listening to the experts of the day, “self-esteem” must be the most precious, the most vital aspect of a proper Christian worldview. Yet the Word of God is strangely silent concerning this self-imaging so obviously prized in contemporary society. Psychologists and pseudo-theologians notwithstanding, we need to take a realistic view of ourselves in light of the Word.

Many have tried to defend a psychology of self-esteem by appealing to the criminal system in America. In a 2002 New York Times’ article, “Deflating Self-Esteem’s Role in Society’s Ills,” Erica Goode explained how a simple self-esteem test served to debunk the secular psychological theory that the cause of crime in America was directly related to the problem of low-self-esteem. She wrote, “Researchers gave tests of self-esteem and narcissism to 63 men serving prison sentences for rape, murder, assault or armed robbery in Massachusetts and California.

“They compared the prisoners’ scores to those found in other studies for groups of men the same age, including Vietnam veterans, college students, dentists, recreational dart throwers and problem drinkers. The violent offenders, Dr. Bushman said, did not differ from the other men in self-esteem. But they scored much higher than the other men on narcissism.” [3]

In this article, Goode wrote that “high self-esteem … was positively correlated with racist attitudes, drunken driving and other risky behaviours. …Students with high self-esteem were likely to explain away their failures with excuses.” [4]

Self-esteem is a dreadful malady infecting the congregations of our Lord in this day. It is well past time that we address this evil

SELF-ESTEEM STANDS OPPOSED TO A GODLY CHRISTIAN WALK – After watching a television program that spoke about rebellious youth, a husband said to his wife, “What a mess! Where did our generation go wrong?” The wife calmly answered, “We had children.” I wish I could tell you that the exaggerated emphasis on self-esteem was something new, something seen only in this present generation, but the problem is as old as sin. From the time of the fall of our first parents, unregenerate people have sought to exalt themselves at the expense of others.

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