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Why Your Self-Esteem Might be Too High

Last week our family visited the church in the village of Buyalick. There are no paved roads leading to Buyalick so when it’s dry enough the best way to get there is by traveling across the fields on makeshift dirt roads.

On our way home we dipped into a small green valley and as we rounded the corner came upon a large flock of sheep. As we slowly approached the grazing flock one of my kids exclaimed “Oh gross!”

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Christina snapped this photo from the window of our van as we passed the flock.

At a distance the flock of sheep looked white but we soon found out that was far from the truth. From the lower half of each sheep hung large clumps of wool caked with soil and feces. They were not all fuzzy and cuddly like you see in the Bible story books!

I realized this was a teachable moment for my children and told them, “Can you believe the Bible says that we are all like sheep and God still loves us?”

A Self Inflated Culture

Society teaches us that we need to raise our opinion of self, that we are better than we think, that we are worthy of more. Here’s a recent post on Twitter from the Queen of self-esteem, Oprah:

Only make decisions that support your self-image, self-esteem, and self-worth.

A Self Infatuated Church

The cultural message of self magnanimity has already thrust its way into the pulpits of our churches. Take for example Pastor Joel Osteen whose books are consistently at the top of the Christian best-seller list.

You don’t have to do much more than read a list of his recent book titles to see the emphasis on self greatness and personal worthiness.

In his book Your Best Life Now Joel Osteen puts it this way:

You must learn how to cast down those negative thoughts and begin to see yourself as God sees you-as a winner, an overcomer. He sees you as being “well able.” If you want the circumstances to change for the better in your life, you must first see them changing through your “eyes of faith.” You must see yourself as happy, fulfilled, and successful, living an overcoming life.

A Biblical Picture of Self

The Bible paints a different picture of mankind. One common illustration of man is that of a lost sheep.

[esv scripture=’Isa 53:6′]

Comparing us to sheep is not flattering. Sheep are dirty animals, they are of low intelligence, they are weak and defenseless and if left on their own would not survive for long.

The overwhelming message of the Bible is that man needs to lower his opinion of self and raise his opinion of God. That’s what the prophet Isaiah was talking about when he said:

[esv scripture=’Isa 40:15′]

Thankfully we have a loving Shepherd who picks us up an carries us in his arms Isa 40:11.

He loves us not because we are so great but because he is so great, not because we are worthy but because he is worthy, not because we have convinced ourselves that we are overcomers but because he has already overcome everything for us!

Question: How does our understanding of who God is affect our concept of self?

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I am a pastor, missionary, and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Ukraine since 2007. God blessed me with a wonderful wife and 5 amazing children! My greatest passion is to teach, encourage, and exhort others to turn to Jesus, who is Savior, Lord, and God!

  • Awesome post. This is so true – we are encouraged to see only the good in ourselves and never the dirty or the bad. How can we really appreciate and understand what a gift grace is, without a proper view of ourselves?

    I love this “He loves us not because we are so great but because he is so great, not because we are worthy but because he is worthy, not because we have convinced ourselves that we are overcomers but because he has already overcome everything for us!”

    Thank you for sharing this truth with us today!!!!

    • Deb, thanks for your kind words! In reality it is much more encouraging to turn our eyes to Jesus and focus on his righteousness and grace towards us isn’t it?

  • Kathleen Moore

    Just reading this post and although I don’t disagree that as Christians we are called to humble ourselves and fix our eyes on Jesus (and I’m all in on the Oprah quote), but just reading the second, could the author here not be referring to the attitude we should have once we have been united with Christ, reconciled, made righteousness to God by the blood of Jesus… In other words, there is now no condemnation, we are more than conquerors, nothing separates us from the love of god. I think it’s an important point that we make a distinction between being self centered and being confident that we are not only a new creation (in Christ), that we have a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control.. and that we are beautiful and sanctified in his eyes through the lens of Jesus’ blood and capable of doing all that he asks us (through the Holy SPirit). THe focus on self in our society is a HUGE problem but I think we must not equate humility with low-self esteem… Gospel humility is neither low-esteem or pride but enough focus on God that the self does not draw out of balance attention to itself (good or bad)… As long as we recognize God is the one that makes us strong, upholds us and so on, that his strength is made perfect through our weaknesses, God does want us to carry this confidence, but to attribute everything that we have and are gifted with to Him and not to man. Is that fair? Perhaps you are saying the same thing, just pointing out that the 2nd passage doesn’t seem to contradict this unless the entire sermon or what have you never makes this clear….

    • Kathleen, you make a good point about the confidence that we have in Christ. I like how Hebrews 10:19 tells us that we have confidence through the blood of Christ to enter into the sanctuary. Like you pointed out the emphasis is on the confidence and strength that we find in Christ, not in ourselves. I probably need to write more on this issue but I try to keep my posts to around 500 words, so I just focused on the one aspect of over inflated self esteem. I have read Joel Osteen’s book “Your Best Life Now” and unfortunately his focus is almost completely manward rather than godward. At times that can seem to be a very slight distinction but it makes a big difference in how it works out in every day life.

      If we take Scripture as a whole the overarching themes always point to the greatness of God and the unworthiness of man. In fact that was at the source of Jesus conflict with the Pharisees, they thought they were worthy and special because they were God’s chosen people. Jesus corrected them and told them that God make sons of Abraham out of rocks if he wanted to. Our worthiness is always found in God.

  • Love those teachable moments!!! God calls us to die to our self and to serve him fully. Which is easier said than done. Living for God is a daily choice we must make. Good thoughts!

    • Dan when you have 5 young kids at home there are a lot if teachable moments. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • I love the heart of this post. I do believe that God wants us confident and strong in order to be all He’s called us to be. He’s not gloried when we have no sense of worth or value. But He is our Source, not self.

    I really like this “The overwhelming message of the Bible is that man needs to lower his opinion of self and raise his opinion of God”

    • Ngina, I like how you phrased it “He is our Source”. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  • I think it’s a complicated issue. On the one hand, knowing ourselves leads us to despair. We are despicable, sinful, weak, and nothing. On the other hand, we were created in his image and (as Christians) have been given his Spirit. Even the worst atheist has a slight glimmer of nobility having been created by God in his image. And we are loved by him. So on the one hand we have tremendous value and on the other we have none. I think grasping this seemingly contradictory truth is the pursuit of a lifetime!

    • There is a balance that we need to have when it comes to our opinion and understanding of self. I can see that I’ll probably need to write another post concerning this issue. I appreciate how you said it “So on one hand we have tremendous value and on the other we have none.” We do live in paradox and we need to recognize that. Where I draw the line is when our theology comes man centered and focused more on how great I am rather than how great God is.