In case you have not been informed, you need to learn to love yourself; you need to “celebrate” yourself. All of your insecurities, anxieties, self-doubts, and a host of other emotional issues all stem from the failure to love yourself. So, parents must teach their children how to come to terms with this crucial issue. Each child is wonderful, a bundle of goodness wrapped in skin, only waiting to explode and make the world a better place to live!
We know, of course, that this thinking is wrong. Every child is only a wicked little sinner, worthless and destitute of any value. All the iniquity which the human race is capable of performing is wrapped up in that little heart. Hiding beneath that innocent little smile is the most depraved creature that ever was born on planet earth.
Really? Does Scripture actually teach either of these polar opposites? Those who contend for self-love and self-esteem point to “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt 19:19, KJV). We have to love ourselves according to the teaching of Matthew 19:19. Really? Is that what this teaches?
The other camp points to Scripture as well, reminding us that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” and “There is none that doeth good, no not one” (Rom 3:12, 23, KJV). But do these Scriptures teach that every newborn coming into the world is worthless, or destitute of value? Tell that to its grandparents!
We are creatures of extremes. Once we have manned our stations and become entrenched in our positions, we interpret everything in light of our viewpoint and not in light of Scripture. It is to the Word of God to which we must come and we must come with a willingness to adjust our thinking if it is not consistent with God’s truth.
Back to Genesis
If we begin in Genesis, at the beginning, we are confronted with some balancing truths. When divine counsel was taken and man was created in the “image and likeness” of God, humanity was endowed with incredible value. Adam was placed here on this planet to represent, reflect, and reveal God. As lord of creation and steward of the garden, he had tremendous responsibility and importance. His significance was rooted in divine relationship and purpose. As the head of a race and as ruler over God’s creation, he could not possibly have had greater value. So far so good. We can conclude from Genesis 1 that humanity is not worthless.
Someone will quickly add, “But you haven’t gotten to Genesis 3.” Sadly, the point is well-taken and correct. Through Adam, sin entered into our world and into the human family. Death, destruction, desolation, and distance all entered as a mighty torrent to sweep aside this incredible value and potential, leaving man a fallen and depraved creature, taken hostage by Satan. Incapable of his own reclamation, humanity was lost, adrift from God, and mired in sin. The ensuing chapters in Genesis only serve to reinforce the catastrophe that befell humanity as the “wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5, KJV). It would be difficult to paint a more helpless and pitiable picture of the human family. Perhaps the “worthless and void of value” camp is right.
The flood with its cataclysmic and cleansing effects followed, and Noah exited the ark with his family and friends (the animals) to begin another chapter in human history. Once again God spoke from heaven as He committed human government into the hands of Noah. And contrary to our prior conclusion, God declared, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. For in the image of God made He him” (Gen 9:6, KJV). In this mandate for capital punishment, God is once again reaffirming the value of a human being. As an image bearer, value is inherent in every human being. The image may be marred, its display blurred and like a broken mirror, not faithfully reflecting the original image, but each person is still an image bearer of the God Who created man. And while millennia have rolled their course since Genesis 9, nothing has occurred or been spoken by God to contravene His declaration of the value of each human being as an image bearer.
When the Lord Jesus was challenged by men as to giving tribute to Caesar, He showed them a penny and asked them to identify the image and superscription. He then uttered His oft-repeated principle, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17, KJV). By strong implication, the Lord Jesus is reminding them that men bear the image of God and are responsible to render to Him what He deserves.
How then do we arrive at a balanced view of humanity? How are we to understand and sort through all the rhetoric about self-love and self-worth? How do we reconcile a fallen human being who does possess incredible and unlimited potential for evil with the equally Biblical concept of conferred value from a Creator-God?
