The Source of Our Self Esteem
By Jack Kelley
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:3-10)
Self esteem has been defined as the way we see ourselves, our own opinion of us. But is it? No one knows us like we do, but our opinion is influenced, and often distorted, by the opinions of others important to us. Parents, teachers, friends, associates and the like. So while its called self-esteem, it’s more likely a composite of others’ esteem for us. Abraham Maslow was right, gaining the acceptance of others is a pre-requisite for self acceptance.
To earn a higher self-esteem then, requires that we earn the approval of those most important to us. Typically our efforts in this area fall into one of three areas: appearance, achievement, or performance.
There’s no question that the beautiful people among us often get preferential treatment. Some learn from an early age to depend on their appearance for acceptance. They believe that as long as they look good, those whose opinions matter most will accept them, permitting them to accept themselves. Collectively, they spend billions of dollars on health spas, cosmetic surgery, clothing, you name it, all an attempt to maintain or even improve their appearance to gain wider acceptance of others, bolstering their self-esteem. But eventually the calendar catches up, the laws of physics prevail and no amount of money can halt the ravages of time. Those whose self esteem has been based solely on their appearance often become pitiful parodies of their former selves in their futile efforts to stay forever young and beautiful.
All the world loves a winner. Some folks use periodic achievements to foster acceptance. They run marathons, climb mountains, win prizes and awards, all to gain recognition for their achievements. The recognition signals the approval of others, building self-esteem. But again time is the enemy and someone younger, faster, and stronger surpasses their achievements relegating them to living in the past, recalling the glory of yesterday’s achievements, glory that can no longer be earned with today’s abilities.
Here’s a group that can only feel good about themselves when they’re performing at or above certain standards. They literally become what they do, and when they can no longer do, they’re diminished in their own eyes and their self esteem suffers. Having spent their entire lives performing to gain acceptance, they’ve lost the ability to sustain their self-esteem. They become problems for themselves and others, and many die prematurely. For example, according to Insurance Industry statistics the average length of retirement before death is less than 2 years. To escape this death sentence they go back to work, or start a new career, performing again to regain their self-esteem.
All these attempts at maintaining self esteem are doomed to failure and those who rely upon them are eventually left alone, old and tired, with little or no value to others and consequently to themselves.
There’s Got To Be A Better Way
But there’s a fourth way to achieve and maintain self-esteem that isn’t subject to the opinions of others and therefore not governed by their acceptance. It won’t end in failure and won’t leave us alone and tired at the end of our lives. I call it Creator based self-esteem and it comes from my study of what the Bible says about the way He views us. He is, after all, the only One Whose opinion ultimately counts.
He created the first human in His own image (Gen. 5:1). After the fall of man the Bible says the rest of us were created in Adam’s image (Gen 5:3), meaning 2 things: procreation had been delegated to man and all of Adam’s progeny would inherit his propensity for sin. But even so there are some remarkable passages about His view of us. The Ephesians passage above is a good example. We’re His workmanship: an example of His creative capability. When He gave Adam dominion over Earth He placed man at the top of the created order, the highest example of His capability, His best work. (By the way, before using the Ephesians passage to justify a performance based relationship with God, better read John 6:28-29)
As far as being made in His image read 2 Cor 5:17-21. If we’re in Christ we’re a new creation. Through His completed work on the cross the effects of our inherited sin nature have been reversed. We’ve become as righteous as He is in His sight, as if we’ve never sinned at all. Perfect as He is perfect (Matt. 5:48)
Psalm 3:3 says He’s the lifter of our heads, the reason we can hold our heads up high. It was forbidden for Jews to bow before any man, because bowing pays homage and places the one bowing in a position of inferiority. We are not to consider ourselves inferior to anyone but Him.
What Did I Do To Deserve This?
And what did we do to earn this favor with Him? Did He choose us because we looked good, had achieved much, or performed well? Not according to His standards. Read the first part of the Ephesians passage again. All of us also lived among them (unbelievers) at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephe 2:3-5) His acceptance of us derives solely from His unconditional love, and preceded any action of ours.
How are we to approach this new life? Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:4-9)
And what about the ravages of time? In contrast to the other “doomed-to-failure” approaches to self-esteem, at the end of the age we’re promised that we’ll be made new in body as we have been made new in spirit. All the debilitating effects of our lives in this sin infested place, whether spiritual, mental or physical will be reversed. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:5-6). The Lord will bind up the broken hearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1) and our perishable bodies will become imperishable (1 Cor 15:42).
He has promised never to leave us (Matt. 28:20), and to see to our every need (Matt. 6:25-34). He has become our Savior and Redeemer, and given us a share of His inheritance (Rom. 8:17). He has promised to reverse and nullify the devastation wrought by sin and time, restoring us to “better-than-new” condition forever. No longer will a less than perfect appearance, or limitations on achievement or performance diminish us or narrow our horizons. If that doesn’t make you feel great about yourself, I don’t know what will. And what work did He require of us to earn this? The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent. (John 6:29) Selah.