Self Esteem for Christians

I was talking to a pastor friend today. I mentioned that the problem with collectivist ways of feeling good about yourself, e.g. identifying with your whiteness, blackness, ancestry, nationalism, or any other kind of tribe or group, even your sect of Christianity, is the absolute wrong way to achieve self-esteem.

Instead, I said, you have to do something if you want to feel good about yourself. If you believe that honesty is important, then you have to DO the truth. If you believe that courage is important, then you have to DO courageous things. If you don’t live up to what you actually think is right, then you probably should feel bad. If you do what you know you ought to do based on the realities of life and the values you cherish (really cherish, not just say you cherish), then you will feel and should feel esteem for yourself. Would you feel esteem for someone who lived that way? Of course you would, unless you don’t actually value those things.

My friend was quick to point out, “Well, we should esteem ourselves based on God’s acceptance of us.”  

Yes, that is true.  We get our identity from the gospel.  God made us in his image, and furthermore, he loves us even though we have really messed some things up.  He sent his Son to die for us so that he could justify us and adopt us as his own children.  There is esteem there to be accepted as a gift.  

But…

I still think that if you believe what you say you believe about what is good, especially assuming you derived those opinions from your good Father in heaven, that you won’t, and probably shouldn’t feel esteem for yourself if you do not live up to them. You might protest that what I am asking is too difficult, that I am asking you to be perfect (Although it was Jesus, not me who said, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”). You might protest that you wouldn’t need a Savior if you could do all that. Maybe so, but I’m not wrong, and millions of unhappy, self-loathing Christians know it.

Without diving too deep right here, I’ll say that I think that God actually means for us to be like Jesus.  He wants us to know who we are, to live according to the principles he has given us in Scripture, and in what is obvious in creation.  As humans, let alone Christians, we are always given the choice between moving towards life, and moving towards death.  Humans have to choose to live, or they choose to die.  Choosing to live means to accept the reality of the Logos, the reason, the substance, the laws with which God created the universe.  Man was made in the image of God to live.  In fact he said that we should “produce, multiply, subdue earth, and rule over it.”  I believe he built us to get a kick out of living, to find joy in, not merely surviving, but constantly choosing to rise higher. 

We must choose what promotes our lives and leaves our death behind, starting with a relationship with God through Christ, but also seeking our good and the good of others. Taking responsibility for the talents, resources, gifts, and chances that we are given, and building upon them according to the laws of truth, justice, mercy, love, and industry, is how we act like the God who put us here to rule in his image as his delegates. All this we do for our own sakes, for HIS sake, and for his glory.

If we learn to live in the way he created us to live, no one will have to convince us to esteem ourselves. Our esteem will have nothing to do with comparison to others, or power over others, or association with a group (American, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Southern Baptists, Antifa, LGBTQ+, White, Black, Brown, Asian, Southern, Northern, Atheist, white collar, blue collar, or any kind of group imaginable). Rather it will be the just evaluation of righteousness and human being. That is, being human.

How Not to Glorify Yourself

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,

    lest you take part in her sins,

lest you share in her plagues;

5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven,

    and God has remembered her iniquities.

6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,

    and repay her double for her deeds;

    mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.

7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,

    so give her a like measure of torment and mourning,

since in her heart she says,

    ‘I sit as a queen,

I am no widow,

    and mourning I shall never see.’

8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,

    death and mourning and famine,

and she will be burned up with fire;

for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.” — Revelation 18:4-8

Part of my message to Christians and everyone else is that you were made in the image of God.  That means something philosophical about how you should see yourself and everyone else.  An image bearer is an amazing thing.  All image bearers are amazing because of the God whose image we bear.  

God made you.

He made you in his image.

You exist. 

God does everything for his own sake.  

This is logical.  Who else is going to do things for God’s own sake?

He does everything in for his own sake because he exists.  He is a fact.  When he acts, he must act to do what he wants to do, and what he feels he must do according to his nature and his purposes. 

This is to his glory that he does that.

You, bearing his image, must act the very same way if you are going to be philosophically honest. If you don’t acknowledge this, you will still act as though you believe up to a point.

