This is an issue that I have struggled with greatly. Is this something that everyone else implicitly understands?
I used to think that I understood the distinction between having high self-esteem and being proud, but over the last few years I came to see that I did not understand it at all, because in my determination to achieve sky-high self-esteem I would succeed only in filling my heart with prideful thoughts that could never glorify God.
Here is my big dilemma. I believe that as a Christian the Bible promises us such amazing things which should compel us to feel as if we are worthy individuals, as if we are desperately valuable. Something that I hate to admit about myself, but which is true all the same, is that I used to have very low self-esteem, until the final year of my undergraduate degree at university. It was then that I reflected on the fact that I was made in the image of God. That opened my eyes to my inherent value as a human being, which is – exactly the same as that of any other human being. I have been brought up in rock-solid Christian faith my entire life, and yet, this is just one example of how the Bible still radically changed my life, after a deeply Christian upbringing! ( And there are so many similar examples.) So then, the dilemma is how to embrace all these extremely positive things that the Bible says about us, without letting these things metamorphose into pride in our hearts. Some of these things include: the fact that we are made in the image of God and from that our intrinsic value as human beings; our potential in Christ; things that we can achieve down here on earth.
Because I strive after a “thousand percent” pursuit of Christ I also strive after a thousand percent understanding of myself in all these things, which can so easily become pride in my heart. I want to embrace ALL the (positive) promises in the Bible and I want to embrace each one to its fullest extent. For instance through various promises in the Bible, I of course aspire to walk after a “thousand percent” of supernatural power, I of course aspire to have a “thousand percent” marriage (you can read all about that here), I of course aspire to have a “thousand percent” career – and to have all these things at once and to excel in every other conceivable area of life – of course I do! And yet, I can often find myself demonstrating a “thousand percent” big-headedness too – and in a way which people often don’t understand, because it relates to my potential, rather than my actual, realised circumstances. So for instance I could be big-headed about the marriage I expect to have, even though I am not actually married.
And yet, I do sincerely also aspire after a “thousand percent” humility, if nothing else because it is an extra “thousand percent” thing to strive after. However, there is also a very striking reason why I have always understood that it is in my own best interests to be as humble as I can be. That is simply because I am just that ambitious, that I have always understood that pride would be the one thing that would hinder my growth in my dreams. Subconsciously, I have always understood that the level I reach, at which I start bragging about my success is the level at which I’ll remain – or from which I’ll even totally fall. And I definitely don’t want anything whatsoever to come in the way of my being the best I can possibly be – so that also includes pride. So on one hand, pride will be destructive, but on the other hand I also need sky-high self-esteem even to believe that I am capable of achieving these sky-high things. But the question is: what exactly is the distinction between pride and self-esteem?
So here then, is the difference between self-esteem and pride. I believe that self-esteem is believing in my own inherent value and my own inherent capability to achieve these things. If we truly embrace the promises of the Bible, and what the Bible teaches us that we are capable of doing, doing this will lead us to think so highly of ourselves. God tells us that we are capable of walking in His power, we are capable of applying ourselves to excellence. That is why I cannot accept that humility means that we are then to declare of ourselves that we are not capable of doing these things; we are not capable or we are unworthy of walking in God’s power, we are not capable of expecting excellent things of ourselves.
I believe that this is what humility is: maintaining true perspective of ourselves. So then, even if I were to be as excellent as I aspire to be, that would not change the fact that compared to the glory and majesty of God, I am as nothing. God’s magnificence is beyond description. The Bible tells us that He is clothed with honour and majesty. He covers Himself with light as with a garment. Psalm 104. (God says) “To whom will you compare Me?! Look around and see all these things that I have made! The nations are as a drop in a bucket, and as the fine dust on the scales.” God is BIG! (Isaiah 40, v15). No matter what I achieve, it will only be a human achievement. However, God is GOD!
Pride wants to shout in our hearts that we because we have achieved X, Y, or Z or X,Y AND Z – and all the other letters of the alphabet, actually – then we are all that! Pride wants to make us fixate on our own achievements, on our own bigness, to make us see nothing else, hear nothing else apart from ourselves, and all that we think we are – even to the ridiculous extent of thinking that we could even compete with God. That was the failing of the devil, and it is with this same thing that he the devil tempts us. That is why I believe that humility is learning to deliberately quieten these voices of pride in our hearts, to focus intently on what God is saying, to refuse to dwell on these proud thoughts and to instead cultivate the words of God in our hearts. So self-esteem says “I am totally capable of achieving these things. There is nothing inherently unworthy or incapable about me when it comes to these huge promises of God.” Sometimes Christians, and these are Christians, mind you, seem to suggest to me that it is somehow “not my place” to aspire after these things, because…of one reason or another that makes sense to them. At this, I simply laugh in their collective faces, and I grasp my Bible ever tighter, shaking said Bible in said faces. You must think that God is as small-minded as you are!
However humility says: “Even when I do achieve these things, I am still as nothing compared to the glory and majesty of God. He and He alone is and ever will be God. No-one could ever start to dream of competing with who He is.” Humility also says: “Even if I were to achieve all these things, none of these things would make me better than other people in the slightest. We are all equally made in the image of the same God, which is where our inherent value comes from. Everyone else is also equally capable of achieving excellent things through Christ”. So when we are interacting with other people, there should never be that sense that “I am all that”. Firstly I am not all that in absolute terms, that is, relative to God. Secondly I am not all that in relative terms, that is, relative to other people. The only Person who is all that, and far beyond all that we could ever think or imagine (twisting Bible words slightly here – from Ephesians 3v20-21) is God Himself.
So if you are that “everyone else”, and you have not embraced this yet, I urge you to dare to believe that God has amazing dreams and plans for you. The Bible has so many incredible promises for us, and each one of them is true! God has made His promises available to everyone, no matter what we may already have done in our lives, or how we may already have disobeyed Him. Seriously, the Christian Gospel is overwhelmingly the single most empowering anything on earth. Fact. God is so big that He can afford to give us all greatness, without any of it impinging on His own magnificence even a tiny bit. I encourage you to embrace the breath-taking self-esteem that the Bible offers to us in our humanity, even while also clinging to the humility of remembering who God is, remembering that everything we have is from God, achieving everything on earth does not make us better than one another. Ironically, the bigger your understanding of God is, then the bigger your self-esteem should be, as someone made in the image of God, but simultaneously the bigger your humility should also be when you see yourself in comparison to Him.
Say it with me people: MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD!!!!!! 😉
Psalm 104v1 – 2
104 Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, You are very great:
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
2 Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment,
Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all[a] the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Photo of clouds in sky by Greyerbaby on Pixabay