Saints and Self-Worth
by Craig W. Ellison

"How we feel about ourselves affects every part of our lives"

Note: This is an article that appeared in the JANUARY 18,1984 issue of THE ALLIANCE WITNESS magazine. I now quote it in it's entirety:

"Much has been written about self-esteem in secular circles. More recently attention has been focused on the role of a sense of self-worth in the lives of Christians.

Within the Christian community there has been considerable debate about such an emphasis. On the one hand there are those who view any emphasis on self-esteem as fundamentally opposed to the Biblical idea of self-denial and true humility. On the other hand equally sincere Christians have argued that those who think poorly of themselves are unable to be all that God wants them to be.

Is a sense of self-worth important? Is it a sophisticated and subtle way to encourage people to become proud and spiritually independent? Or is it necessary in order for Christians to become spiritually mature?

Is Self-esteem Sinful?

Clearly the Bible warns against the improper elevation and over-estimation of ourselves. The sin of arrogance, of feeling that we have the necessary moral and spiritual resources to stand independently of and even over God, is abhorrent to God. Any talk of self-esteem built on such a base of spiritual pride must be vigorously rejected.

At the same time, the way we feel about ourselves seems to affect every part of our lives. It impacts on our job performance, family relationships, on our walk with God and on our general social relationships. It is either the foundation for a fulfilled and productive life or the quicksand of a life spent in struggle and unfulfilled potential. Research shows that people with a positive sense of self-worth are more able to give and receive love, are better adjusted and less anxious, and are more curious and show higher intellectual achievement. They are more positive about other people, more likely to become leaders, more successful in forming and keeping close friendships, more satisfied with life and more likely to have a positive relationship with God.

Actually, more often than not, arrogance is a sign that a person really does not accept himself or herself. A person who seems to be proud is usually afraid to admit faults and weaknesses to himself or to others. He has learned that to feel worthwhile he must be perfect. He cannot face the emotional pain of anything less.

As a result, he builds emotional and interpersonal barriers to deceive himself. He compares himself with others and builds his self-evaluation by putting them down. He is seldom wrong, it seems. The closest he gets to humility is the definition I recently heard: "The art of acting embarrassed while he tells others how great he is!"

Humility, in contrast, goes hand in hand with healthy self-worth. Appropriate self-worth is the ability to see our strengths and weaknesses and to still accept ourselves. It does not pretend to be perfect. Rather, the attitude is one the initials for which I have seen on pins: "Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet." Humility and positive self-worth are based on accuracy rather than on deception and defensiveness.

This is clearly the Biblical way. For example,
Romans 12:3 (NIV) exhorts, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment."
Galatians 6:3-4 states, "If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else." These verses do not tell us to feel worthless or to put ourselves down. Rather, they encourage us to carefully evaluate and test so that we do not fall into the pit of pride and self-deception.

Humility is not inferiority any more than self-worth is superiority. It is not going around with a tremor in one's voice, telling people how awful we are. It is not walking around with a very holy and depressed look while thinking we are nothing. God never intended for us to deny our value and to equate nothingness with spirituality. He wants vibrant, live, loving people; not empty, mechanical robots.

Are We Building on Sand or Rock?

Many of the values which our society uses as the yardstick of worth center on what we do and how we compare with others, rather than on who we are. Parents, friends, even marriage partners can set up such false standards. Then if we fail to match up we are likely to feel depressed and worthless.

These values are:

1. Appearance:
The belief is that the better we look or the more physical perfection and prowess that we exhibit, the more valuable we are. Models, movie stars and professional athletes are idolized and emulated. They have a significant impact on the way many in our society try to look and act.

2. Achievement:
The idea is that the more we produce, the more worthwhile we are. We first encounter this with regard to intellectual and educational performance. Those with high IQs, good grades and more degrees are looked at most favorably. Those who reach the pinnacles of occupational productivity or the largest amount of sales or the top of the profession are made to feel valuable. Even in Christian circles those who have led the greatest number of souls to Christ, preached the best messages or fasted and prayed the most, are looked upon as the most worthwhile.

3. Affluence:
This value holds that the more we possess the better we are. Those who are without are looked down upon and suspected of being "do-nothings" or "no-good." Those who "have it made" are considered important people. For many people possessions become a kind of psychological security blanket, insuring their worth. For some, things become a substitute for people, for missing love or a way to buy affirmation.

4. Assertion:
The contemporary notion is that being in charge� being the one who is in control� brings a positive view of oneself. As we obtain power and rights we can insure self-value.

These four values are like shifting sand because self-worth based on them is always relative to others and to performance. They easily lead to feelings of inferiority for those who do not make it or to arrogance for those who do.

Biblical Foundation Stones

In contrast. Biblical standards of self-worth are centered on what we are given (by God). We do not have to do anything to be worthwhile in God's eyes. We simply open ourselves to His love in order to experience His affirmation. The Biblical focus is on what God thinks of us
(1 Samuel 16:7), not what others think of us. The Biblical foundation stones for positive self-worth are:

1. Creation:
The story is told about the little boy who put a sign in big letters on his wall: "I'm me and I'm good, because God made me and God don't make junk." His English may not be the best but his theology is great.

In Genesis 1:26-27, 1:31 and 5:1 the Bible indicates that mankind was created in God's image. After God created human beings, He evaluated them and saw them as very good
(Genesis 1:31). He then assigned major responsibilities to Adam and Eve. "Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground"
(Genesis 1:28).

