Written in December 2005 - Last updated on July 26, 2016
In October 2004, I got in a lengthy discussion on an internet forum, in which I was attempting to point out the problems with self-esteem and self-love teachings. It was not until then that I came to realize that some of these teachings are far more subtly deceptive then I ever imagined. Some of the people in this discussion seemed to get pretty upset with me, and one individual even got the idea that I was trying to keep people from rejoicing in their salvation.
From that discussion, I learned that there are apparently some people who believe that self-esteem and humility are the same thing. I have already shown how the self-love and self-esteem teachings first entered into the church in my article titled “Self-love vs. Selfless love”, so anyone can view that article to see for themselves how it happened. In this article I intend to reveal why self-esteem is not the same thing as humility.
I do not intend to be rude about this, and I have no doubt that some of those who promote these teachings are sincere, but it often seems that some of them are just simply playing games with words. For example, there are some who recognize that pride is a problem, yet they still insist that some of us have a self-hatred. For reasons which I have already explained in my article titled Self-love vs. Selfless Love, this is clearly a contradiction which makes no sense.
Far from telling us that we have a problem with self-hatred, Paul stated that “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Ephesians 5:29). I do not want the reader to think that we shouldn't rejoice in our salvation, but I hope that this article will reveal the difference between self-esteem and God-esteem, and why they are not the same thing.
In the Merriam Webstar dictionary, two of the definitions for esteem are “regard” and “high regard”. Some of the definitions for regard are “to think of” and “to pay attention to” and “to hold in high esteem”. Notice that it does not say “healthy esteem”, but “high esteem”…even though there are some people who try to make a distinction between high self-esteem and what they call “healthy self-esteem”.
Rather than telling us to “think of” or “pay attention to” ourselves (as we naturally do), the Bible clearly indicates that true love has no concern for self: “love…does not parade itself, is not puffed up…does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). I can only conclude that such a love cannot come from self-esteem, but only from God-esteem. This does not mean that we are to be constantly grieving about how horrible we are (that would still be self-esteem, because it would mean that we are still thinking of ourselves), but after we truly do understand just how bad we are, we must then forget about ourselves all together and focus on esteeming God rather than ourselves. The following is a quote, in which John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) perceptively explains this:
“If the consciousness of what we are—of what we find in ourselves, has any other effect than, while it humbles us, to increase our adoration of what God is, we are off the ground of pure grace. Is there distress and distrust in your minds? See if it be not because you are still saying "I," "I," and losing sight of God’s grace.
It is better to be thinking of what God is than of what we are. This looking at ourselves, at the bottom is really pride, a want of the thorough consciousness that we are good for nothing. Till we see this we never look quite away from self to God. In looking to Christ, it is our privilege to forget ourselves. True humility does not so much consist in thinking badly of ourselves, as in not thinking of ourselves at all. I am too bad to be worth thinking about. What I want is, to forget myself and to look to God, who is indeed worth all my thoughts. Is there need of being humbled about ourselves? We may be quite sure that will do it.
Beloved, if we can say as in Romans 7, "In me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing," we have thought quite long enough about ourselves; let us then think about Him who thought about us with thoughts of good and not of evil, long before we had thought of ourselves at all. Let us see what His thoughts of grace about us are, and take up the words of faith, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’” (Click here for the entire article)
This is what I want people to understand. So I am not trying to get people to constantly grieve over how bad they are (as some have assumed), but my desire is that people will forget about themselves all together, and start esteeming God rather than themselves. Since we are all selfish by nature (as I have explained in my “Self-Love vs. Selfless Love” article), it should be clear that we simply don’t have a hard time esteeming ourselves, because it is simply in our selfish nature to do so. But if “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), then I need to esteem Him, not myself.
This being “crucified with Christ” is clearly not self-esteem, but it is God-esteem! It is by the grace of God that I am what I am (See 1 Corinthians 15:10), and this means that “self” had nothing to do with it! To call this self-esteem (whether we mean well or not) is misleading, and it subtly leads people to focus on the flesh without even realizing it.
If we are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind as Matthew 22:37 states, then all of our esteem must be turned from ourselves to Him. My conclusion is that true humility does not involve low-self esteem, nor does it involve high self-esteem or even what we call “healthy self-esteem”, but it involves God-esteem. This is the esteem that we need to focus on if we truly intend to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. As I have explained in the past, “self” is the very heart of the problem with all of us. Since that is the case, it has to mean that self-esteem (of any kind) cannot be healthy whether we call it “healthy self-esteem” or not. The only possible healthy esteem is God-esteem, and to love our neighbor as we already love our self. (See Matthew 22:37-40).
July 26, 2016 Update: If we are to esteem others better than we already esteem ourselves as it says in Philippians 2:3, then I would say this is a pretty good indication that we need more help esteeming others than ourselves. People commonly think they lack self-esteem because that is what they are told by either psychology or teachers who have been mislead by psychology. However, if anyone really lacked self-esteem, then they would not even care about building up their self-esteem in the first place. The very fact that anyone would want to build up their self-esteem just shows that they are already focusing too much on themselves when their focus should be on the Lord. That is the reason I posted the John Nelson Darby quote earlier in this article (which is from before the self-esteem teachings had even entered the church), but some seemed to miss the point of it, which is why I have decided to make this update to the article. And I am saying all of this as someone who has had insecurity issues all my life. But that has never meant that I need more self-esteem - it simply means that I need to grow closer to the Lord (as we all do), and let Him be my confidence rather than focusing on myself (See Proverbs 3:26). That is the exact opposite of self-esteem. Yet too many people today have somehow made "recognizing who we are in Christ" or "seeing ourselves the way God sees us" to mean putting ourselves before others when we are supposed to be esteeming others better than ourselves.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26)
"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5)
"The victorious Christian neither exalts nor downgrades himself. His interests have shifted from self to Christ." - AW Tozer
The Gospel of Self, by Roger Oakland
The cult of women’s self-esteem, by Marsha West
Self: Mankind’s Number One Problem, by T.A. McMahon
Berean Call page on the topic of self
Turning from Self to God, by Dave Hunt
Does Peace Come by Finding Ourselves or by Being Delivered from Ourselves? By Dave Hunt
The Basis Of Just Examination (One of my articles)
What Is Humility? (One of my articles)
Motivation to Surrender (One of my articles)
Did Jesus Die For Us Because We Are Worth It? (One of my articles)
The Seduction Of Christianity
Radio Shows On Psychology
WHAT IS SALVATION?