Beginning to Think Biblically About Self-Esteem

Is training a child to highly esteem themselves a biblical goal? Many of our schools, churches, and parents think so. But Tedd Tripp doesn’t think so, and neither do I. It seems quite at odds with the commands of Scripture which call all people to highly esteem God and lowly esteem themselves.

Take, for instance, Jeremiah 9:23-24 to heart:

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

This seems to be pretty clear to me. Do not boast in your intellect or your possessions or your strength, but boast in the Lord who delights to do all the good in the earth.

But a conversation with a friend last weekend got me thinking: why do we always try to lump in self-esteem with the Gospel? Why do Christians tend to identify self-esteem as healthy rather than deadly? Why do we continue to call our children “good boy” and “good girl” rather than pointing them to the all-good God of heaven and earth?

Maybe it’s because we’ve misunderstood the Gospel all along. It’s not about you – it is the Gospel of God.

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About B Treece
loved by God before I ever loved Him, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone by the authority of the Bible alone to the glory of God alone, made to enjoy Him forever, happily married with wonder-filled children.

6 Responses to Beginning to Think Biblically About Self-Esteem

  1. Marcy says:

    I think Christians can move in two harmful directions with self-esteem. We can set it up alongside God, as you’ve written, or we can throw it out as incompatible with God, which might be more harmful. Remember that we bear God’s image, a weight and crown of glory. It is possible to know we were created and seen as good creations, that we bear a glorious (though broken) image, that we have been given many gifts of personality and talents, and that even though God is the origin of all these glories and blessings, they are still glories and blessings and to be owned and enjoyed.

    It is not only about God, as God is complete in himself and has no need of us. It is not only about us, as if we were not creatures. It is about God and about us, about the relationship he made us for. Doormats and clones and robots and empty vessels cannot have relationships — only selves can have relationships, and so we must take care to be the selves God made us to be, and not allow anyone to distort self in either direction.

  2. B says:

    Marcy, thanks for checking out my blog and writing me.

    As far as your comment goes, I would disagree with you beginning in your second sentence. Self-esteem, as the Bible will tell you, is completely, unquestionably, irreconcilably incompatible with God. There are no two ways about it. All of the gifts God may give us – be they spiritual, physical, or material – are meant to point us in faith back to God, not to make us feel good about us.

    This is the essence of faith – a looking to God and not ourselves. We are meant, because of the Gospel, to despair of ourselves and look to Christ. Again I disagree, this time with the first line of your second paragraph – the Bible is most certainly all about God.

    Consider Psalm 42:11 for a moment, where the psalmist writes, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” Now here, many Western pastors and possible theologians would answer: “Hope in yourself! You need self-esteem! Feel good about you!” But the problem is that the psalmist has already looked inside; and, having looked there, he correctly feels awful. He well should.

    But he does not continue there, rather he writes, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Hope in God, you downcast soul! Hope in God, you self-loving yet empty soul! Hope in God; He is the only salvation and God you could ever have!

    You speak about God’s image in us but may have forgotten the meaning of that image. It is not meant to make us feel good about us, but to point us back to Him. This is the image of Him even today, that are hearts are made with a God-shaped, not man-shaped, hole. Even those who are never led to saving faith have the inklings of a longing for God.

    Yes, dear Marcy, we are made for a relationship, a relationship that is completely, gloriously, graciously one-sided. We are empty vessels, devoid of all worth and joy and wisdom, until God gives us Himself. Then we shall continue to know and enjoy Him forever. Amen!

  3. B says:

    ps – I would also take Tedd Tripp’s question to heart, “Are there any passages that make the development of self-worth a biblically mandated goal?” Because, on the other hand, there sure are a lot that tell us to learn to value God’s worth.

  4. Marcy says:

    Perhaps we are having a mere difference of semantics. I’m Reformed and a believer in all the worm theology we are known for. And yet I am learning that God does not hate us, does not require us to grovel, does not want to obliterate us. In giving us his image he gives us some of his glory — yes, to reflect back to himself, but also for us to enjoy. He delights to bless us, to see us grow, to reconcile us to himself, to take away the weight and shame of our sins. Repentance is not an occasion for him to lord it over us, but for us to come near to him again and take hold of the forgiveness and love he always holds out.

    I just wish folks would be more careful in the way they talk about selves. Selves are good things — God made them. Self on the throne is not good, but self groveling in utter shame is not good either. Both things are running from God. Self seeing God, tasting that he is good, running to him — that is good.

  5. Marcy says:

    Later this afternoon I also thought about the difference between what is needed for salvation and how we live. All I mean is that it is possible to know that there is nothing at all that I can offer God to earn salvation or keep his favor. But that doesn’t mean I have to hate myself or think he hates me.

  6. B says:

    Marcy, I’m afraid that, even though you say you are a Reformed believer, you have not yet by God’s grace grasped the meaning of God’s gracious gospel. The gospel is meant to totally humble us in ourselves and cause us to exult in Christ daily, not just at some time in the past. This is the gospel and I pray you believe it rightly every single day.

    Contrary to your sentiments, God does in fact “require us to grovel.” Take Isaiah 66:4 for example, “To this one I will look, the one who is humble and contrite in heart and who trembles at My word.” If the Psalms and the Gospels don’t show us the same pictures of groveling before the Lord Jesus, prostrate before His holy majesty, then I don’t know what they’re showing us.

    Yes, again, the Bible does tell us to hate our “selves” in the sense of denying our “selves” – that’s the exact call to discipleship Jesus gives multiple times! “Deny yourself (that’s your “self”), take up your cross daily and follow Me!” You will have treasure not in your good little self, but in heaven! In God Him Self!

    Thankfully, as you note, the gospel also keeps us from total depression. It makes us happy, not in ourselves, but in God. Our own persons are stained forever by sin in this life, which is why we fight with all our might to love God and trust Him by His grace. And His grace means that we are of no worth in and of ourselves. Even His image in us, though stained by our sin, is a gift. Let’s point it back to Him and take no credit for it.

    “Let Him who boasts boast in the Lord” seems plain enough to me.

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