I Am a Winner
In the school system, youth athletics, homes, companies, and even in some churches, you are told people will not succeed if they have low self-esteem. Children will not be healthy contributors to society, will struggle in school, and probably be murderers, if their self-esteem is not nurtured and bolstered to some mythical level.
If we use the working definition for self-esteem above we find an obvious problem. Who is the arbitrator and determining factor of self-esteem? Who determines a persons self worth, value, beliefs, and convictions about oneself?
Answer: The Holy Trinity of… Me, Myself, and I.
"Prone to Wander Lord I Feel It..."
I have lived in my own skin for thirty seven years and can without hesitation tell you I am not a good assessor of myself. My “self” is weak, sinful, selfish, and most days, my feelings and desires, are a roller coaster of disordered loves, wants, and idolatry.
How do I know when a healthy dose of self-esteem has kicked in? How do I know when I am loving myself enough? What does that even mean? How can I make accurate judgements about the perception of my self-esteem when I’m full of pride, blindspots, selfishness, sin, inconsistencies, false loves, and fractured desires? Aren’t these determinations of self-esteem subjective at best?
The Myth of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is a myth because it is subjective and does not allow for an outside objective authority. You don’t need to spend much time with yourself to realize we are all full of inconsistencies, selfishness, and sin. You are not a good judge of what you really need and want. If you have children, you know this truth from Day 1.
If I am left to my own determination of self worth, happiness, and love, I will believe anything, do anything, and tell myself anything, to get the self-esteem I perceive to need in the moment.
So, if self-esteem is a myth, too subjective, and functionally, will not work in the curing of souls. What is the cure?
An Alternative to Self-Esteem and Self-Love
The danger of inordinate self-love is it can’t answer the deep heart, soul, and love needs of humans. In self-esteem, we are banking to find ultimate love from within. The problem is ultimate love does not come from within. It comes from without.
Milton Vincent in A Gospel Primer said there are two dangers in self-love/self-esteem:
1. Fear. I do not believe that anyone can love me, the way I can love me, and if I don’t love me well, who will?
2. Superior love is only found in the self. The belief that there is not an object of love greater than myself. This only leads to more fear, arrogance, and pride, believing I am the only being in the universe worth loving (pp. 29-30).
What is the cure? How can we shift from self-esteem and the dead end of self-love as the highest pursuit in life? How can we be liberated from self-love to a different love?
Vincent provides the cure and solutions to disordered self-love in the gospel itself:
#1 The gospel assures me that the love of God is infinitely superior to any love I could give myself.
John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Jesus lays his life down for sinners out of mercy, grace, and love. He didn’t do it because you are worthy, he did it because he is worthy, and make us worthy by faith in Him.
The gospel is a superior love that is objective, rooted in truth and history, and experiential for the disciple of Jesus. It is not determined by my feelings in the moment, how much love is being shown by others, and if I am measuring up. Paul in Romans 5 makes claim that we can experience this love on a regular basis:
“3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” Romans 5:3-5.
Even in suffering, God is producing endurance, character, hope, and exploding love in the heart because of what Christ did for us. The Holy Spirit exists to remind us of superior, ultimate, and lasting love in Christ.
#2 The gospel allures me away from inferior loves.
When God becomes breathtakingly glorious, beautiful, and soul satisfying, the allure of self love begins to diminish. The heart is enthralled with a greater, eternal, and more satisfying love in God, not self, a love which is objective and experiential.
King David gives an example of a heart enthralled with God:
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple (Psalm 27:4).
David found a “beauty” he could “gaze upon” for his entire life that would satisfy his need for love. This is what happens when a person shifts from a subjective inward preoccupation searching for self-esteem, self-love, and self worth, and moves to an objective and satisfying pursuit in the gospel.
Our children, neighbors, family, churches, and society, need an alternative to self-esteem and self-love. A love that is robust, lasting, objective, and impenetrable amidst the shifting sands of feelings, circumstances, and cultural pressure.
We need a superior beauty to gaze on that is not staring back at us in a mirror.
The gospel might be the cure we are all looking for.