In September 2017 while thinking of possible article topics suitable for Christian singles, I wrote in my journal several topics, including, “The gospel of self-esteem and positive self-image”.
My intention was to speak against the popular message of self-esteem and positive self-image, relating it to the life of Christian singles.
I never wrote the articles, because they were being compiled for a future time. Therefore, I completely forgot about the topic of self-esteem.
In July 2018 I was jotting down ideas and topics for a new book, whereupon flipping through my old journal I came across those topics. Because of the title of the book I intended to write, I was surprised to discover I’d ever intended to write against self-esteem and positive self-image.
I tried to think of the reason why I had had that intention, but somehow I just couldn’t remember it.
So I went on to write my book. One year after jotting down “The gospel of self-esteem and positive self-image, in September 2018, my ebook, Self-Esteem and the Single was ready for free download. It was well written. I was satisfied with the way I’d expressed my views.
On September 14th 2018, I posted a photo of myself on Facebook with the caption having something to do with self-esteem, precisely self-liking. A new friend I’d just made, a wonderful sister in Christ, became concerned and sent me a message to correct my wrong view.
I defended myself and my opinions and we ended the chat by somehow acknowledging that each party needed to learn something new.
There was unease in my spirit about my book. It did not begin with my friend contacting me. It had been present when I was researching and compiling information for the book.
In fact there had been moments when I’d thought to discontinue with the project. For I questioned the relevance of such a work. I even sought counseling, underneath which was the desire to get another person’s approval so I could overcome that noticeable fear and observation that the work was much ado about nothing.
I always write from my heart. If I write something amiss, during quiet time with the Lord or during night-time when I’m lying on the bed, usually I’d be made to realize where corrections are necessary. That’s basically how I work.
But writing from the heart was not the case with Self-esteem and the Single. The book was generally very hard to write, the ‘anointing’ was simply lacking, even though I prayed incessantly throughout the writing period.
Deep within me I wanted my words to be spirit-filled in order to bless my readers. But the flow was not coming on easily. I had to practically force the book to be written.
And because of that feeling of unease, I sought refuge in great writing. I also asked others for their opinion, seeking to understand if they considered my intentions worthwhile.
When I later gave the manuscript to a friend to review, she remarked about the beautiful writing style. That was one thing I enjoyed during proofreading and editing.
When I reached the conclusion, it even became harder to write. ‘What have I really said in these pages?’ I asked myself. ‘Is it really necessary?’
I hastily wrote the conclusion, with an awful feeling within me.
After proofreading and editing, I made the book freely available online.
But why did I go ahead to write a book when the ‘anointing’ was absent? I will explain later.
When my said friend contacted me with a negative opinion about self-esteem, I defended myself. But God was not yet through opening my eyes to some things which I’d wrongly conceived, or statements I’d made that could be potentially misconstrued.
Not long thereafter, I stumbled on C. S. Lewis book, Mere Christianity. One of the chapters was captioned, The Great Sin, talking about pride.
Lewis didn’t say the exact opposite of what I’d written but he made statements that caused me to begin thinking seriously about the things I had said. For example, applying to self-respect or self-dignity to overcome vices or sins.
In my book, I had stated that sometimes low self-esteem can cause singles, even Christian singles, to indulge in vices and unhealthy behaviors, for example, sexual immorality. And that is true.
But what is the remedy? Positive self-esteem? Positive self-image? NO!
The remedy is obedience to God’s Word. God-esteem!
How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.
10 With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
11 Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.
Several self-esteem messages give this advice: do not indulge vices because they are below your dignity or self-respect. As such, sin is no longer wrong doing against God and fellow man, but wrong doing against self-respect, self-pride.
Lewis says, concerning that line of thought, “The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride.”
Right now I’m thinking of members of a certain ministry where they are taught Identity in Christ in ways that have produced very prideful believers. They are royalty, kings and queens; that is the reason they are told to give up destructive habits.
Because of their royal status, they can’t dress anyhow, they must look catchy even if they have to borrow and strain themselves financially in order to maintain that appearance.
