How Self-Esteem Keeps People From God

It sounds so positive and affirming. After all, everyone deserves to have a ton of self-esteem, right? With all the bullying and other belittling behavior which takes place these days, doesn't it just make sense that we should want all people to hold themselves in high esteem?

Yes and no. While it is true that we don't want people to live in self-hatred, it is also true that "self" tends to be awfully narcissistic. This tendency gets demonstrated every time you flatter yourself, or disparage yourself. Either way, "self" will sure soak up all the attention you are willing to give it. And that's where the rub comes in.

As long as I am focused on myself, I am not focused on Jesus. And why is that such a big deal you may ask? Because only Jesus can bring us to the Father, and only Jesus can give us true peace and contentment. An obsession with self, be it critical or complimentary, only leads to more pride and a consuming focus on "me."

It may not seem to you like being critical of yourself is a form of pride, but it's just as detrimental as being arrogant. It keeps your mind and your thoughts on your "self." It hinders you from bringing all of your concerns and your sins to God. That's because like everyone else, you are by nature someone who loves to think about yourself. And in our culture today, that tendency gets multiplied many times over by the obsession with fame, fortune, popularity, and status. "Look at me. Look what I've done, or what I've got. How impressive!"

Think of it this way. Picture a throne sitting at the center of your heart. And there is only room on that throne for one person. Who will it be? Will that throne be occupied by me, or by Christ, or perhaps by someone else? I'll tell you this much. Whoever is sitting on that throne today is someone you tend to think about a lot. He or she is dominant in your mind because of their position of authority on the throne. And everybody has someone on the throne of their heart, whether they realize it or not.

"Who will be my king today, when I work and when I play? Who will lead me as I go, who will others come to know? Do I shine the light on me, or is this throne occupied by Thee?"

You get to decide who is going to be the focus of your work, and your free time, and at the center of your relationships. God has given us free will, and He provides the grace necessary to focus on Christ rather than on "self."

One of the interesting things about self-esteem is that it actually makes a person feel acutely vulnerable. It causes you to become overly sensitive when others criticize you, or when they don't give you your "fair share." Self-esteem does nothing to promote a love for others. It just amplifies a love for self, which we already have plenty of from the moment we come into this world.

The Bible tells us that "love is not easily angered," and it "keeps no record of wrongs." (1 Cor. 13:5) That's a far cry from the fruit of self-esteem, which tends to become angry quite easily. It also keeps score of wrongs done to it. That is the flesh pure and simple. Man's natural state can flare up in anger at the drop of a hat. And the more self-esteem that gets pumped into you through well-meaning mentors, the less you will be inclined to bring your sins to Jesus for His pardon and power.

In fact, the ongoing quest for more self-esteem will only make you less interested in the things of God. It can develop into such an obsession that you don't even realize how far it has taken you from God. An honest self-inventory is then viewed as potentially damaging to your "healthy self-esteem," and so you avoid those situations or people who might mention your sins to you. Who wants to hear that? We would much rather be told that we are doing everything perfectly in God's eyes, or at least pretend that we are perfect.

It would be fair to say that some people actually worship at "the altar of self-esteem." It is their god. It is the love of their life. They can stand in front of the mirror and gaze into the eyes of this god for hours on end. It's a god they can see, and a god they can believe in. But it's a god who will never satisfy the needs of their soul. All this god does is make people insecure, sensitive, and selfish. That's not exactly the kind of fruit which will benefit others in the community, or in the family.

Self-esteem leads people to take things personally when they are given correction. The love of God gives a person confidence to readily confess sin and shortcomings, and then move forward in the grace and forgiveness of our Savior. It is so liberating to live with a heart full of God's love. Conversely, it is terribly confining to always feel driven to meet the needs of your god of self-esteem. He is not a forgiving god, and not someone you can trust.

"Wait a minute? You mean I cannot trust myself." That is correct, at least not fully. You are imperfect. You are sinful. You get ideas that are wrong. We all do. And so no, you cannot fully trust yourself. And why would you want to do that anyway when you can rely on God for the wisdom and direction you need. It's time to get rid of the crazy notion that your "self" can do more for you than God can do. Only the Lord can bring you the peace you desire at the deepest level of your existence.

Self-esteem covers up your deepest needs. It simply masks it, but it doesn't address it. It becomes a wall a person builds to protect himself from honestly addressing his own sinfulness and need for God.

I should give you a warning at this point. If you are someone who has been brainwashed about your purported need for self-esteem, you probably are feeling a little uneasy on the inside right about now. There is someone in there who is feeling a little threatened. He doesn't want to show himself for fear of being found out. He or she would rather stay hidden behind the wall. It would be a huge mistake for you to keep giving into the pitiful whining and demands of "self."

It's time to let him be exposed for who he is, namely, a sinner in need of God's grace. It's OK to admit it. In fact, it is the only way to remove that god from your altar and the throne of your heart. He must be deposed. He must be stripped of his authority in your life.

Hmm. Sounds a lot like the New Testament. Notice what happens to "I" and "me" and "self" when a person becomes a believer. St. Paul summed it up well: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20)

So there it is. A new sheriff has come to town. A new ruler sits on the throne of your heart. And a new obsession, this time on King Jesus rather than on "self."

Could it really be this easy? That's just it. It's easy to become a believer. It is difficult to live everyday denying self and living for Christ. You need to hear that on the front end so that you never come back and claim you were not told that Christianity isn't always a bed of roses.

The ongoing challenge for every believer here on earth is that in the midst of the beautiful rose garden of God's love in my soul, there is also a "zombie-like" creature attempting to come up out of the dirt and back to life in my thinking and my living. That zombie is named "self." And he liked it much better when I was addicted to constantly paying homage to this god of "self-esteem."

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." (2 Cor. 5:17)

It is hopeless to try to fix or heal "self." He is a lost cause. Forget about him or her. Your new identity in Christ is the only path to freedom, joy, forgiveness, and true love. So don't allow your "self" to keep you from coming to God with your sins, burdens, hurts, fears, hopes and dreams.

Perhaps you have always had an inkling that self-esteem was vastly overrated. Now you know why you felt that way.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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