When Does Self-Esteem Go Too Far?
Posted at Reformation Scotland:
Much of our culture centres around self-image. From this perspective low self-esteem is both a danger and a tragedy. For several decades psychologists have also believed that low self-esteem was the root cause of many personal and social problems. Popular Christian psychology is influenced by it to a significant extent. Building and maintaining self-esteem is thought to be a key priority. Yet some have called into question the narcissicism this encourages. Certainly, few ever ask what might be the dangers of excessive self-esteem. What does Scripture say?
There is an interesting expression in Romans 12:3 that no one should “think of himself more highly than he ought to think”; but rather “think soberly”. This certainly seems contrary to the self-esteem movement. Some have preferred to think of self-compassion rather than self-esteem. Few think about whether low self-esteem might arise from pride as much as high self-esteem. Thinking “soberly” of ourselves achieves the balance, The puritans spoke of three types of self-love: natural, carnal and gracious. Carnal self-love is excessive indulgence of the natural instinct of self-preservation. Gracious self-love find its happiness and chief good in God. It seeks its own welfare in pursuing the higher ends of God’s glory rather than merely pleasing ourselves.
John Brown of Wamphray draws many interesting observations (many relating to pride in ministers) from this verse in his exposition of the book of Romans. The following are a selection:
1. Self-esteem goes too far when it Hinders Growth in Grace
Pride and conceitedness in the gifts we have received is a major hindrance to growth in grace and in holiness. It provokes God to leave us to ourselves because of the pride of our hearts. He does this so that we may find by experience how little strength we have to acquire anything and may learn to be humble in the future. This is clear from the connection with the former verses, where he had been pressing them to holiness (Romans 12:1-2). He begins verse 3 with the exhortation that they should not think too highly of themselves with the word “for” to make this connection.