On the surface the royalty message sounds good. There’s some little truth there. Apostle Paul usually encourages the Christian to live holy by drawing their attention to their new status as God’s Children, with whom sinful lifestyles are incompatible.
But the fruit of the kings and queens teaching is not attractive. In my interaction with some of them, these guys hardly consider anyone out of their circle to be equal or fellow believers with them. They look at others condescendingly, as an inferior class of believers. And part of it is this self-dignity thing. Instead of glorying in God, they’ve turned to glory in themselves.
This deception is so subtle. The claim of glorying in who they are in Christ is right, but they fail to see that they are not really glorying in Christ, but in how they feel and think about themselves. Hence the pride.
You see the fruit is bad, indicating the root is bad. It’s subtle and dangerous.
When I read C.S Lewis’ book, I admitted to myself that my book needed rewriting, some sort of overhaul. I thought of possible changes to the title and some of the content. I then tried rewriting, but again, the anointing was absent.
I abandoned the project for a future time.
Until I read appendix 3 of John Piper’s book, Desiring God. He completely shattered one of my evidences that positive self-esteem and positive self-image is worth talking about.
Does your low self-esteem indicate you hate yourself?
What does it mean to love your neighbor as you love yourself? John Piper answers that question in quite a different way from how proponents of self-esteem and positive self-image have interpreted the Scriptural command to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself“.
Piper says Jesus supposed you already love yourself. From that supposition comes the command to love others the same way.
That doesn’t make sense to the self-esteem promoter, because someone with low self-esteem is usually portrayed as hating or disliking themselves, or wanting to be someone else.
But that is not true. A low self-esteem sufferer loves himself. That is why he’s unhappy with the inadequacies that make him feel inferior to others. It is love for himself that makes him feel bad about lacking what others have. It is love for his wellbeing that causes him to seek comfort in envy, viciousness, resentment, jealousy or even sexual immorality. It is love for himself that pushes him to seek the approval and acceptance of men even if it means compromise of godly principles or undue pressure on himself.
This way of loving himself is wrong and sinful, because it tends to put him in an unhealthy position. It is out of line with God’s Word. Yet we cannot fail to recognize that it is still love for his wellbeing that pushes him to do what he does to alleviate what he perceives as a problem or threat to that wellbeing.
The best way to love himself is not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to believe God’s Word and align his life in accordance with God’s perspective. That way he experiences true joy and peace.
In Romans 12, Paul talks about the individual Christian having a sober judgment or opinion of himself. The first two verses contain the encouragement for us to present our bodies, including our mental faculties, as living sacrifices to God. That way of life is our reasonable service or worship unto the Lord.
Here is verse 2 in the Amplified Version.
2 DO NOT BE CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD (THIS AGE), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], BUT BE TRANSFORMED (CHANGED) BY THE [ENTIRE] RENEWAL OF YOUR MIND [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will.
The Christian who regularly feeds on God’s Word and lives in accordance with the same would hardly have some of the issues with low self-esteem and poor self-image. The transformation of his mind brings about a change in attitude and perspective. There’s joy to be derived from knowing your life pleases God.
Colossians 3:1-2 say, If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
You would find that a God-honoring Christian, with a proper knowledge of God’s Word, should have nothing to do with the competition and self-absorption that usually fuel feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem.
Going on in Chapter 12 of Romans, from verse 3, Paul destroys competition (and presumably feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem) by drawing our attention to each individual’s uniqueness in being endowed by God differently for different and special purposes.
Though the context applies to life within the Christian community and the use of spiritual gifts, the lessons can still be implied in our interactions with others. We’re each different. Each person would fare well to accept what God has apportioned for him, and to seek to live for God alone, instead of envying others and feeling awful about himself
Without self-absorption AND comparison of yourself with others, low self-esteem or feelings of inferiority would be dead.
Do unto others as you would want done to you.
The command, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” therefore is a call to seek the wellbeing of our neighbor the same way we seek our own wellbeing. It has nothing to do with self-esteem or positive self-image.
