The Value of Self-Esteem

Pastor Rolfe F. Westendorf

We want to reject the misuse and the distortions of self-esteem, not waste the value that the concept provides.

Some years ago, social scientists recognized what most have known for a long time people who are confident in their abilities usually make the most of their opportunities, while those who lack such confidence often waste gifts that could be put to good use. They gave this self-confidence the label “self-esteem” and set about to help people make better use of their talents and opportunities by trying to elevate their self-esteem.

The Danger of High Self-Esteem

Unfortunately these social scientists were generally secular humanists and had only the tools of humanism at their disposal. As a result their therapies rejected the wisdom of the Bible, especially the teaching that human nature is sinful and essentially self-destructive. Since this teaching diminished human worth, it was denied and rejected, even by supposedly Christian preachers who diminished the grace of God by denying that we are as sinful as the Bible says we are.

Because the wisdom of God was rejected, the self-esteem therapies regularly failed until even secular humanists have come to denounce the “feel-good-about-yourself” idea as ineffective and counter-productive.

At the same time, concerned Christians recognized the unscriptural basis of the self-esteem movement and attacked it vigorously. They saw the danger of promoting human pride and demeaning godly humility, and warned against it with good reason. Human pride denied God the honor due him, and it rejects the sinner’s need for a Savior. The humanistic promotion of self-esteem was a real danger to Christian faith.

The Danger of Low Self-Esteem

However, this reaction to the humanistic distortion of self-esteem has produced another kind of distortion that can also be harmful to Christian faith and life. Self-esteem is not necessarily the false pride that the humanists have promoted. Furthermore, low self-esteem cannot be equated with godly humility as some Christians have claimed.

The Gospel Declares God’s Unfailing Love For Us and Tells Us That We Are Worth More Than Many Sparrows.

Positive feelings of self-worth tend to produce behavior that is both positive and God-pleasing, and negative feelings of self-worth tend to produce behavior that is selfish and self-destructive. To reject the concept of self-esteem because it has been misused and distorted by secular humanists is to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” We want to reject the misuse and the distortions. We do not want to waste the value that the self-esteem concept provides.

The breakdown of the family, and graphic sex and violence in the media send the message that you are worthless apart from your possessions and the pleasure you can snatch from an uncaring world. God’s law condemns the behaviors that trash personal worth. The gospel declares God’s unfailing love for us and tells us that we are worth more than many sparrows. The Psalmist declares that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a God who wants to be known to us as our Father in heaven. Scripture has the answer to the problems of low self-esteem that are crippling so many today. We can supply Scripture more directly if we recognize the problem that needs to be addressed, the problem of low self-esteem.

The Danger of No Self-Esteem

Even if we recognize the problem and want to respond with biblical solutions, there are some difficulties with using a term (self-esteem) that has been so often misused and abused (similar to the phrase “the Holy Catholic Church”). On the other hand, “self-esteem” is the term commonly associated with feelings about personal worth. It may be counter productive to address the problem without using the word that people commonly use to identify it. It may be more effective to use the word properly and explain what it means, like teaching the meaning of “agape” love.

Whatever word we use, it is important that we do not throw away useful wisdom because it has been misused by secular humanists. If we denounce self-esteem as sinful pride and tell parents not to praise their children, as some have done, then we may literally be “throwing out the baby.”

To Give Your Child a Healthy Self-Esteem

1. Give your child respect by giving him time and attention. Demand the behavior that makes you proud, and then praise him for it. Give him the joy of earning your respect, so that he will dread losing it and will avoid the behavior that would make you ashamed.

2. Chores are better than treats. Chores teach pride in accomplishment. Treats teach the joy of getting things so things become more important than people. Let grandparents give the treats. Let parents give the treat of useful behavior.

3. Teach your child that God is his Father and Jesus is his Savior, so that the love of both becomes clear to him. Then model God’s unlimited and unconditional love to your child, so that he will know what God’s love means. He who knows God’s love has a healthy self-esteem.


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