Concise Lexicon of Christianity

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The Trap of Self Esteem

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
—Romans 12:3, NIV

I gather that no one who thinks he’s hot stuff is a mature Christian.

I recently spoke with a minister who has low self-esteem and is thus driven to over-achievement. He ran a fund-raising campaign that garnered $40,000 to renovate a church building whose congregation can only afford to pay him $15 a week in salary, which doesn’t even cover his cost of driving there and back! (He has tripled the size of the congregation, by the way.) But no matter how much he achieves, no matter how highly he is esteemed, he is never satisfied and strives for more and more. The reason is clear: whatever he accomplishes is his accomplishment, and since he esteems himself lowly, he cannot esteem his accomplishments highly. Thus he is trapped by low self-esteem in a vicious cycle of overwork, to the point that he is exhausted, burned out, and his physician is alarmed.

So I revealed to him that his problem was low self-esteem, and he, like all people with low self-esteem, readily agreed to that assessment. Then I chastised him for thinking that he needs a self-esteem! I told him that he should not be esteeming himself at all. That is Jesus’ job! I said it is none of your business to evaluate another man’s slaves, especially if that man is Jesus, and even if the slave is you! The fact that you have a self-esteem at all is proof that you are judging Jesus’ slave; in this case, yourself. So I said, just do what you are told and don’t cram every spare minute with busywork. Leave the esteeming to Jesus.

The problem is this: you know yourself better than you know anyone else. You do not have insight into other people’s private sins and shortcomings, but you do know all of your own. Therefore, if you examine yourself honestly, and compare yourself fairly to other people, you will always come up short in the comparison. At this stage, if you have low self-esteem, it only proves that you’re honest.

However, we aren’t finished yet! God proclaims in scripture:

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
—Romans 3:23, NIV

There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
—Ecclesiastes 7:20, NIV

So this is one of those situations in which there is good news and there is bad news. The bad news is that your low self-appraisal is correct, but the good news is that you aren’t any worse than anyone else. And then there is even better news:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
—1 Timothy 1:15-16, NIV

Here’s what I derive from this passage in Paul’s letter to Timothy: Yes, you are a sinner. Your low self-esteem is justified. Everyone else is just as bad off, it’s just that some people aren’t as honest about themselves as you are. However, don’t rush to congratulate yourself on your honesty, or you’ll just make things worse! Instead, look at this passage again. Even if you were tied with Paul for the title of Worst Sinner Of All Time, there is hope for you. If the Worst Sinner Of All Time can become an apostle, then what can become of you?

So admit your sin. Fall on your knees with me and pray, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner, and rise with me in joy! You are fully aware of your flaws and faults, which is why you aren’t one of those insufferable people who thinks they’re hot stuff. You know that Jesus loves you anyway, which is why you are able to face your flaws and admit your faults without being crippled by them. You are unassailable, because no one can catch you in a vice you haven’t dealt with; you are not boastful, because you know the truth; you are secure with who you are, because Jesus knows every secret of your soul and loves you more than you can love yourself. This is the Christian virtue of humility.

My point is that if you are a Christian, you’ll probably have low self-esteem, but it will only serve to strengthen you and it only proves your Savior’s love. Just keep your hands on the plow and your eyes on the Lord, and do what the Spirit tells you. Let Jesus esteem you. If your heart condemns you, remember that Jesus is greater than your heart.