Self-Esteem

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greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
"The problem of self-esteem seems to be evergreen. There are those on the left who, like a broken record, will claim that almost all our problems are due to a low self-esteem. The solution seems to be that everyone should find a way to raise their own self-esteem, feel good about themselves, such that they will no longer feel depressed."

Full content posted over at GB.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Thanks. Nice read.

I know people that like to go on and on about how depraved they are or how unholy they are. It seems like just so much pious talk. I ask, "How are you doing?" and they'll say something like, "Better than I deserve" and add, "we all deserve hell." True. But it gets old.

Should believers primarily identify themselves as saints or sinners? It seems the Apostle Paul did speak of how sinful he was on occasion, but he addresses the churches as saints.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
Should believers primarily identify themselves as saints or sinners?

Believers should primarily identify as saints. This is not due to natural goodness, but due to being joined to Christ and to his work in us. The work of Christ always wins out over other realities. It is primary.

The article above dealt with the issue of our sinfulness vs. our creation in God's image. We might also consider the believer's re-creation in Christ, and how it too affects our view of ourselves. I like to call it "Christ-esteem." It's the confidence, courage, and security we get from knowing we are in Christ. It accomplishes everything the proponents of self-esteem wish for but fail to achieve.
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
Thanks. Nice read.

I know people that like to go on and on about how depraved they are or how unholy they are. It seems like just so much pious talk. I ask, "How are you doing?" and they'll say something like, "Better than I deserve" and add, "we all deserve hell." True. But it gets old.

Should believers primarily identify themselves as saints or sinners? It seems the Apostle Paul did speak of how sinful he was on occasion, but he addresses the churches as saints.
I think that "self esteem" derives for us now in our new identification in Christ, and realizing that he loves us and saved us. It is not that we were worthy in ourselves, as many say that it is, but that He died and saved us due to His great love for us despite what we were as sinners.
 

jw

Administrator
I appreciate Sibbes' pastoral direction. For example (Works, Vol. 1, pp. 28-29):

1. We must have two eyes, one to see imperfections in ourselves and others; the other to see what is good. I am black, saith the church, but yet comely. Those ever [lack] comfort, that are much in quarrelling with themselves, and through their infirmities are prone to feed upon such bitter things, as will most nourish that distemper they are sick of. These delight to be looking on the dark side of the cloud only.

2. We must not judge of ourselves always according to present feeling: for in temptations we shall see nothing but smoke of distrustful thoughts. Fire may be raked up in ashes, though not seen; life in the winter is hid in the root.

3. Take heed of false reasoning; as because our fire doth not blaze out like others, therefore we have no fire at all, and by false conclusions come to sin against the commandment in bearing false witness against ourselves. The prodigal would not say he was no son, but that he was not worthy to be called a son. We must neither trust to false evidence, nor deny true; sot so we should dishonour the work of God’s Spirit in us, and lose the help of that evidence which would cherish our love to Christ, and arm us against Satan’s discouragements. Some are so faulty this way, as if they had been hired by satan the accuser of the brethren, to plead for him, in accusing themselves.

4. Know (for a ground of this) that in the covenant of grace, God requires the truth of grace, not any certain measure, and a spark of fire is [still] fire, as well as the whole element. Therefore we must look to grace in the spark as well as in the flame. All have not the like strong, yet the like precious faith, whereby they lay hold, and put on the perfect righteousness of Christ.— A weak hand may receive a rich jewel; a few grapes will shew that that the plant is a vine, and not a thorn. It is one thing to be wanting in grace, and another thing to want grace altogether. God knoweth we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requireth no more than he giveth, and giveth what he requireth, and accepteth what he giveth.​
 

jw

Administrator
For what it's worth, I am one of those who often answers "Better than I deserve," but it has nothing to do with my self-esteem. My reasons:

1. It is always true, and -regardless of how I feel- I am not lying to someone who asks me.
2. It usually opens up interesting conversations regard just desserts, grace, judgment, and mercy.
3. It is always true.​
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
I was reared in a rather dysfunctional Calvinistic baptist church in which it was common to speak of oneself in the worst of ways (as Lane and others above mention). On a theoretical level, these dear folks regularly acknowledged how sinful they were.

I say theoretical because, on a practical level, if you confronted anyone with sin (we were especially guilty of those sins associated with censoriousness), these same dear folk customarily fought you tooth and nail over it. In other words, we were the biggest theoretical sinners extant (and despised self-esteem in any form), but were quick to plead "not guilty" when confronted with particular actual sin.