Love thy Neighbor as…
Perhaps we need first to clarify the “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” position. Far from teaching self-love, this takes for granted the default position of every human being is self-love. With the fall and the entrance of sin, man changed from a God-centered creature to a self-centered creature. Self-interest and self-absorption mark each of us by nature. We are exhorted to love our neighbor as ourselves, to look not on our own things but “on the things of others” (Phil 2:4, KJV), because the natural is self-ward, but the spiritual is toward others. Even the depressed, insecure, self-flagellating individual inherently loves self. Mired often in self-pity, there is the sense that life has been unfair (i.e. “I deserve better”). Perhaps, like Elijah, the soul is moaning over the awareness that he is a failure, and no better than his fathers (which begs the question, why were you ever so proud of yourself to think that you were?). Or there may be the oft-heard complaint that “nobody loves me” (and why should they, if you claim you are worthless?). This is just a sampling among a litany of grievances aired by those labeled as lacking in self-esteem. Behind each of the complaints is the subtle suggestion that something more is deserved and merited. In the end, it is all about self, an occupation with self which is the essence of self-love. Pride is at work seeking attention for self, employing a different route, but aiming for the same destination.
What of the truth of “total depravity,” and the value of each individual? It is Biblical and true! But what does it mean? The Scripture points to men such as Naaman and Cornelius who did much good. Does depravity mean that a man or woman cannot make a right choice, do a good deed, or be commended for right actions? Depravity has to do with meriting salvation, with our inability to do anything at all to achieve the forgiveness of sins or a right relationship with God, and with our natural bent toward sin. Since God holds men responsible for acts of sin, we must have the ability to choose between right and wrong.
Each human being has worth conferred by a Creator-God. How do we communicate this to children, and does this feed their self-esteem? Do we merely tell little girls that they are beautiful inside and that therefore confers value? Do we tell teenage girls coping with societal demands for beauty, thinness, and charisma that God sees their inner beauty, and this is what really matters? Do we possess inner beauty?
The problem is not merely confined to youth. We often pursue material wealth as a means to boost self-esteem and sense of significance. Incredible pressure is placed upon women to resemble the starlets in the tabloids or to be deemed somewhat worthless. The beauty industry has created an inaccessible standard for our sisters and daughters.
Spurgeon once said, “If a soul has any beauty, it is because Christ has endowed that soul … for in ourselves we are deformed and defiled. There is no beauty in any of us but what our Lord has worked in us.”
Do we tell our sons and daughters that, since they are creatures of God’s making, they can accomplish anything and should have unbounded confidence in themselves? Do we make sure that everyone gets a winner’s prize at the game and no one loses? Medals for showing up and trying are passed out to build self-esteem, often as readily as we give a handshake to a friend. Tragically, the remainder of adult life will not mirror this “everyone’s-a-winner” philosophy.
Our lives have value: both creatorially as image bearers, and redemptively as those purchased by precious blood and destined to share in eternal glory. Our bodies have value, as they belong to another (1Cor 6:19-20), and are to be kept holy and available for His use. Self-respect is far different from self-esteem.
The issue is not really low or high self-esteem. The Lord Jesus taught neither. Instead, He taught that our love is to be upwards, toward God, and outward, toward our fellow man. He did not teach self-love. He actually taught denial of self as the mandate for the Christian life (Luke 9:23). Occupation with self, whether bemoaning what I lack or priding myself on what I am, is the total antithesis of Christian life. It is not about me at all, but about Him and others.
Self-confidence, as well, is not a Biblical principle. We are taught to center our confidence in God. How does that actually work out in the raising of children and in daily lives? Paul passed a “no confidence” vote in his own flesh. He went so far as to teach that at conversion, we “crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal 5:24, KJV). We move, not with self confidence, but with an assured trust in God’s ability to enable us for whatever He has called us to do. Our confidence is in Him.
We communicate purpose and meaning of life to our children by communicating to them the greatness of God and His ability to preserve and use them, once saved, for His glory. Even our unsaved children need to learn that their natural talents are from God, a sign of His goodness and mercy. It is not their personal greatness (whether intelligence or another skill), but His grace that has given so richly to them.
To recognize that divine love has embraced me, and to revel in the fact that God’s love does not work on the merit system is to build a firm foundation for my life. To awaken to the reality that He has a purpose for my life and is able to fulfill that as I yield to Him is to engender confidence and trust in Him rather than in self.