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Problems with Self-Esteem

By Dennis Pollock

 

In a recent devotional I discussed our modern obsession with self-esteem, and how even pastors have jumped on this bandwagon. I pointed out that while people today constantly suggest that our problem is thinking too little of ourselves and never even consider it possible that we might think too much of ourselves, the Bible takes the opposite stance. The Scriptures warn again and again that we must never think too highly of ourselves and suggest that pride is one of the worst of all sins, in that it attempts to place man above God.  

 

In this study I want to look at this subject from another angle. I want us to consider how God wants us to see ourselves. Some might suppose there would be no need for us to consider ourselves at all. I would agree that our focus must be upon Jesus Christ and not on ourselves. Still, as we read the Scriptures, we find definite references to a sort of self-image. But as we might expect, this Biblical self-image is radically different from the self-esteem philosophy of the world, which insists that we must all think of ourselves as super-men and super-women, capable of anything and everything. 

 

First and foremost, the Biblical self-image is not a "stand-alone" concept. It never relates to us in a vacuum. A Biblical view of self for the Christian always relates to… you guessed it, Jesus Christ. And with this perspective we are given two concepts: what we are without Christ and what we are with Christ. Jesus tells us, "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). But Paul declares, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).  

 

So here is the heart of the self-image of a follower of Christ. Without Jesus we can accomplish no good thing in the eyes of God. We may work hard and grow rich, we may have friends and be appreciated by many, we may possess power and influence in the world, but from God's perspective we haven't done a thing. Without Jesus we are helpless, hopeless, and worthless. As to any man or any woman without Christ, the Bible unequivocally states: "They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12). Before turning to Jesus, this was our condition in the eyes of God: we had "turned aside," we were "unprofitable," and we did not "do good." 

 

We Do Not Despair 

 

But in hearing this description of the person who is godless, we do not despair. Although we are nothing without Christ, we have no intention of living our lives without Him. As followers, disciples, and believers, we love Jesus, depend on Him, and we know that He lives in us and works through us. And as we consider these two concepts: that we can do nothing without Jesus, but we can do all things through Him, we are brought to a very healthy spiritual attitude and perspective – we live in a state of dependence on and confidence in Christ. 

 

We know that we must never stray from our Lord if we want our lives to be successful, fruitful, and secure. Jesus says:  

 

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit… (John 15:4-5) 

 

We abide in Jesus, we stay close to Jesus, we constantly look to Jesus because we know that He is our salvation, our success, and our life-giver. Just as the Psalmist said to God: "All my springs are in You," we say to our Lord Jesus: "Our springs, our nourishment, our strength, our power, our wisdom, and our sustaining grace are all found in You." Knowing this we do not dare to stray from Him. We abide in Him in every season of our lives. 

 

Valuable 

 

And in this same passage we are given a wonderful promise, indeed so wonderful that few ever bother to claim it. Jesus tells us that those who do "stay put," who abide in Him and live a life of fellowship with and dependence on Him, will have their prayers answered, saying " “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7). Abiders get their prayers answered! Jesus seems almost reckless in His promise that we can "ask what we desire" and it will be given to us.  

 

The reason this "reckless" promise is given to abiders is that they are the only people God can trust with such a promise. By abiding in Jesus, they live their lives for the glory of God, and they bear much fruit. They are the ones who do the most good in the world. Because of their devotion to Christ, lives are transformed, relationships are healed, churches grow, and the kingdom of God is established in lives and families.  

 

And these believers, these abiders who bear much fruit and have their prayers frequently and consistently answered begin to realize that there is a blessing on their lives and their ministries. Indeed, since they, the abiders, are the only ones that do the fruit-bearing in this world, they recognize that they are valuable. The world needs them – desperately. Few come to Christ through television personalities or movie stars, world class athletes, or pop singers who draw tens of thousands to their concerts. No spiritual blessing is bestowed by our world's entertainers. You can get a night's entertainment, but that's it. You will go home with the same problems you had when you left your house, the same broken relationships, the same darkness surrounding your life, the same depression, the same hopelessness and the same state of alienation with God. Nothing has changed. 