It's not a phenomenon that I have never witnessed again (we all tend to it in the flesh), to be sure, but not so strikingly as I did in that church. I suppose all this is to say that professions of abject sin (which have an important place that is sadly missing these days) do not guarantee that one is prepared, as WCF 15.5 says, to repent of one's particular sins particularly.

Peace,
Alan
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Alan,

I am keenly aware of my sin, but I am not wont to wear it as a badge of honor. I am ashamed of it, for sure, but thankful that it has been paid for at the Cross. In a strange sort of way, there is a pride that comes from poor self-esteem. You see this in people who rejoice in the failure of others. If they cannot lift themselves up, they have a perverted joy in seeing others fail. I pray that God grants all of us a right view of ourselves; not in competition with each other, but so that we know which sinful areas of our lives need to be mortified.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
This is a great thread. I know people from church when I was growing up who regularly had a "woe is me, I am a terrible worm" attitude. It is really off-putting. As if true belief makes one into a depressive. Where's the joy and the happiness over a changed life? They often quote Paul and (after the manner of Paul) assert that they are the very worst of sinners. I just try to ignore it or say, "Okay, you ARE pretty bad."
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
This is a great thread. I know people from church when I was growing up who regularly had a "woe is me, I am a terrible worm" attitude. It is really off-putting. As if true belief makes one into a depressive. Where's the joy and the happiness over a changed life? They often quote Paul and (after the manner of Paul) assert that they are the very worst of sinners. I just try to ignore it or say, "Okay, you ARE pretty bad."

Be sure that you recognize them for their humility and give them the opportunity to deny such lest you the cause them to stumble!
 

OPC'n

Puritan Board Doctor
I have found in myself that the problem of constant sayings of "woe, is me I'm a poor worm" is that one's eyes are still fully on self. Either pride of "lowly " state arises or despondency arises keeping me from rejoicing in God's grace. I'm learning that security lies in rejoicing in the knowledge that no one is able to do good accept Christ works it in a person, and that he wants and wills to do that good work.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
Right. The more we look at Christ, the more inclined we are to see our lives as victorious in him.

But... repentance takes many shapes and each of us is in a different place along the path to glory. So I try not to be too critical of those who emphasize their sin. Some of us, at some times, really need to repent of our pride and come to grips with our sinfulness, so that looking at Christ may bring a perfectly appropriate sorrow over sin that for a season looks rather self-abasing. Others of us need to stop our woeful introspection and raise our heads to find joy and confidence in the fact we belong to Jesus. Most of us, in fact, could use some of both.
 

OPC'n

Puritan Board Doctor
Yes, everyone is different and at different places in their life which is why i only talked about myself in what i said
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
It's interesting that the Bible assumes that we all love ourselves: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
I have a problem with the term of self love and self esteem. Not that they can be interpreted correctly or incorrectly. Self is a reality. Love is a reality. Esteem or treasuring something is a reality. All of those things are real and important. But I think it is more important to focus on dignity. When a person makes their life centered upon self something is amiss and a fallen man has a false understanding of his image. It can be from one end of the spectrum of self loathing depression to the other end of being a demigod where all things and everyone is made to serve your lusts and whims.

Something that has kept me focused is seeing that all things come to me from outside of me. Even my self. It comes from God. All things come from outside of me. I might be mistaken because he has placed some truths in me like his Law but even that comes from outside of me even though he placed it in me. He has given and proven my dignity based upon His person and work. I also think we are to protect that dignity in the best possible way we can by trying to understand it and loving God.

I love Jeremiah Burroughs on that.
https://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/2012/09/08/the-great-honor-that-god-puts-upon-human-nature/

Portions of Gospel Conversation by Jeremiah Burroughs

There’s nothing in the world that God ever did that reveals the worth of man’s immortal soul as the gospel of Jesus Christ does. There God manifests to all the world what a price He puts upon Man’s soul.
p. 119

The Gospel reveals unto us the great honor that God has put upon human nature above the angels. This could never have been but by the gospel. This is as proper a thing to the gospel as any I have spoken of, and one special design that God had in the gospel was to reveal those thoughts and counsels that He had from all eternity, to put mighty and great excellencies upon our human nature in these two particulars:

One) In the personal union of man’s nature to the Second Person in the Trinity. That’s the first and great way of honor that God has crowned human nature with. Hence the Apostle, in 1 Timothy 3:16, says, “without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness.” What is it? God was manifested in the flesh. God manifested in the flesh? That’s a great mystery of godliness.

