Recently someone asked me about whether “self-esteem” is a Biblical concept so here’s my answer.
I believe you can find a positive concept of self-esteem or self-worth in the Bible, however, in general Western culture has distorted the idea of self-worth and turned it into something very dangerous. Self-worth as understood by most people finds its source of worth and value innately within the person. That is to say, you have value as a person because of your character, personality, abilities, or even because of your body. In this understanding worth is derived solely from how we perceive our-selves. If a person thinks he’s pretty good at baseball, or good-looking, or has strong moral fortitude, or is smarter than many others, then he has a high level of self-worth.
Unfortunately this method of deriving self-worth from your abilities or qualities will always, eventually fall flat on its face. There will always be someone smarter than you, faster than you, more beautiful than you, and so on… Not only will you find that you fail in comparison to others, you’ll also eventually find that you fail to meet your own standards of morality, discipline, and conduct. Thus, how can you have self-worth when you are obviously far from perfect.
The Biblical world-view is very clear on this point. It tells us that we are sinners, it tells us that we are flawed at the core, it tells us that we all have a tendency towards sin, selfishness, and self-destruction. There is nothing good in us that can deserve high self-esteem.
On the other hand the Bible tells us that there is also innate worth in human beings that comes from God himself. As Christians we must hold these two concepts in tension. On the one hand we realize our brokenness and worthlessness as a sinner and on the other hand we know that God has created man and given him unique worth among his creatures. Thus, as forgiven sinners we don’t crawl around in the dust all day saying “Whoa is me lowly sinner that I am.” Rather we walk with the dignity that God has given us, with a high worth for self recognizing that the ultimate source for our worth and value is not found in our abilities or character but rather in God himself.
Below are four Biblical ways we can understand self-worth.
1. God made us in his image
Just as the artist gives worth to his creation so God also gives worth to us. We have special worth in all creation because only we were created in God’s image. We were created by him and for him and thus reflect his worth.
“And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him. He created them male and female.” Gen 1:27
“I will praise You; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are marvelous and my soul knows it very well.” Psa 139:14
2. God cares for us
God’s care for us shows us that he has endowed us with value and worth.
“Behold the birds of the air; for they sow not, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them; are you not much better than they are?” Mat 6:26
“Therefore if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much rather clothe you, little-faiths?” Mat 6:30
3. God sacrificed for us
Once again we can see our value in God’s eyes through his sacrifice for us. Christ died for us while we were sinners, this tells us that our worth in God’s eyes does not come from ourselves but from God. We have worth because we are his creation. He loves us because he made us.
“But God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Rom 5:8
4. God tells us
Finally, we notice that throughout Scripture God speaks of his people using endearing terms. We are called, “the bride, family, the body,” and other terms and indicate the value God has given us and sees in us.
Question: How would you define self-worth from a Biblical perspective?