Why?  Because you must.  You are not an organism that instinctively cares for its needs.  Amoebas do. Plants do.  When the resources are there, plants reach out their roots and leaves and take what they need.  Animals are higher order and more complex.  They do the same thing by instinct.  They get hungry, so they get hunting.  Their sensory perceptions move them according to their impulses.  

But people are different. Because we are image bearers of God, we think and reason like God. Being a human is a burden. It requires logical thinking. We feel impulses toward pleasure seeking and the avoidance of pain.

But we, unlike animals, cannot trust that those impulses are telling us the truth about what is important.

On top of that, we have sin in our flesh.  As mysterious as it all is, there is something to the idea that our first parents achieved in their rebellion a dark “knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 3).

In order for us to know which impulses to follow, and which to ignore for the sake of something better for us, we must think (See footnote). This is how we are like God. We have to have a way to know how to make decisions. God makes decisions in alignment with his nature, and his purposes. Every single solitary thing he does and says falls into line with who he is. Even his purposes are subordinate to his nature, or his being.

What I mean is, he does nothing illogical. He does nothing imperfect. Everything about him, even though “his ways are higher than our ways” (Isa 55:8-9) makes sense from this perspective. Consider that he loves justice, truth, love, mercy, goodness, and perfection. We are not perfect like him, but because he is perfect, he cannot sit by and allow us to continue in injustice, lying, hatred, cruelty, badness, and impurity. If you went somewhere and saw someone doing something awful to someone else, and you did nothing about it, you would be wrong. You would be showing a weakness of character. Perhaps it would be cowardice, or you know you do the same things, or you just don’t want to care about other people.

Imagine that God sees all of our sin, because he does.  He must respond rightly to it because his character is completely good, and perfect.  He cannot NOT respond.  So there is wrath for sin combined with his perfect love for the sinner.  What did he do in order to forgive sinners, while maintaining the standards of his character?  The answer is that God the Son, Jesus Christ, came and lived perfectly, then died for the sins of the world.  Anyone who believes in him and repents will be forgiven for their sins, no matter how grievous.  

That is totally logical.  Most forgiveness is painful, the cross showed exactly that.  

The cross happened because God makes decisions in alignment with his purposes. His purposes fall underneath the reality of his nature, his character, the facts of his personality. This is also called his glory (Isa 45).

You should live the same way.  In fact, you will.  In sin you fell short of the glory of God (Ro 3).  Jesus died to restore you to glory.  Glorification is your destiny in heaven.  Does this mean you will ever eclipse God’s glory?  Not remotely.  No matter how high we could rise, the Creator always is more glorious than what he has created.  Michelangelo is more glorious than the Sistine Chapel, Frank Lloyd Wright is more glorious than Fallingwater, and God is more glorious than the Grand Canyon, the Aurora Borealis, or you.  

So because we exist, and because we must act according to our purposes, which must line up and fall under our nature and character, we must work hard to know what is true and what is right.  Our purposes will become evident as we make decisions about who to be.  This is what it means to act like God.  God is perfect and doesn’t need to work on it.  We are imperfect and must first put some serious thought into the matter, and then we must learn to take control over our impulses.  

This is what it means to be an image bearer of God. The name of this blog is For My Own Sake. Let me be clear: I believe in doing everything for God’s sake ultimately. His glory is my chief end. The pursuit of my own “glory” is merely my attempt to come to terms with the reality, or the facts of reality. I exist. I must live. God has appointed me to live, and so that is my job. My life is my penultimate purpose, God being my ultimate purpose.

This has major implications. In my decision making, I must think of this. What does it mean to make my life one of my highest purposes? It means seek out the truth, and come under it. Believe what is true on every level that there is, starting with God, all the way down to the truth about what is going on in my life. For instance, last week I noticed a soft spot on my roof under the shingles. I would have enjoyed evading that truth. I would have liked to keep pretending there was no problem. But instead I spent a few brutal days racing against the coming rainstorm, pulling up shingles, replacing boards, and reshingling. I am not handy, but I had to do it. It was 90 degrees and very humid. I hated every minute of it, but since I didn’t want to pay someone else to do it, I had to. Because the truth was that my roof was rotting under there. To pretend it wasn’t happening would not change the fact.