Now it could not be such a mystery if God had only taken a human shape upon Him (for so it was in the time of the Law). Jesus Christ often took human shape, as when He strove with Jacob. It was Jesus Christ, as might easily appear, but great is the mystery of godliness. Without controversy it’s great; God manifested in the human flesh. That is, God taking the flesh of a man into a personal union, which is more fully expressed in John 1:14, “The Word was made flesh.” This was a strange speech, but proper to the gospel.

A heathen would have thought this was a strange speech, especially if he knew that by the Word was meant He who was the true and eternal God. And then in Hebrews 2:16 it is said that Christ did not take the nature of angels upon Him, but the seed of Abraham. So it appears that, by the personal union of our natures to the Son of God, God has advanced human nature above angels, above all creatures. Truly, my brethren, in Christ’s taking our nature upon Him, which the gospel holds forth to us, we may see God, as it were, resolving to do a work from Himself to the uttermost, to manifest the uttermost of His glory in a work out of Himself, the work of God within Himself.

It is His eternal generation, and the possession of the Holy Ghost, but now God would work out of Himself, and work out of Himself to the uttermost extent. “I’ll make a world,” said God, “heavens and earth by My Word. Aye, but this is not such a glorious work as I am able to do. I could make ten thousand worlds and, when I have made them, I could make as many more and more glorious. But I would do some work wherein I might manifest even the uttermost of My glory.”

What work is that? The work God pitched upon. He would do no work from without to manifest the uttermost extent of His glory, and the Lord pitches upon this: to take the nature of a man into personal union with His Son. That’s the uttermost; and it is impossible that men or angels, if they were left to all eternity to imagine, could think of a work in which it would be possible for God to express more of His power, wisdom, and glory. We know but little of it now, but we shall know more in heaven.

Now, oh, how God has honored human nature in this: that when He would do a work to the utmost of His excellencies. He would pitch upon man’s nature to take it into personal union with Himself! Here’s the mystery of the gospel.

Now this is, indeed, the marrow of the mystery of the gospel: the Word made Flesh, the Second Person in the Trinity taking man’s nature upon Him. This is the mystery of the gospel that angels and saints admire, and shall be taken up to all eternity in admiring and praising and magnifying God for. That’s the first way of God honoring man’s nature.

Two) The second thing that the gospel reveals is this: God has put honor not only upon the nature of man as having soul and body, but He has put a mighty honor upon the very body of man; the meanest and the very lowest part of a man, the very shell, outside, rind, and the case of man. You have this in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “What, know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. You have no such thing revealed in the Old Testament, this comes by the light of the gospel that the Lord has made the bodies of the saints to be the temples to the Holy Ghost; that the Holy Ghost dwells in their bodies as in a temple. Like the King in his palace, so the Holy Ghost is in His temple. Now these two are great things revealed in the gospel, and did we have a clear understanding of these two things, oh, it would mightily elevate our spirits!

Conversations suitable to these two particulars surely must be a high-raised conversation. For instance, consider the personal union of our natures with the Second Person of the Trinity. Oh, how should this raise our hearts, and we should manifest the elevation of our spirits in our conversation so as it becomes those who may expect great things from God! Surely the fact that God has honored our natures so as to be personally united to His Son shows that He intends great things to some of the children of men.

pp. 124-127
Gospel Conversation
Jeremiah Burroughs
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Be sure that you recognize them for their humility and give them the opportunity to deny such lest you the cause them to stumble!
I am not sure it is humility. If it is possible, they almost seem to boast of it.
 

mvdm

Puritan Board Junior
"God commands us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but to think with sober judgment. Sober judgment also entails not thinking more lowly of ourselves than is true. This may be counterintuitive, especially to many in the Reformed church, who sort of feel that the more evil, wicked, disgraceful, and grotesque they are, the closer they are to the Kingdom. We have to be careful, as we may in fact be saying things about ourselves that God does not." ~ Mark Jones' lecture "Does God Reward Our Good Works? Or How Not to Be an Antinomian"
 
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kainos01

Puritan Board Senior
Simul Justus et Peccator.