People grant responsibility to those whom they value. God also cared for man by providing food
(Genesis 1:29-30). We also care for those that we love. The picture presented in Genesis chapter 1 is that God deeply loved and valued Adam and Eve.

God did not only value mankind at the beginning, however. After the fall He still regarded human beings with "glory and honor," a little lower than the angels
(Psalm 8:5). And in the act of individual creation God gives each person special value, according to
Psalm 139. God gives each of us a special purpose in His plan and distinctive gifts for His purposes
(Romans 12:4-6). In recent studies I have found that those Christians who emphasize the place of individual gifts, God's value for us and God's love have a healthy sense of self-worth.

2. Redemption:
As I have already mentioned, God did not stop treating mankind as worthwhile when sin entered the picture. Instead He gave His beloved Son as a sacrifice for us.
Romans 5:6-8 indicates that "when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." The passage does not assert that we are worthless. It indicates that when we were powerless to meet the demands of the Law, Christ redeemed us.

3. Confession:
I doubt very much that Adam and Eve felt negatively about themselves before they sinned. When they sinned, though, they immediately tried to deceive God and themselves. They denied, hid and blamed. Their son murdered. These are all negative, defensive effects of unconfessed sin. In addition, David wrote in
Psalm 38 about depression and disease as a result of unresolved guilt. All of these are clearly associated with low self-worth.

God has given us a way out. We are sinners. There is no sense in denying it because if we do, other ego-defensive strategies start to be used. We have instead the merciful route of confession, which brings cleansing and restoration of broken relationships and allows affirmation to flow again, both from God and others.

4. Servanthood:
The key to positive self-worth on a day-to-day basis is acting with God's purposes in mind.
Colossians 3:17 and 23 motivate us to do all of our work as unto the Lord. God's evaluation is what should really count for the Christian. If we orient our self-evaluation in this way, we will be freed from much of the anxiety and destructive impact of negative comments and put-downs by others. At the same time we will experience the inner satisfaction of a "well-done, good and faithful servant" affirmation from the Lord.

Also, our work and our relationships will automatically take on a more caring and constructive quality that will bring positive responses from others. A deep sense of knowing God's gifts and purposes in our lives actually helps us to focus on others, and this is important. The one danger in talking about self-worth is that some might become preoccupied with themselves. In many ways a sense of self-worth is a by-product and not a goal in itself. As we take on the identity of God's servant we will find ourselves satisfied with life and with ourselves to a much greater degree.

5. Community:
The last Biblical base of self-worth is Christian community. Individualism is foreign to the Bible. In the Old Testament the stress was on the people of Israel as a group. In the New Testament the emphasis is on the Body of believers.

God made us. He knows that we need each other.

How Can One Gain a Proper Sense of Self-worth?

There are a number of specific things that each of us can do which will help us feel more positive about ourselves:

1. Find and commit yourself to God's special purposes for you. You have a unique role to play and special gifts, including your personality.

2. Cultivate a love-relationship with Jesus. He loves you deeply and wants you to experience His affirmation.

3. Realize that no one but God will ever be totally affirming. If you expect it of your spouse or friends, you are bound to be disappointed, bitter and cut off from the very love you seek.

4. Recognize that you are not perfect, and that is O.K. Not being perfect does not mean that you are bad. No one is perfect. If you demand it of yourself, you will wallow in self-rejection.

5. Consciously identify your abilities and gifts. Do not deny them out of some false humility. Think about your good points
(Philippians 4:8). Thank God for them; He is the giver of all good gifts.

6. Do not over-generalize and overexaggerate weaknesses and criticisms. Just because there are areas you need to work on does not mean that you are all bad. Consciously force yourself to see these areas of weakness in a limited way, and as stepping-stones for improvement.

7. Recognize the roots of your self-doubt. Evaluate how valid they are. Reject false negatives.

8. Focus on others and their needs. Build them up. You will be happy with yourself, and they will end up affirming you in return.

9. Avoid comparisons. Do not compare yourself with other people. This is difficult, but comparing only leads to feelings of inferiority, jealousy or pride.

10. Emphasize using your gifts. As you see God capitalizing on your abilities you will feel good about Him. . . and yourself!

11. Confess and make restitution. The failure to do this leads to guilt. Confession is how guilt, which depresses self-worth, is removed and relationships are restored
(Hebrews 12:14-15). Positive relationships build positive self-worth.

12. Pray when you start doubting or defending. Ask Jesus for specific help. Tell Him candidly what you are feeling. Memorize helpful Scriptures for situations which typically create self-doubt or defensiveness on your part.

13. Develop competencies. Competence builds confidence. Develop new work skills, hobbies or practical skills. For example, I have never been one to be a handyman. Recently, with some expert advice from friends, I planned and built a room addition for our house. I would never have believed I could do it previously; now I look at it with a sense of satisfaction and self-confidence.

14. Be an active part of an affirming community. Do not just sit on the sidelines of your church life or choose a church where you can anonymously slip in and out if you have self-worth needs. Get involved. It is in positive relationships that you will find changes happening."

(end of article)

"Craig Ellison was professor of Psychology and Urban Studies at the Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, N. Y. He was a frequent contributor to various publications."
JANUARY 18,1984 issue of THE ALLIANCE WITNESS magazine; Volume 119, Number 2; pages 4-6.
The official magazine of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.
350 North Highland Ave.; Nyack, NY 10960

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This article shared with you by:

Kraig Josiah Rice

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