Is Self-Esteem Christian?


Sermonette 11-2-02  Ann Arbor, MI  UCG  Eric Snow


A few years back, on Whitney Houston’s debut album, she had a song on it entitled, “The Greatest Love of All.”  Probably, if I played the tune, many of you here would recognize it.  Now, Whitney Houston has, at least in times gone by, projected a Christian image to some degree.  But she was hardly consistent.  On the “Bodyguard” movie soundtrack album she put “Queen of the Night” right next to “Jesus Loves Me,” which is a massive inconsistency if there ever was one.  Now, getting back to “The Great Love of All,” what is it?  It isn’t God’s love for man, which a Christian, whether in the Church of God or not, might be expected to say.  No, it’s the love of SELF.   Hence, Whitney Houston reveals herself to be perfectly in the mainstream of contemporary pop psychological thought.


But is self-esteem really a Christian concept?  Does the Bible say Christians should have self-esteem?  Should we always love ourselves?  Should the self be esteemed?  Furthermore, should self-esteem be unconditional in nature, that a person should love himself regardless of what he does?

S.P.S.  Although Christians should love themselves, self-esteem is not a Biblical principle at its core.  Christians should be wary of any concept of self-esteem, self-image, self-confidence, even self-respect, that exalts the individual self at the expense of other people or against God.


HWA:  Self-confidence to be replaced by faith in God.  Launching point for this message.


Romans 13:8-10


Paul couldn’t have said this if he didn’t have full assurance that deep down, in a practical sense, everybody really does love himself.  Similarly, Jesus couldn’t have proclaimed the golden rule without a similar assurance.  Otherwise, if a person were a masochist, he would be authorized by the Golden Rule to be sadist towards others!


Hence, although a person might not be happy with something he did, whether it be a sin, or a financial mistake, or something shameful, he will still eat to nourish his body, wash, avoid pain when he can normally, etc.


Fundamentally, we love our self just as much as we are to love other people’s selves.  If the self-esteem psychological gospel taught just that alone, there wouldn’t be a problem with self-esteem from a Christian viewpoint. 

II Tim. 3:1-4


Notice what the first sin Paul lists here as a sign of the end times?  Maybe that’s because it’s a source for the other sins that follow!


“lovers of self,” Greek, “philautoi.”  Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon, “loving oneself, selfish.”


A wave of advocates started pushing self-esteem in books since the 1940’s.  But it came to full bloom in the 1950’s and especially 1960’s.  The self-esteem gospel has come to dominate our culture.  Psychologists such as Erich Fromm, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, helped to form the basic self-esteem gospel.  These theories others, such as Thomas Harris (“I’m OK—You’re OK”), Nathaniel Brandon (“The Pyschology of Self-Esteem”), and Eric Berne (“Games People Play”) brought down to average people.


Should self-esteem be unconditional?  Common view, based on raw self-assertion:  “Self-love means accepting yourself as a worthy person because you choose to do so.”  “You exist; your are human.  That is all you need.  Your worth is determined by you.”  “You are worthy because you say it is so.”  Self-esteem with such a foundation is like the emperor with no clothes, a mental trick with no real foundation.


When people do something that’s sinful, they should feel guilty, and if they do something stupid or inappropriate, they should feel shame.


To love the self regardless of behavior or achievement not Christian nor even rational.


Self-esteem at core assumes human nature is good.  This is why you can automatically hold your self in high esteem.


Self-esteem can blind you to the evil of your own human nature; you cease to be analytical about the self or its problems.


Shouldn’t feel good about the self, your self, until have something to feel good about.


True, certain types of self-regard, even self-respect not really a problem in themselves.  If you love yourself as God does, without setting your needs above others routinely.  Wishing happiness for the self not a problem since God wants that also.  If feel good about self because one helped others or was useful to others, or fulfilled a role in God’s overall plan, not a problem.  Example:  Satisfaction in a successful day’s work.


Self-esteem gospel tends to encourage people to be wrongly self-assertive since give the self a high status.  It can lead to arrogance and pride since think self’s needs automatically should be satisfied, even at the expense of others, including God’s claims on us.


Standard claim:  Instead of saying have to love self to love others, it could be the opposite.  You can gain a sense of value and usefulness after you help others and accomplish things for them, whether it be charitable works, doing things on the job, or helping out in ones own family.



Practical example of self-esteem’s negative effects:  In a training film for counselors, a case of a divorced woman with a dilemma is portrayed.  She tells her therapist that doesn’t know if she should tell her daughter that she is sleeping with the men she dates.  She wants to be honest in not concealing the situation, but also feels ashamed.  She tells the therapist, “I want to have you help me get rid of my guilt.”  She does succeed.  The therapist, who is quite famous actually, commented on the situation that she move “from not accepting herself to accepting herself.”


You don’t need to feel guilty or sinful if you feel good about your self automatically.  There’s no need to repent then.  Notice why Christians should be wary of standard psychological treatment also.


John 12:24-25


Need to give up the self to save it:  The ultimate Christian view.


In conclusion, we need to be very wary of the concept of self-esteem, self-image, and self-confidence.  It is categorically false when it claims we can love ourselves regardless of what we do or are in character.  It can help deceive ourselves into thinking we’re less sinful than we really.  It can be easily used to make petty, selfish assertions against others.  So let’s remember that we Christians should prioritizing self-sacrifice, not self-esteem.