What do you think of yourself, beloved young people? What is your estimation of yourself? What worth do you believe you have? Do you have a high or low view of yourself? Do you believe you have great worth or little worth? Do you love or hate yourself? Are you satisfied and happy or dissatisfied and unhappy with who and what you are?
And along with these questions, answer these: From where do you get your view of self? On what do you base your worth and value? Do you get your self-image from yourself? your peers? Your parents? from the world? Or from the Lord? Do you base your worth and value on your popularity, intelligence, athleticism, or other abilities? on what you have done or will do? on what you hope to be? Or on what God says about you in His Word? on what you are in Jesus Christ?
The answers you give to these questions are truly important. Your self-esteem (healthy or sick) affects what goes on inside your soul and what goes on in your whole outward life. It affects the way you work and how you handle your studies; it affects your decision concerning whom to date and whom eventually to marry; it affects your choice of friends and recreational activities; it affects your life in the church, how you relate to others and what activities you get involved in.
With this in view we want to examine this matter together in a couple of articles (I will try to keep them short so as not to lose your interest and attention!). Follow along as we learn about healthy and unhealthy esteem of ourselves. Since it is critical that we contrast true self-esteem with false self-esteem, in this article we will spend some time on unhealthy esteem of ourselves.
There is an unhealthy esteem we can have of ourselves. It takes on various forms. The unbelieving world is sick and dying with one form of it. It is called “NARCISSISM”, excessive love and admiration of self. Narcissus was the young man in Greek mythology who was so in love with himself that he refused to return Echo’s love and caused her to die. Following that Nemesis caused Narcissus to become so infatuated by his own image in a pool of water that he pined away and changed into the flower that now bears his name. The wicked in our day are narcissistic, obsessed with self. Their self-esteem is also called “EGOTISM,” the idea that everything and everyone ought to serve “the big I” (Man’s trinity of “me, myself, and I”). The world has deified self; it’s philosophy is “I am god”. Just witness its advertising; it caters to this evil esteem of self (“Have it your way! You deserve a break today! Grab all the gusto you can!”). There’s even a magazine for young people entitled Self. This ungodly self-esteem is at bottom nothing but devilish PRIDE, the exalted esteeming of self above everyone else, including God.
We ought not be surprised that this proud estimation of self exists in the world. It is, after all, rooted in the Fall. When our first parents fell into sin, they did so because they believed the devil’s proud lie that they could become as God! Ever since man’s heart is filled with this wicked over-estimation of himself. In addition, the Holy Spirit has given us a prophetic description of our egotistic times in 2 Tim.3:1, 2: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud….”
I trust that you young people know the evil and error of this view of self. I know you do, because we have within ourselves a sinful nature that is narcissistic and egotistic and proud. We have experienced firsthand this worship of self and have suffered from its evil fruits. We ourselves have been burned by this idol and we have hurt other people by it. I also believe that you know the error and evil of this view of self because the grace of God dwells in you. That has taught you how wicked this unbelieving self-esteem is and has delivered you principally from it. It has taught you and given you the healthy way of self-esteem—seeing yourself in Christ as loved, forgiven, and accepted by God.
In order for you to be lifted up in self-worth, you must humble yourself under God’s almighty hand! In order for you to love yourself, you must love God! Another form of unhealthy self-esteem in the world consists of an estimation of self that is based on how much money and material things one has, on one’s fame and popularity, on one’s worldly success and promotion, on one’s mental abilities, athletic skills, and physical attractiveness. This too is prominent. The worldly person has a high view of himself because he is rich, famous, popular, successful, athletic, and good-looking. And the rest of the world feeds this mentality by fawning over those who have these qualities. They idolize the wealthy real-estate magnates, the prominent sports figures, the glamorous movie stars and beautiful models, and the powerful politicians.
