For the past 30 years or so, the self-esteem movement has preached one message: You are wonderful just the way you are. That sounds like a good idea. What could go wrong? Well, as you look at the division in our families and our communities, everything has gone wrong.
Believing that we are completely good has led us to believe that all the bad in the world is out there in that movement with those people. All our problems are because of someone else. And so, we believe, “If I’m good just the way I am, then everyone and everything else needs to be changed, silenced, or canceled to accommodate my goodness.”
In other words, our focus on self-esteem has not made us better but more self-righteous, self-centered, and selfish. I know because I see these traits in myself.
But what if we are not wonderful just the way we are? What if that Bible is right? What if humans, who are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), turned away from the goodness of God and are now by nature sinful?
I know that’s not a popular teaching, and it definitely goes against the grain of society. But just think what would happen if we acknowledged that evil is not just something out there but also something inside every one of us.
You may say, “If we believe that we are sinful, then we will always feel guilt and shame.” Yes, that is partly true. Sometimes we will feel guilt and shame. But that is not exactly a bad thing. Only sociopaths never feel guilt for what they have done wrong. But also, that is why Jesus came to the world. He came to take away our guilt by dying on a cross and raising back to life. Yes, we have sinned, but those sins are forgiven. And we believe that the Holy Spirit can lead us to live lives that are directed toward God and others.
The apostle John says it this way: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). In other words, the doctrine of self-esteem is a practice in self-deception.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So if we do the hard work of practicing self-awareness, acknowledging the ways we have done wrong, then we can bring those sins to Jesus, who washes us clean. Then we can begin to live a new life with God’s help.
What the self-esteem movement has taught us is that believing we are inherently good actually makes us bad. But believing that we are by nature bad can lead us to become good with God’s help.