CHRISTIANS AND SELF-ESTEEM PART 1

In this post and the next four, I’d like to tackle the complex, if not touchy, issue of Christians and self-esteem. Should Christians have self-esteem? How should Christians view themselves? Is it wrong to feel good about ourself? Does God want us to have a deprecatory view of ourself? Does the Bible have anything to say about what we should think and feel about ourself?

Let me say at the outset that I’m not a trained or professional psychologist. I’m a Christian minister. I’m interested, first of all, in what God, not psychologists, has to say about self-esteem. And, second of all, I want to do my part in helping God’s people see themselves the way God sees them. So, with these introductory words aside, let’s get started on our Biblical voyage of self-discovery.

A DEFINITION OF SELF-ESTEEM

What Self-Esteem Is. Self-esteem comes from a Greek word meaning ‘reverence for self’; to honor, respect, revere self. The thought is rather frightening to many of us Christians who equate reverence with the worship of God. But there’s nothing idolatrous about reverencing oneself. We reverence, honor, or respect our parents, our elders, pastors, and government leaders. There’s nothing idolatrous, sinful, or wrong with that. In fact, the Bible commands us to honor and respect these aforementioned people. Self-esteem, simply put, is to reverence, honor, and respect yourself just the same way you reverence, honor, and respect the important, esteemed people in your life.

A commonly-accepted definition of self-esteem is pride in oneself; self-respect; a sense of one’s dignity or worth. Frankly, the definition doesn’t do a whole lot for me. There’s a vagueness to it that leaves me still wondering what self-esteem is. The simplest way I know to describe or define self-esteem is this: self-esteem is the way you look at yourself. It’s what you think about yourself. You take a good, long look at yourself and after you’re done with your introspection you accept who, and what, you are. You’re satisfied with yourself. You have a favorable opinion of yourself. In essence, self-esteem is self-acceptance. 

Turning a corner just a bit, feelings are so fluid and subject to change, so I’ll use the term rather loosely here hoping you’ll understand exactly what I mean. Self-esteem is feeling good about yourself. It’s having good thoughts about yourself. Going back to the Greek, you reverence, honor, and respect yourself.

What Self-Esteem Is Not. Let me set things straight here and say at the outset that self-esteem is not the same as being arrogant, egotistical, conceited, or vain. It can certainly lead to that if you don’t discipline yourself to have an honest, humble opinion of yourself. But just because you think well of yourself doesn’t automatically mean you’re proud. As we’ll see in the apostle Paul’s case, it’s possible to have good self-esteem and still be humble and modest. There’s a Biblical balance between low self-esteem and high self-esteem, between self-depreciation and self-aggrandizement. I’m hoping that as I bring the Biblical texts to your attention you will come to see this balance for yourself and start having a positive, God-glorifying view of yourself.

VARYING DEGREES OF SELF-ESTEEM

There are varying levels of self-esteem. It’s like temperature. Temperature ranges from super hot to super cold. In between these two extremes are a wide range of hot and cold temperatures. In the same way, our self-esteem can range from really bad to really good; from really low to really high. A person with no, bad, or low self-esteem doesn’t think much of himself. He has no self-respect. He hates himself. He’s constantly belittling himself. He battles rejection, depression, and masochism. He is self-tormenting, self-condemning, and self-destructive.

At the other end of the self-esteem continuum is the person who has too high an opinion of himself. He’s conceited and vain. He’s afflicted with feelings of superiority. He’s egotistical, arrogant and contemptible of others. He’s deceived himself into thinking he’s somebody he really isn’t.

Somewhere between these two extremes of self-esteem is the right amount of self-esteem that is healthy, good, and beneficial. You’re at peace with yourself. You love yourself. You don’t hate or belittle yourself. You’re confident. You’re secure. You accept who you are. You quit trying to be someone you’re not.

THE CHANGING NATURE OF SELF-ESTEEM

Self-esteem is like the process of maturation. It takes us years of time to grow, develop, and mature—not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually, behaviorally, intellectually, etc. We’re changing. We’re growing up. The process of growth and maturity differs for each one of us. But, without our really knowing it, we all come to a particular point in time, we come to a particular stage in life, where we become mature. That doesn’t mean we quit growing: it just means we no longer grow as fast. Our character, our belief system, our personality, our habits—everything about us—is pretty much set and we are who we’re going to be for the rest of our life.

In much the same way, our perception about ourself changes quite a bit. With the years, and with the varied stages and circumstances of life, we change the way we think about, and look at, ourself. It can be a really confusing, unsettling time of life as we search for our identity, come to grips with who we really, truly are, and identify the meaning and purpose of our life. Then, just like maturity, we reach a definite point in time—somewhere in adulthood—where we’re pretty much settled about who we are and what we think about ourself. Whether good or bad or just right; our perception about ourself doesn’t change a whole lot anymore. From there on out, we live with the same self-esteem that we have for the rest of our life.

Coming Up On My Next Blog Post, Part 2: What we base our self-esteem on and the factors that influence our self-esteem.

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