 

Christ-Followers Make a Difference 

 

It is the lowly, born-again, Bible-reading, praise-singing, evangelicals who can make the difference. And as they walk with the Lord and live their lives with faith in Jesus, they begin to see that they can and do make a difference. Some may make more of a difference than others, but every believer and abider in Jesus will be fruitful and productive. According to the promise of Jesus, their prayers will be answered and they will bear "much fruit." This affects our view of self. We begin to realize that the world needs us. They may not know they need us, they may even resent us, but they desperately do need us, and our world is a better place because we live in it. 

 

Normally, to live with a keen awareness of being a part of the answer to the world's problems might cause pride to take root, but for the Christian this does not need to be the case. We know fully that we are only fruitful, we are only a blessing to the degree that Jesus lives in us and manifests Himself through us. If we should ever begin to walk in pride, and take the glory for ourselves, the Holy Spirit in us would be grieved and those living waters would stop flowing. As it was with Samson, we would become as weak as any other man (or woman). 

 

And so we embrace humility. When we are thanked or praised for any good thing we have done or any ministry effort we have made, we feel a bit uncomfortable and are careful to divert the praise to God and Jesus. We do not do this simply to appear humble and virtuous. We know deeply that Christ is the Source of any and every good thing that pours out of our lives, and only He deserves the glory. 

 

Another aspect of our self-image is that we are an investment of God. The Bible tells us:  

 

  • "…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). 

  • "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). 

  • "…you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). 

 

God's Project 

 

We are a project of God! From the moment we were born again by putting our faith in His Son Jesus Christ, God's Spirit began a renovation project, taking out walls, enlarging rooms, fixing holes in the roof, doing a complete re-wiring job and making multiple other fixes in fashioning us as instruments for God's glory and for His use in this world.  

 

God is, in a sense, going to a lot of trouble to make us what He wants us to be, and with this in mind, it is our duty to live as long as we can and do as much good as we can in Jesus' name. We are too valuable, and God has spent too much time crafting us and pruning us for us to cut our lives short through a poor diet or reckless driving or smoking, overdosing on sugar, not getting enough sleep, or living as couch potatoes. Sure, we can still go to heaven while living undisciplined lives, but the problem is that we will likely go to heaven many years before we should. Our world needs us too much to rob them of the blessing we can be! God says that we are the "temple of the Lord" and we must not defile His temple with practices that will either shorten our lives or else make us so weak and sickly that we can do little in our old age, that special season when we have hopefully reached a state of wisdom that should equip us to bear more fruit than ever before. 

 

When our world experienced the coronavirus epidemic in 2020-2021, I was probably more conservative in my habits and travel than many of my evangelical brothers and sisters. I stayed out of church throughout almost all of 2020 and I kept my travel and gatherings to a minimum. I know some believers who carried on as though the pandemic did not exist, justifying sticking to their normal routines by declaring that God would protect them. And most of them that I know seemed to have gotten away with it, although some became extremely ill for a few days. In my case, I felt that at the age of 67, I was just getting to the point where God was using me more than ever in my life. I had learned enough and walked with God enough to be a bit useful to Christ, and it seemed somehow reckless for me to risk my life by taking chances I did not need to take. I did not want to "put God to the test." 

 

 

Desire for a Fruitful Old Age 

 

My major reason for this was not that I was terrified to die. I know that when my life on earth comes to an end, a far greater and a much happier life awaits me where Jesus is. But my reason for playing it so conservatively in 2020 was my own self-image. I saw myself as a "project of God," someone God has been working on for many long decades and my desire was (and is) that I should, if possible and if it is the will of God, attempt to live to be an old man and keep right on doing whatever ministry I can throughout my old age for God's glory. As it says in the Psalms: 

 

Those who are planted in the house of the LORD 

Shall flourish in the courts of our God.  

They shall still bear fruit in old age… (Psalms 92:13-14) 

 

Of course, God may choose to call us home early, and that is His prerogative. But every child of God should at least make an effort to live into old age and represent Christ as well or hopefully better in their eighties and nineties, if God allows, than they did in their twenties and thirties.  

 

And this springs from our Biblically based self-image. We really and truly are Christ's workmanship; we are God's divine project. We are abiders, members of that select group whose privilege it is to bear much good fruit in our world, and to be a blessing unto many.  

 

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