A proper apprehension of both realities is essential to understanding - and expressing to others - who we are (and how we see ourselves). The former testifies to God's grace; the latter, to our desperate need for it.
 

reaganmarsh

Puritan Board Senior
I appreciate Sibbes' pastoral direction. For example (Works, Vol. 1, pp. 28-29):

4. Know (for a ground of this) that in the covenant of grace, God requires the truth of grace, not any certain measure, and a spark of fire is [still] fire, as well as the whole element. Therefore we must look to grace in the spark as well as in the flame. All have not the like strong, yet the like precious faith, whereby they lay hold, and put on the perfect righteousness of Christ.— A weak hand may receive a rich jewel; a few grapes will shew that that the plant is a vine, and not a thorn. It is one thing to be wanting in grace, and another thing to want grace altogether. God knoweth we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requireth no more than he giveth, and giveth what he requireth, and accepteth what he giveth.​

This is absolutely lovely. Thanks, Joshua.
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
"The problem of self-esteem seems to be evergreen. There are those on the left who, like a broken record, will claim that almost all our problems are due to a low self-esteem. The solution seems to be that everyone should find a way to raise their own self-esteem, feel good about themselves, such that they will no longer feel depressed."

Full content posted over at GB.

I'm not sure this is correct unless you're working with some non-standard definition of self-esteem or non-standard definition of "the left."

Those on the left (both politically and theologically) tend to blame societal factors such as poverty, greedy capitalists, structural racism or whatever and argue that this needs to be remedied by government action in order for those who are failing or disadvantaged to succeed. No amount of self-esteem is going to help many of the disadvantaged in the eyes of the left. (It takes a village to raise a child, you didn't build that business, etc.)

On the other hand, a strong emphasis on self-esteem is a staple of an industry that is typically associated with right wing political causes, or at the least not typically left wing. (Norman Vincent Peale, W. Clement Stone, a major Nixon donor who gave him much money that it provoked campaign finance legislation, Robert Schuller, and arguably James Dobson, Tim LaHaye and other evangelicals to a slightly lesser extent, etc.) It also has a lot of overlap with Word Faith type charismaticism. It is a common theme in sales training.

A strong emphasis on self esteem is really another way of saying you need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, that if you just have the proper attitude, success will follow and you can literally ordain your destiny. That's not associated with any kind of left wing point of view in the way that the term is used by practically everyone. It has more in common with Ayn Rand's objectivism than it does with anything on the left unless we're going to say that any kind of unbiblical view is "leftist." Rand's erstwhile associate, Nathaniel Branden, was a big promoter of it in the psychology "space."

Needless to say the modern self-esteem movement (which often at least gives Christianity a nod, although Napoleon Hill at one point compared Islam favorably to Christianity!) is shot through with damnable heresy and a ready rebuke is required. (The recent phenomenon "The Secret" was the latest manifestation. It is merely a rehash of the New Thought teaching popularized by so many others in the early-mid 20th Century.)

When you use the term self-esteem, it cannot be divorced from that movement and the self-help industry as a whole, even if you're wanting to zero in on some overreaction in the Calvinist or conservative evangelical subculture. That one can overreact to one error and fall into some other error is obvious, just as you can overreact to Arminianism by slipping into hyper-Calvinism or overreact to Romanism by accepting the arguments of the SDAs (or some other cult) or overreact to attacks on Christ's divinity and inadvertently neglect or diminish his humanity and so on.

Although I've had the book for years, I haven't read Dr. Richard Pratt's "Designed for Dignity" but I have wondered if perhaps he wasn't subtly pushing back against what he saw as an overreaction against the modern self-help movement making inroads into evangelicalism. But many reprobate any talk of "self-image," in some cases perhaps rightly so, at least insofar as some of those teaching it go astray on some issue or another. Francis Schaeffer spoke much of the dignity of man, but that was in the context of dehumanizing trends in the academy and the culture, such as the teaching of B.F. Skinner.

Is there anything objectionable in Jay Adams' "Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love and Self-Image?" If so, I doubt he overreacts to the extent that he ends up in the kind of mindset described by Dr. Strange and Pergamum. Adams is not a huge fan of the Puritans (particularly certain ones) but it is an easy choice between Adams and Dobson, LaHaye (not to mention Schuller) and other pop evangelical promoters of self-esteem and similar things.
 
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Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
I like Josh's quote from Sibbes. It reminds me of what Sibbes said in The Bruised Reed—that God gives us small beginnings to keep us humble, but if this leads to discouragement we should consider how Christ sees us. "Christ values us by what we shall be, and what we are elected unto. We call a little plant a tree, because it is growing up to be so" (p. 17 in the Banner of Truth paperback).
 
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