The Pernicious Lie: Self Esteem

Lies

Today, we start a new chapter of essays, under the title, “The Pernicious Lie.”  We will explore the seductive, almost magnetic ways the Deceiver goads us to believe his lies about life and about ourselves; and once identified, we’ll need to actively find ways to effectively respond.  That’s what Jenny resolved to do in her own life 4 years ago, when she wrote this; and she has been succeeding at it.  Read on and be strengthened! Commennts are welcomed! – Arthur 

This past week marked my last week as a psychology student here at UCLA. After being immersed in the world of psychology at this leading institution of psychological research for 3 whole years, I must admit, if I don’t think quickly on my feet and sharply with a biblical worldview, it is easy to buy into the wisdom that modern psychology offers and to embrace the very theories and practices that dangerously distort important biblical doctrines and pervert the ministry of the Church. An example of this is the concept of self-esteem.

The psychologist, Stanley Coopersmith, describes a good, positive self-image as one’s evaluation of himself with approval because he regards himself as capable, significant, successful, and worthy. What is scary is that psychology has crossed the line and pervaded biblical teaching. But this intrusion of self-esteem teaching into Christian teaching has not been initiated by secular psychologists, but rather Christian pastors, teachers, and authors. Christian psychologist H. Norman Wright describes self-esteem as one’s sense of personal worthiness, as the feeling of “I am good.” According to television preacher Robert Schuller, “Low self-esteem is the core root of sin… and the doctrine of sin is the reason why Christians have behaved so badly for the past two thousand years.”

What lies. Is this starting to smell like a certain deceiver that we know? The ploys of Satan behind this seemingly harmless concept of self-esteem become clear when we examine these statements in the light of God’s Word. As Sandra rightly put it, the Bible is full of God’s thoughts on man, giving us an accurate image of ourselves. “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands…none who seeks for God…none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12). God describes the nature of fallen man in Genesis 6:5 – “Every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Wow. To teach self-confidence before God and to claim that Christ’s death enhances our sense of self-worth grossly distorts the gospel and destroys the grace of the cross. Before God, I am not good. I am a poor, miserable, totally depraved sinner in need of his undeserved mercy and forgiveness. Jesus died on the cross not because I’m valuable, but because I’m unworthy – so unworthy that only the Son of God in human flesh could redeem me.

Jonathan Edwards once said, “Of all kinds of knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are the most important.” In my own life, I realize that all the times I try to put on that mask, that image of how I want others to see me, it is because I forget who I am in God’s eyes, as revealed in His Word. I forget that my heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. I forget that there is nothing inherent about me to boast in or to flaunt to others. I forget that I am forgiven and adopted as God’s child. I forget that I am a recipient of and eternal debtor to God’s abundant grace and mercy.

Now I do find worth and value in these truths. And sure, you can call it self-esteem. But this self-esteem is not one that denies sin. It is rooted in Christ’s victory over sin and covering of sin. Proper Christian self-esteem comes from God’s regard of me as good and beloved in Christ. It is from God’s forgiveness and acceptance of me in Christ. It is my thankful and humble reception of that verdict and esteem of God, all because of Christ.

The American church offers its people a velveteen cross, easy to bear – a soft, psychological solace for those needing confidence within. But we ought to know ourselves better than that. We sin not because we think too little of ourselves, but because we fail to think highly enough of God. May we turn our attention, energies, and concerns not to self-esteem but God-esteem. We can rest assured and rejoice, because that true confidence that our hearts and souls are longing for is made fully available to us in our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)

– Jenny Liu

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