You can think of a million examples. You evade the truth about your marriage until it is too late. You evade the truth about your rebellious tween, until it is too late. You evade the truth about your high blood pressure, until it is too late. You evade the truth about the shady business practices of your employer, until it is too late and you are in trouble with him. But God never evades the truth. He is unable. Your job is to learn to become unable to evade the truth.

Image bearing also means becoming unable to:

  • Hate
  • Be anxious
  • Avoid responsibility
  • Deny forgiveness
  • Hoard wealth
  • Steal
  • Shun Christian community
  • Seek the praise of men, doing things to be seen
  • Exasperate your children
  • Dishonor your parents
  • Kick the dog

This list is unending.  

This is how we should seek our own glory, by being like God in that we know we must choose to do things to promote our own life, because God has assigned us to do that, for his glory. So, this is why I say I do things for my own sake, for his sake. I do things for my own glory for his glory. But the Bible is clear about what that does not look like. Look up at Revelation 18:4-8. This is a personification of Babylon, a great, yet evil city we may be seeing now, but most likely is yet to come.

Verse 7 says, “As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says,  ‘I sit as a queen…’”

There is clearly a wrong way to glorify yourself.  It has to do with seeking the praise of others, and seeking power over others.  It is seen as an affront to God, and a challenge to his position at the top of creation. Why is this bad?  Aside from the fact that the queen, the city, was full of evil and depraved behavior, it defies logic and truth for someone to set themselves up higher than God.  You cannot be higher than your maker.  It warps the structure of reality to pretend so.  In the Bible, God is offended by that sort of thing, because he cannot be otherwise.  He is the most glorious thing, so he must sit at the top.  To do any less would be dishonest of him, and he cannot be dishonest, because he cannot go against his own nature.  

Most people seek glory by showing off, by controlling others, and by trying to feel important. That way is bankrupt and will lead to judgment and also will come with a fair amount of misery in this life.

But God would have you seek glory by learning what is true, and applying the truth to your purpose of living your abundant life in God. Use your brain every day to make decisions about what is best considering the truth of reality. What are the facts? How should those facts be considered as you prayerfully plan your course? This is good stewardship, and according to the Bible, God loves it, and loves to bless those who practice it. I feel compelled here to end with a prayer:

Father in heaven, I pray for anyone who has read this far that you will teach them to be like you, to be glorified in the right way, by trusting Jesus for salvation, and then taking responsibility for their life as an image bearer of you. Help us all to live according to your ways, and that our nature would become more and more like yours. Teach us to do everything for the sake of our abundant life, and to do nothing to be seen by others, or to take power over others. Amen.

Footnote: I owe some of my thinking about making my life my purpose and the necessity of thinking to the philosophy of Objectivism and its founder, Ayn Rand. Rand was not a Christian, and I do not endorse the complete philosophy of Objectivism, but I have found the logical propositions helpful, and I have not found any “reason” in Objectivism to disbelieve in the resurrection.

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 5, Treating Others as Better than Yourself

Treating Others as Better than Yourself

The Bible calls us to “consider others as better than [our]selves” (Phil 2:3). How can this be if we are supposed to begin our stewardship of all God has given us at the most basic level, ourselves? The answer lies in the sense in which God speaks these words. To put others before ourselves can only be done in a certain way. This is a huge hang up for most people, because they think it means something that it doesn’t. But if it meant what part of us thinks it means, life would be very short: You wake up one morning determined to put others first. You feel hungry and start to get out your cereal bowl, but just as you are taking down the cereal, you worry that your neighbor hasn’t eaten. Is it common for them to miss a meal? No, but what does that matter? He has not yet eaten, so you must offer your cereal to him. Plus, you have more cereal.

But wait, what about the other neighbor? Pretty soon there is no more food in the house. No matter, you have money, so you head off to the grocery store, but you get a little sick feeling when you walk in because there are other people there. You will need to pay for all their groceries before you pay for your own. Why? Because they are all to come before you. As soon as you find someone who is not in need of your food, you can eat. But that is just it, with seven billion people in the world, you don’t have a chance.