Back to my book. The reason that prompted me to write it in the first place (which I soon believed was God asking me to write the book, you see why I endured the unease?) was the experiences I’ve witnessed with many Singles. I believe some of the wrong choices Singles made, and still make, is rooted in an image of themselves that is poor. They do not have a proper value tagged on themselves.
The content of the book was not completely wrong. There were equally correct and wonderful things I wrote, like wrong ways in which people, including Singles, seek to overcome feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem. I talked about the pursuit of intimacy with God, the importance of knowing His love and grace, and living a life of purpose.
But the basis for the book was so wrong that the good things seemed to have been drowned out by the louder voice.
After reading what John Piper wrote, I just had to repent and ask the Lord to forgive me for the people I had misinformed through my book. My heart might have been in the right place, but all the same I was wrong. And I couldn’t justify myself before the Lord – that unease I’d felt, that heaviness I’d experienced during writing, had been the Spirit of God grieving over the project, communicating to my spirit that I should discontinue with the writing.
I had already unpublished the book for rewriting after reading C.S Lewis. But after reading Piper, I decided the book should be deleted.
I still want to encourage Christian singles to live right, but none of that has to do with their self-esteem or positive self-image.
It is obedience to the Lord and the honor of His name that should motivate the Christian, whether married or single, poor or rich, ugly or attractive, educated or uneducated, to live a clean life. Any resort to self-esteem or positive self-image as a motivation to right behavior is self-centered and does not please God.
Let the world talk about positive self-image, and not the church.
While it is true that our feeling of self-worth improves with our knowledge of who God says we are, the Christian’s goal in life is not the attainment of positive self-worth. Our aim is to please the Lord, regardless of how we feel or see ourselves.
The single person dates the right way, following God’s Word, and not because of self-esteem and positive self-image. The single person abstains from sexual immorality because it is a command from God, not because of self-dignity or self-respect. The only respect here should be honor for the Owner of our lives, God, and the price He paid to purchase us to Himself.
Other challenges singles face, as I stated in my book, can be adequately dealt with by esteeming God above all else.
Low self-esteem is real, a poor self-image is real. And these are very unhealthy conditions which should not be encouraged. But their true remedy, especially for the Christian is not attainment of positive self-image through ‘techniques’ to improve self-confidence or attainment of some worldly goal that would make you feel good about yourself or gain the approval and admiration of others.
For the Christian, the remedy is God-esteem. The pursuit of God. The pursuit of intimacy with God. The pursuit of God’s will for your life.
Feelings of positive self-worth come as an accidental byproduct of relationship with God, a desire to live for Him alone, a desire to honor Him in whatever circumstances.
Instead of talking self-esteem, Christians should talk God-esteem. The focus should be shifted from self to God. The focus shouldn’t be how we feel about or think about ourselves; the focus should be living a life that honors the Lord, regardless of our feelings.
I can’t overstate the importance of a deep knowledge of God’s Word and a vibrant relationship with him. As stated in Colossians 3:1-2, such a relationship with God must include a heart that stays itself on the things of God.
That way, self-absorption or obsession with self-image just has no place. A heart that is constantly filled with Jesus and his amazing love and grace for us, a heart that yearns to know God more and fulfill his will, has no room for self.
Unfortunately, destructive teachings have subtly crept in among us that hardly allow the mind to be stayed on things above. We’re mostly living for the here and now. There’s so much competition among Christians on things that do not matter in the light of God’s glory and eternity.
We compete with each other, not in terms of how pleasing our lives are or should be to God, but in how far above or below us others are in the achievement and attainment of worldly goals. Hence pride or inferiority depending on which rung of the ladder you are in.
The Christian suffering from low self-esteem or feelings of inferiority needs to repent or turn away from a negative mindset. The righteous are as bold as a lion (Proverbs 28:1). God has not given us the spirit of timidity but the spirit of boldness, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Our insecurities and fears do not originate from God, they originate with us staying our minds on ourselves and comparing ourselves with each other.
The Christian with low self-esteem also needs to start filling his mind with God’s thoughts; he must start staying that mind on things above, not things on earth.
2 SET YOUR AFFECTION ON THINGS ABOVE, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
I recommend this other article from gotquestions.org How should christians view self-esteem?