Self-Esteem vs. Christ-Esteem

Devotionals from Leslie Ludy and the Set Apart Girl Team

Self-Esteem vs. Christ-Esteem

by Leslie Ludy | April 14, 2014

The message “love yourself” seems to be everywhere in modern culture - even in the church.  It’s a message that especially appeals to us as women. Today’s beauty and fashion industries promote a truly impossible standard for feminine beauty (i.e. “If you don’t look like a swimsuit model, you aren’t good enough!”), and consequently many of us are left feeling more insecure than ever. To combat the rampant problem of female insecurity, the self-esteem message often seems like a perfect solution. After all, if little girls can learn to “love themselves” regardless of whether society applauds them, they won’t struggle with low self esteem (and the poor choices that result from this attitude) as they grow older. And if women can learn to “feel good about themselves” regardless of their appearance of personal failures, they won’t wallow in self-condemnation and bring their marriages and families down in the process.

But learning how to love and feel good about ourselves is not the true solution to overcoming insecurity. Yes, it is important for us to understand how precious we are in God’s sight - so valuable, in fact, that He gave His only Son to rescue us. We should value our lives because we are made in the image of God; we are His creation. His love for us is truly unfathomable. And as Christian women, we are daughters of the King; redeemed and made into royalty through the work of the Cross. But when we make “feeling good about ourselves” a focal point, we quickly take our eyes off Christ and become wrapped up in self. 

Scripture tells us that we are not to have confidence in ourselves - but in Christ only (see Philippians 3:3). In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that he counts all his personal accomplishments “as rubbish” compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (see Philippians 3:8).

Jesus does not mince words on this point.  He says, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23) and “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37).

It may seem hard to believe that self-denial, rather than self-esteem, could actually be the solution to female insecurity. But when we let self fade into the background and become consumed with Jesus Christ, our personal insecurities will melt away. We no longer look to ourselves - our own merit, talent, beauty, or uniqueness - to find confidence. Instead, we learn to find our confidence in who He is, rather than in who we are.

Ian Thomas wrote,  “The Christian life can be explained only in terms of Jesus Christ, and if your life as a Christian can still be explained in terms of you – your personality, your willpower, your gift, your talent, your money, your courage, your scholarship, your dedication, your sacrifice, or your anything – then although you may have the Christian life, you are not yet living it.”

And Charles Spurgeon said, “If a soul has any beauty, it is because Christ has endowed that soul with His own, for in ourselves we are deformed and defiled! There is no beauty in any of us but what our Lord has worked in us."

Today we are often led to believe that we all have “beauty within us” and that if we could only learn to love ourselves “just the way we are” we would be confident and happy. But the reality is, as Spurgeon so straightforwardly put it, we do not actually possess any beauty or goodness of our own accord (see Psalm 14:3, 53:3). The only beauty or merit we can ever have is Jesus Christ’s. And His loveliness will only come shining through our lives when self has gotten out of the way. As John the Baptist declared, “I must decrease, but He must increase" (Jn. 3:30).

Rather than trying to build up our self-esteem and “feel good about ourselves” (which doesn’t produce lasting confidence anyway) we are to let thoughts of self fade completely into the background. Remember that to “deny ourselves” according to the biblical pattern literally means to lose sight of ourselves and our own interests. We will only gain lasting security when we look away from ourselves and toward Jesus Christ. The question “who am I?” is not nearly as important as the question, “who is He?”