Sad to say, this wrongly-based self-esteem is prevalent among us too. How many of us think highly of ourselves because of these things? How often have we not based our judgment of others on these external things? But what then is the person to think of himself who is not rich, not popular, not gifted intellectually, not successful, not athletic, and not good-looking?! That he is utterly worthless?! What if you are not rich, etc.? Does that make you a no-good-for-nothing?! You see how flimsy a basis these things are for our estimation of self? We must recall what grace has taught us, that our view of self is not founded on such things but on our standing in Christ. If we are in Him, we are rich and beautiful and gifted, no matter what we look like to the world.
Because also worldly people recognize that not all are rich, famous, successful, athletic, and good-looking, they try to find their estimation of self in still other things. They want to feel good about themselves in some way and to some degree, so they turn to other solutions to the “problem” of self-worth. Perhaps they base their worth on their work and so engross themselves in it. Or they turn to other people’s estimation of them and so strive to become men-pleasers. Or, because they cannot find self-esteem in any of these things, they turn to drugs and alcohol, over-eating and sex, thinking that these things will make them feel good about themselves.
Have you too sought to find self-worth in these ways? Would you too try to gain self-esteem by your work, by pleasing others, by indulging in drugs, drinking, food, and sexual promiscuity? How would you judge your worth if you did? Did you really feel good about yourself? You know, don’t you, that this is not the answer. You know, don’t you, that this is not how healthy self-esteem is gained. How could these be the way when they are contrary to God’s Word and to every principle and precept of Christian living?!
Which points to yet another unhealthy estimation of self in the world. As strange as this may seem, it is actually such a wicked self-love that it is hatred of self. Even those who have a high (proud) esteem of themselves are haters of themselves. If the carnal mind is enmity against God as Romans 8:7 teaches, then the unbeliever is also a hater of himself. If he does not love God, how can he love himself as a creature of God? He cannot! And that is why there are many in the world who have such low self- esteem. They hate what they are, hate what they have, hate what they look like, hate the work they do, hate everything about their lives. They are depressed over everything and unhappy with everything because they have no love of God and no true love of self. And that self-hate leads them to do what they do to their bodies and souls, namely, destroy them with drug and alcohol abuse, with fornications and rock music.
What about you, reader? Are you suffering from low self-esteem because you hate yourself? Are you abusing your body and soul because you despise yourself? You must know that such self-enmity is enmity against God! Do you hate the way you look? You are walking in hatred toward the God Who gave you your looks! Do you hate yourself because your mental or physical abilities are limited? You are hating the God Who gave you the gifts He willed for you! Do you hate yourself because you are “stuck” in a low-profile, low-paying job? You must know that you are rebelling against God’s providential hand in your life! In order for you to be lifted up in self-worth, you must humble yourself under God’s almighty hand! In order for you to love yourself, you must love God!
One other unhealthy form of self-esteem we must mention. It is promoted not only in the world but also in the church-world. It is rooted in a denial of man’s inherent sinfulness and makes much of his natural goodness. It despises the traditional Christian view of man as a wretched sinner worthy of eternal condemnation. It condemns the Biblical confessions of Job (“I abhor myself.”) and of Paul (“O wretched man that I am.”). It talks proudly of human potential and possibility thinking, such that man can do what he wants to do and overcome what he needs to. This high estimation of man and self is taught in the secular universities and schools of our land; it is advanced in the counseling rooms of worldly psychologists; and it is preached in the modernistic pulpits of churches, even in some Reformed pulpits.
But it is a rejection of God’s revealed truth and must therefore be rejected by us as well. Any view of man (self) which does not reckon with sin is bound to lead to a false and destructive esteem of self. Any self-estimation which does not begin with confession of sin and therefore with self-abasement cannot give healthy self-esteem. In our own view of self and in our own esteem of self we must start with this: I am a wicked sinner before God, whose worth before Him is such that I deserve to be punished everlastingly in hell. Only when we begin with this can we go on to see our true worth in Christ and thus be led to true self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem is always humble. Have you learned that too? ❖