You might be thinking this sounds crazy and you would never do that. I believe you, but you still think you are supposed to…deep down…although you don’t, because at least part of you knows that is ludicrous.  These two parts are in contradiction.  You’ll never truly live it out, but you’ll always feel somewhat guilty.  This will always hold you back from enjoying what you have or truly giving out of your abundance.  

Let’s consider honor.  If everyone is greater than you, and should go before you, and should be considered to be a better person, then you might as well find a dirty floor somewhere where people are walking by all day and just bow down, face in the dirt, and live there.  But in fact, this would be dishonest.  Everyone is not greater than you.  Some people are greater than you by certain standards.  They might be more loving, honest, industrious, courageous, free in Christ.  They are ahead of you.  They are your equals in intrinsic value because you are both created in the image of God. 

Nevertheless, Jesus does say to put others first and to take the lowest place. He did wash the feet of the disciples, though he considered himself their Lord (Jn 13). He did say that whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Mk 10:43). So why did he say that if it is impossible? Because it is only impossible in a certain sense.

In a completely different sense, on a completely different plane, it is not only possible, but required.

We are not to rank ourselves in order of value. So we are not to take personal power over another. We are not to use others. We are not to violate the rights of others: taking their property, looking down on them, treating them as though they are not our equals, keeping from them equal opportunities, judging them by anything but the content of their character. We are to be just.

And when it comes to ourselves, we are to take our identity from the only place we are truly allowed to, from God and our very being. We have an identity as image-bearers, little “i ams,” and we have identity from Aristotle’s law of identity that says, a thing is a thing. Existence is a pretty profound truth, and as such, makes us matter. Since we matter, we don’t need anyone else to make us matter. We don’t need to elevate ourselves in status with our wealth and stuff, comparing to others and climbing in a class or status system. Class is irrelevant. Status is irrelevant. Being better than anyone else is irrelevant. Only who we are in God and in being/existing is relevant. After that, it is proper to judge ourselves by the ways that God tells us to: character, love, courage, truthfulness, purity. Being and existing according to these qualities is not penance or a way to win with God; it is rather the nature of the abundant life that Jesus died to give us.

So when should I consider others above myself?  When it would be justice to do so.  For instance, you are in a room with your family.  Everyone is reading and quiet. You decide to pull out your iPad and watch TV with no headphones.  There was an unspoken agreement that everyone was being quiet. You have broken it.  You need to have some terms with the others who are sharing the room, and treat each other fairly.  This is right, or righteous.  No one should be allowed to trample the rights of the others.  It is not proper.  

What about the others in the room? Should they say, “No, you are more important than us. Watch your show. We’ll deal with it.” If you were only one person saying that, it might be a Christlike thing to do. Except it could be a little dishonest if you are going to resent the iPad watcher. But as long as there are others there, they are the ones to stand up for.   An agreement needs to be spoken out loud with some ground rules and boundaries.  We’ll be quiet for an hour and then watch TV for an hour.  Again, you can be magnanimous and give up your own claims, but it actually isn’t right to allow them to be rude, to enable them.  

In a similar way, giving your cereal to your neighbor robs him of an important aspect of being, that is, productiveness and finding his own provision, which is something God actually expects us to do (2 Thes 3:10). So when we give to help or serve others, it should not be done in a way that enables them to be less than human. Then it becomes unloving. Once we know this, to continue to do it belies a false motive on our part. Is it manipulation? Do we love feeling needed? Do we not want to make them upset by cutting them off?

Or worse, do we hate ourselves and it alleviates some of our self-hatred?

There is something going on, and it needs to be discovered and rooted out. Human nature is such that for a great many people, even our own semi-adult children, if we allow them to be freeloaders or parasites by our own “generosity,” we harm them, and we are supposed to love them too much to harm them.

