The Bible says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).
It immediately sounds like we shouldn’t think highly of ourselves. Maybe we should think we’re just unworthy worms. But that’s not what it says, is it? After all, if we’re supposed to love each other as ourselves and we’re supposed to think of ourselves as unworthy worms. . . Nope. That just plain doesn’t make any sense!
The trouble with self esteem
It seems that so many people feel bad about themselves that it has become a social problem. We spend a lot of time and energy in our society developing self esteem. We just don’t necessarily do it intelligently.
How many school systems, seeking to be progressive, have done away with playground games that produce winners and losers? It will damage the losers’ self esteem.
Let’s abolish reading groups with upper, middle, and lower tracks. Sure it puts groups children of like ability together, but it makes the low group feel stupid. We mustn’t damage their self esteem.
If everyone gets the prize, the prize isn’t worth much. At best this progressive model produces a self-satisfied complacency. Outside of school, no one will have any respect for it at all. People who can’t adjust to that reality may counter with a defiant inability to hear any criticism at all.
So perhaps self esteem ought to be based on accomplishment, achievement, merit. It will mean something. Right?
That’s the old fashioned way. Do I need to belabor the trouble with it? It’s why the progressive model came along in the first place.
Probably everyone excels at something. It might be good grades or other marks of intellectual achievement. It might be athletic prowess. It might be artistic, mechanical, or social ability.
It’s good for people who are good at something to know it and gain satisfaction from it. Unfortunately, achievers are tempted to equate their particular achievements with their self worth. Scripture calls that pride. And in Scripture, pride is always evil.
On the one hand, they are tempted to look down on anyone who does not share the same excellence. On the other, when they find themselves in a group of people who have achieved even more, their good feelings about themselves can vanish. They can start thinking of themselves as failures.
And what about people who have no feelings of self worth? They consume themselves with thoughts of what failures they are. But whether people think of themselves as good because of real or perceived achievement or bad because of real or perceived failure, they are still focusing attention on themselves. And that is still pride.
How to be wonderful without pride
What follows is a meditation on Psalm 139:13-15. I will express it in first person singular. But please don’t read these words as my description of myself. Read them for and as yourself.
For you, God, created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).
My inmost being is not just my internal organs. It is the immaterial part of me: my soul and my spirit
And what is my soul? The Greek is psyche, the root of “psychology.” My soul is what psychologists study: my mind (including both intellect and emotion), my will, basically my whole personality.
My spirit is the part of me that is most nearly god-like. God is spirit, and so am I. I have a soul. I live in a body. God created my spirit, my inmost being, and wrapped it in a soul and body.
Out of all the egg cells my mother produced and all the sperm cells my father produced, God chose to make me. He chose me instead of the thousands of other people he could have created.
He chose the color of my skin, hair, and eyes. He chose how tall I would grow. He chose the general shape of my skeleton. He created my body for me.
He chose what things I can do well and what things I can’t. He chose each psychological aspect that makes up my personality.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well (Psalm 139:14).
I am a work of God. I am wonderful. Yes! I am wonderful. How could I be otherwise? God himself made me. God made me in his own image. I am his workmanship. I am his masterpiece. My body is wonderful. My soul is wonderful. My spirit is wonderful.
Alas, there was that incident in Eden, where the first people committed high treason and chose to obey Satan instead of God. Satan became the god of this world, and all he wants to do is steal, kill, and destroy.
Sin has marred the wonderful appearance. It is sand in the gears of my wonderful soul. It quickly cut my spirit apart from its intended unity with God’s spirit.
But sin does not change the fact that I am a work of God and therefore wonderful. It just means that he has to clean me up and disentangle me from Satan’s influence. And for him to do that, I have to cooperate and let him.
When I turn to him in faith (which I can only obtain as his gift), he begins to work to restore what Satan damaged—and what I damaged by listening to Satan’s voice and heeding it.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body (Psalm 139:15).
If I must cooperate with God in order for him to cleanse and restore me, I don’t find it easy. It looks hard. It looks unpleasant.
As Adam hid from God in the garden for shame after his treason, so I hide from him. I hide from other people. I am tempted to hate what I have become. I am under the delusion that what I have become is what I really am.
But try as I might, I can’t hide from God. After all, he has already seen more of me than I can ever see of myself. He made me for his pleasure. He made me in order to love me. And despite Satan’s lies, my sin did not make him stop loving me.
All praise and glory to you, Lord, for your indescribable gift.
I am wonderful—not because of all the things I’m good at, not because of my personality, not because of anything I can possibly claim credit for. Just as nothing I can do makes me wonderful, nothing that I can do can every make me anything but wonderful.
I am wonderful and entitled to believe myself wonderful for no other reason than that God made me wonderful. Click to tweet.
Self esteem shop. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.
Book cover. Amazon
Creation of Adam / Michelangelo. Public domain