“You are worthy”
“Believe in yourself.”
“You are the hero of your own story.”
“Never give up on your dreams”
I grew up during what seemed like the peak of the self-esteem movement, during the 90s and early 2000s. Some of the phrases above were on posters all over my elementary classrooms. It’s not really surprising, then, that the self-esteem generation has now woven it into their theology, doctrine, and the core of their faith itself. They’ve made almost a new gospel entirely: The Self Esteem Gospel.
The Self Esteem Gospel
The self-esteem gospel encourages people to believe in themselves, try harder, love themselves more, never give up, and prioritize themselves. These things are all good things. But the problem with that gospel is that it fundamentally encourages people towards themselves instead of Jesus. It puts good things in front of the best thing.
The self-esteem gospel can be defined as a set of beliefs and principles that push you towards yourself, your desires, and your own effort & power, and make your happiness, freedom, and satisfaction the ultimate aim of life. The Self Esteem Gospel tries to solve the human condition with encouragement to try harder.
The opposite of the Self Esteem Gospel is not hating ourselves or viewing ourselves abusively, but viewing God in his rightful place. We are able to love others and ourselves more when we view God correctly–as perfect, holy, and loving.
Freedom: The Gospel
The self-esteem gospel pushes you towards your self, your desires, and your own power. But the gospel pulls you away from yourself, your desires, and your power. It makes the glory of God and the love of others the ultimate goal of life–usually at the expense of your self, your desires, your happiness, and your freedom. Exactly the opposite of the self esteem gospel. The Gospel puts the responsibility for joy and peace and freedom from shame not onto yourself, but onto Jesus.
Have you believed the messaging of the self-esteem gospel? Here are some signs you may have:
- You believe you need to love yourself before you can love anything else
- You believe your mindset and what you think about yourself is what makes you “enough”
- You never want to quit anything, because you want to make sure you live up to your potential
- You believe that you create your own identity based on your desires, feelings, and personal truth.
None of this means we sit back and wait for God to do everything for us. We have a responsibility too, but we need to learn what our responsibility is and what God’s responsibility is. The Self Esteem Gospel places many of God’s responsibilities in our hands. The Gospel puts those responsibilities back in his hands.
Our responsibilities include: working hard where God calls us to, resting enough, obeying and abiding with him and his Word, loving God and others, and trusting that he will be faithful to us.
God’s responsibilities include: Giving us his Spirit, always being with us, giving joy and freedom and love, satisfaction, and redemption.
We are unable to cure our own shame and insecurity. Willing ourselves to be happy will not result in happiness. Loving ourselves more will not make us feel wholly loved. As humans, we cannot find joy, freedom, and love within ourselves, only from God.
If my only solution to your problems is to “keep trying”, what happens when you fail? What happens when you yell at your kids after you told yourself you wouldn’t? All I could tell you is: Try harder next time! Believe in yourself! If I don’t have something that will actually, at the foundational level, cure the root of that problem, what I’m telling you is worthless. I would be pointing you to yourself. I would be pointing you to your own power.
The thing that we are overcome by is not external, it is us. The thing we cannot find freedom from is within us. We don’t need a whole culture telling us to pursue what we need freedom from. Instead of attempting to find freedom from yourself within yourself, your true freedom will be found in God.
We can’t overcome any problem of sin and pain by ourselves. If we could, I think we would have reached the pinnacle of humanity by now, instead of all still struggling to like how we look in a pair of jeans. Believing we are capable to find freedom on our own is foolish, and we only deceive ourselves and keep ourselves trapped in our struggles. We fail to acknowledge that our “self” is our true problem. We need something, someone, to help us find freedom from our shame, our insecurity, and our not-enoughness. But even more than that, we need someone to give us a way to find freedom from the sin that is within us. We don’t need freedom to just love ourselves, we need freedom from ourselves.
It’s not good news to be told your happiness and success are up to you. But it’s the best news to be told you’re not enough, but you can be through Christ.
There is a better way than the Self Esteem Gospel. We need to know that the only way to live a satisfied life is to live within the mission God has given us – to bring glory to him – not to ourselves. You can quit relying on your own power and exchange it for God’s power. You can quit trying to love yourself *enough* to feel accepted and free of insecurity, because God does it perfectly. You can quit never quitting, because God sometimes asks you to give up your dreams–but his ways are always better.