What is proper self-esteem? How should I regard myself as a person? Should I think highly or lowly of myself? What am I really worth? When we began to answer that in our last article (October, 1997), we started with the negative aspects: what is unhealthy self-esteem, i.e., what is the wrong way to regard ourselves and what is the wrong basis of our worth. At that time we basically said that true self-esteem is not a proud but humble estimation of ourselves. Proper self-esteem must not be self(man)-centered but God-centered. That means that in order to have a proper estimation of myself and a true sense of my worth, I must first of all know myself to be a sinner. That may seem ironic, even contradictory, but that’s the teaching of the Bible. I must know that I (be sure to make that personal, young people!) am a person who is guilty and wicked before God, worthy of being cast away from Him in this life and in that to come. I must know that in and of myself I am not a beautiful and wonderful person, but an ugly and wretched person. I must know that I am not a great, significant individual with high potential and endless powers to make something of myself and my life, but a small, insignificant person who is totally lost in sin and whose only potential and power is to corrupt everything good and make an utter mess of myself and my life. When we grasp that, then we are on the road to gaining a proper self-esteem.
For then we go on as believers to see what we are in Christ and to value ourselves based on what God has made us and given us. We don’t simply esteem ourselves sinners, but we esteem ourselves sinners saved by grace. We don’t simply confess our lowliness and worthlessness in sin, but we confess our exalted position and worth in Christ. Our salvation from God, in other words, gives us the proper estimation of ourselves. We say with humility yet confidence, “I am a precious person in the sight of God because He loved me and chose me to be one of His children even from eternity! I am of great value because I was purchased by the blood of God’s own Son at Calvary! I have amazing worth because Christ gave me His Spirit to dwell in me and make me His temple and to apply His saving blessings to me.” Are you able to say that in true faith, young people? Do you realize your real worth as a saved child of God? Is this what you base your self-esteem on?
As Reformed Christians we may also judge our worth from the perspective of God’s covenant of grace with us in Christ. We may say, “l am precious to God because He revealed His friendship to me; He pledged Himself to be my Friend and He took me in as His friend. I am of exceeding value because the living God is pleased to fellowship with me, to walk with me and talk with me in life. And He allows me to walk and talk with Him. I have such amazing worth because God wills that I live with Him forever in heaven someday, to be His everlasting friend and to enjoy unending fellowship with Him.” Can you say this too, young people? Is it from this that you gain a high-estimation of yourself? This is proper self-esteem; this is our real self-worth. It is really God’s esteem of us; it is really Christ-worth. Which is why healthy self-esteem is humble—it is all of God and His grace.
Further, we may gain proper esteem of ourselves from an even more basic truth concerning God and ourselves: He is our Creator and the God of Providence to us. We believe that though we are sinful creatures, we are still the special handiwork of God. He planned in His eternal counsel that He would make us and form us to be exactly what He willed. And in time that’s what He did. He formed us in our mother’s womb by a miraculous work. He gave us our own unique personality and character. He gave us our physical traits, our looks, our shape and size. He gave us all our abilities and skills, physical and mental. Each of us is a special work of God, even from a natural point of view.
When we realize this, then we also may have a proper estimation of ourselves. Then we don’t proudly think too much of ourselves because we believe we are self- made persons, but we humbly acknowledge that all that we are and have we owe to God (Remember Ps. 139 and Psalter #383?!). Then it doesn’t matter to us what others may think of our looks or how some may judge our personality or abilities. God has made us just the way we are, and from that we may judge our worth.
This implies that we are content with how God made us. If we are not satisfied with the way in which God made us, if we are discontent with who we are and how we look and what level of abilities we have, then we are not going to have a healthy self-esteem. Is that after all, why many young people do not have a healthy view of themselves? Are you content with the way God made you? And do you then have a healthy (and humble!) estimation of yourself? Or are you dissatisfied with the way God made you, so that you have an unhealthy (really proud!) estimation of yourself? Because God is God, and we but creatures, we must rest content in how He made us and from that draw proper esteem of ourselves.
So too, when it comes to God’s providence at work in our lives. We believe that our sovereign God guides us and provides for us in this world by His almighty and everywhere-present hand. Let’s make this personal also. The God of heaven and earth watches over me, takes care of me, protects me, gives to me my daily bread, my strength, my work, etc., feeds me by His Word and Spirit with all the grace I need, guides me through this world and preserves me unto my heavenly home. And He does this to me in His love because I am one of His children! You believe that, don’t you, young people? Then from that special, providential care of God for us we may also gain a rich and healthy estimation of ourselves. If I am so loved and cared for by the Almighty God, then surely I am precious to Him; I have value and worth beyond description! If this is how the heavenly Father treats me, then with what confidence may I live and go about all my tasks?!
Do you see how this all works? Only a God-centered perspective can give to you and me a proper view of ourselves, can give us true self-worth. The world does not and cannot have proper self-esteem, because it does not have a believing view of God. It is lost in itself. But you and I are found in God. We have a believing view of God; He is the center of all we are and have and do. And therefore we may have, and by grace do have, a proper view and estimation of ourselves. Keep that Godly perspective as you go through these years of your life. It will keep you from the false and destructive self-esteem of the world. It will keep you humble before your God, which is the principle of true self-esteem. ♦