As Depraved Sinners, How Can We Have Good Self-Esteem?
Since the Bible teaches that we are depraved sinners, how can people possibly have good self-esteem?
Some Christians actually reject the idea of “good self-esteem,” identifying self-esteem with arrogance and sinful pride. They think the idea of wholesome self-esteem will encourage people to be “lovers of their own selves” in the sense condemned by 2 Timothy 3:1-5. But what if self-esteem is really just another way of expressing appropriate respect and care for the personhood God has entrusted to us? In that case, the issue becomes very different. People who don’t properly care for and esteem the body, emotions, and mind God has given them, will suffer loss (Matthew 25:14-30 ).
It’s true that the Bible teaches us that from God’s perspective our works are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:21-23 ).1 But it’s also true that through faith-prompted obedience we are called the friends of God (John 15:15). We are His dear children whom He cares for deeply (1 John 3:2). A lack of biblical self-understanding can keep Christians from being effective servants of God. The apostle Paul himself refers to a proper way in which we should think of ourselves:
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith (Romans 12:3).
A person with sober self-understanding is painfully aware of his inclination to sin and of the selfishness and rebellion that contaminates his heart. But a biblical view of human nature doesn’t focus entirely upon our “dark side.” We are the crown of God’s creation (Psalm 8), crafted in His image (Genesis 1:26). Although fallen, He made us the objects of His redemptive love (Romans 5:6-10), taking human form so that we might know His love and accept it (Ephesians 1:3-10) Therefore, a biblically based self-understanding tempers consciousness of human depravity with the awareness that God died for us and thereby established our infinite worth (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Having an understanding of ourselves based on God’s love for us makes it possible to live honestly, courageously, and lovingly. Without a biblically based sense of self-esteem/self-understanding, we are helpless when faced by the pressures and temptations of sin. We do things that are destructive to ourselves and other people. Wholesome, biblically based self-esteem views life with gratitude, seeking to live in obedience to the Holy Spirit, but realizing that perfection is impossible in this world. Counterfeit self-esteem, the kind that is spiritually destructive, isn’t based on gratitude to God, but on the approval of this fallen world and its values. Spiritual freedom is based on honest appraisal and appreciation of the truth.
- See the ATQ article, How Can Christians Believe that the Human Race Is Depraved? Back To Article