Responsible to Rather than for

Much more can be said about helping, giving ,and serving others, but there are many good books and blogs already about it. The only other thing I will say is that we are not to be responsible for other people. Not anyone, not even our own children (at least not in the sense I’m getting at). But we are supposed to be responsible to everyone. Everyone. In what way? We are responsible to others to be truth tellers, courageous, generous (without enabling), loving, kind, patient, but also discerning. We are to show the way to God by being a concretization of the abstraction that is the Christian life. We are to lead all the “horses” to water, but never attempt to force them to drink. The “water” is God in Christ, the truth, righteousness and the kingdom of God. We show it, and we tell it, but we don’t coerce or manipulate others to live it. That violates them and the command of Jesus to not lead like the Gentiles (Mk 10:42).

Furthermore, whatever we say we will do, we do. We understand that the meaning of life is stewardship for the glory of God. Being. Pursuing life for our own sake, for his sake. This is what it means to be responsible to everyone. It shows value to others and puts them above yourself in the proper sense. In this way there are no contradictions. We treat people with integrity and goodness. The outcome of this truthful living is the right outcome. God will get his way, and we with regenerated spirit will love it.

Pride: Two Kinds

There are two kinds of pride. A good kind and a bad kind.  

What is the difference?  Indeed, what is the difference?  

The Good Kind

God created man in his image.  He delegated him to rule the earth in his name, to subdue it. To make things of it. To steward it.  He gives him gifts and talents to steward for his glory. Man should delight to function in these, to push himself to the limits of these for their own sake, for the Lord’s sake, because of the joy it brings.  

Isn’t that the way we were made to function? Would there be an exaltation in being man that would not rob glory from the Creator?  Could we not exult and still honor the one who is greater still than we could ever be?  

Could we not glory in Being itself?  Could we not take great joy in breaking out, and out, and out still further?  Could we not glory in doing a job well done, in bringing order to chaos, or chaos to totalitarianism?  

Could we view other men as intrinsic equals who are free to pursue the end of their own merits and potential?  Could we judge them, but not impartially, and not from a desire to defeat them, or to dominate them, or to take pride over them?  Could we love them and love their achievements as much as our own? Could we not give glory to God who made them as well as us?  Could we not join together in a “wise crowd,” and pool our talents, and energy?  Could we not glorify God in this pursuit?  

Could we not speak the truth to one another unashamedly?  Fearlessly? Lovingly, without fear of rejection? Rejection is a sign that someone is unworthy of us because they are not bearing God’s image properly. We can love them and move on. 

The good kind of pride loves life, affirms it.  The good kind of pride loves the Great God who made us, and Jesus Christ, the best of us. The good kind of pride loves its fellow man and expects the best of them, won’t settle for less. Won’t settle for less than total truth, total effort, total godliness, total righteousness. 

The Bad Kind

The bad kind of pride is envious of others.  The bad kind of pride seeks the recognition of men and puffs up when it gets it. The bad kind of pride gets mad at God for not making me better that I am, which means better than the men around me.  The bad kind of pride seeks the worship of others. The bad kind of pride hates. Hating one is hating all. Hating anyone is hating myself. Hating myself is hating God. 

The bad pride is suspicious of everyone and keeps score of status.  The bad kind of pride revels in dominating others because of our deep fear that we are nothing.  There is no joy in the bad pride.  There’s only suffering, arrogance, depression, anger, and fear.  The bad pride is hell. 

Cultivating the Good Pride

  1. Know God.
  2. Abide in God.
  3. Do right.
  4. Abide in God.
  5. When you have a chance to be courageous or cowardly, be courageous.
  6. Abide in God.
  7. When you have the chance to lie or tell the truth, tell the truth.
  8. Abide in God.
  9. When you have the chance to be responsible, or irresponsible with what God has assigned you (brushing your teeth, starting a company, raising a child), be responsible.
  10. Abide in God.
  11. When you see that you are holding a contradiction that to let go of will cause pain, choose to let go and go through pain. Wholeness and integrity is worth it. 
  12. Abide in God.

The good pride comes from knowing who God is, who you are in light of that, and walking according to what that means. It feels like being solid, settled in soul, happy, strong in spirit, and loving towards all. It feels like perfect peace. Don’t settle for less, and don’t go for the satanic bad pride. It’s hell.