A Proper View: Worldly Self-Esteem vs. Biblical Self-Image

by - 12:20 PM

Self-esteem and self-image have been used as interchangeable terms for as long as I can remember, but they are NOT the same thing. After researching the two, I believe one points to worldliness while the other allows for a godly perspective. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines self-esteem as “a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.” Synonyms (related words) listed are ego and pridefulness. However, the world says that we should all have a good sense of self-esteem. Does anyone see anything wrong with this picture? 

The world says we should love ourselves, we should be proud of ourselves, and we should not listen to what the “haters” say.
Some of this is okay, and some of it is not. Of course, we should be able to “stand firm against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11) and anyone else who hurls “sticks and stones” our way.  However, that confidence has everything to do with God’s strength in our life, not our own. And we are called to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37)…not ourselves! 

While the world cries, “Love yourself!” on one hand, on the other they often deny us the chance. The media is constantly triumphing model-type bodies, silky-shiny hair, and pearly whites that go “ding” when the light of the camera hits them. When we let ourselves be influenced by the world, we strive to have those same bodily qualities. We seek the “perfect” outward shape, when all the while God’s Word tells us that our focus should be more internal than external. 1 Peter 3:3-4 states, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment…rather it should be that of your inner self.” And Proverbs 31:30 warns us that “beauty is fleeting,” yet we seek after it in such a way that we battle near-depression if we don’t feel like we can measure up. With the increasing amount of reality TV shows about talent, our skills and abilities come into question as well when it comes to how we see ourselves. Contest after contest rules out great singers, dancers, and the like in order to promote the one most near-perfect performer. Entertainment is shaping our society to want fame and fortune in return for our talents rather than to use them in “[working] heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23-24). You can see how the lost world’s self-esteem trap could bring either feelings of arrogance if we DO (by chance) measure up or feelings of sadness and failure if we don’t. 

Consider this: the same renowned dictionary from above defined self-image as being “one’s conception of oneself or one’s role.” This term has a completely different meaning than self-esteem and simply refers to how we see ourselves. There is definitely room for ego and pride OR sadness and longing here, but these are not the goal. With self-image, the door opens wide for us to see ourselves as God intended: His children, beloved, set-apart. 

If we are feeling prideful about ourselves, we need to receive what is found in Romans 3. Verse 10 states, “There is no one righteous, not even one,” and verse 23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” On the flip side, if we are struggling to see how precious we are in God’s sight, Genesis 1:31 tells us God calls His creation “very good.” Psalm 139:14 declares we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And in Isaiah 43:6-7, God says His sons and daughters are “called by [His] name…created for [His] glory…formed and made” for His purposes. We can learn infinitely more about a proper view of self by studying the Bible daily and praying that God opens our eyes to the way He sees us. It also helps to surround ourselves with other believers who are willing to hold us accountable to what the Word says about us when we inevitably hit these highs and lows. 

So how do we avoid the traps of the world that would cause the self-esteem pendulum to swing to either extreme pride in or extreme dissatisfaction with ourselves? How do we instead gain a biblical self-image? It starts with opening our eyes and hearts to what God says about us...both the good and the bad. It is completed when we daily forsake our straying thoughts and feelings and replace them with a faith grounded in the truth of Christ. He is the only one who can return us to a proper view.

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