Christian and responsible self-esteem

Christian and responsible self-esteem

A Christian and responsible approach to self-esteem

The Gospel calls Christians to a Christian approach to self esteem … This accepts just secular therapies, as “an effect of common grace.

Relationship with God altered by sin

Sin is the desire to be like God, the “refusal to admit human limitations“. It distorts our relationship with God and our perception of ourselves.

An affirmation of human values unfounded in God is incompatible with the Christian faith. Sin is not “a lack of self-fulfillment” but a break with God. Only the cross of Christ can it restore.
The world is affected by sin. It is filled with sinners, “who only care about themselves and about their interests near and far,” although this selfishness awakens in them feelings of guilt.

Limits of rational reasoning

Some secular therapies reject feelings of guilt and repentance in order to promote a mental health based on reason.

But “rational reasoning” prevents neither immorality … nor unacceptable actions, like the Nazi camps or other more current abuses … It is better to be biblically realistic about the human nature separated from God by sin.  But we are invited, through faith in Christ’s work, to find again fellowship with him and good relations with others, than to reject repentance, as do the secular therapies, and thus to prevent from “facing the past, “knowing that it is resolved and receiving forgiveness.

Christian realism

Unlike a groundless optimism, “Christian realism” remains still lucid before the reality and the seriousness of sin. It emphasizes self-denial, which is central “in all Christian thought on holiness“. This opposes the search for self-sufficiency, “characteristic of the fallen nature“, enhanced by modern Western society. Its mind is eager for individual success at all costs, considered as a “vital component of self-regard” by the position it can bring in society.
For Augustine, “our natural liberty is a counterfeit autonomy“. It is by serving God that we are truly free.
For a Christian, in fact, failure can contribute to a better understanding of himself, of his weakness. So he will place his confidence in God rather than in his own ability. In the Christian doctrine of grace, “our acceptance by ourselves or by God does not depend in any case … on what we do.” Through the cross, “God removes” the guilt that alienated us, and “he affirms our value” without any merit. …

The cross, objective foundation of self-esteem

How can God forgive sin, a transgression so serious and so deep of the moral and legal order that it has perverted the creation and led to the crucifixion?

Only the intervention of God himself can pull man and nature out of this alienating accumulation of sin and guilt.
The cross makes this release possible, changing our relationship with God, by removing the separation barrier to reconcile us with him. God alone could take away “the guilt and the power of man’s sin“. By faith we receive “all that Christ acquired through the cross, the full and free forgiveness of sins“, and his righteousness, because we are part of the alliance that Christ is between God and humanity.
The gospel recognizes the reality and the seriousness of sin, but it responds to it with the cross, “the objective support of Christian self-esteem ” and the foundation of justification by faith, which consists in “accepting to be accepted while being unacceptable “.

The link between God’s work on the cross and self-esteem

Some pictures of the New Testament make explicit the link between the work of God on the cross and self-esteem. The image of the ransom paid by Christ to free us from sin and death shows our value to God ; likewise the reconciliation “with a known and loved God allows to face the future.” Understanding the impact of salvation, of deliverance from sin and of restoration of the integrity of the person, “can add value on our person, according to a proper Christian perspective.”

Sin did not “definitively kill the idea of self-esteem”

As forgiven sinners in a process of renewal, we can have “a certain esteem of ourselves by projecting us in our future of fully redeemed persons, beyond our present condition of sinners.
Justification by faith depends on two external causes: the work of Christ and faith, “produced … by God,” which exclude the idea of justifying ourselves by works. It provides “a proper relationship with God” and grants us value before him.
“The existence of sin – acknowledged and confessed – does not negate our Christian status.” But we must give up the unrealistic idea of believing we are perfect and of considering imperfection as an inadmissible flaw.
We can acknowledge our imperfection while rejoicing in our future transformation in the image of Jesus Christ. Being conscious of sin expresses the balance between the ongoing struggle against sin and justification by faith.

Fatherly care by God

Even imperfect because of the fall, human fatherhood is a picture of God’s fatherhood, of the relationship given by God to creation. That belonging to God as a father is essential to self-esteem.

As a Father, God provides for us [1], and accepts us without any condition. He guides and instructs us with the clear rules of his Word. That sense of security, based on the love he shows for us, contributes to our development. God also suffers from our indifference. And he is delighted at our reconciliation with him as in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.

Analogy of being : theological principle of God’s fatherhood

The theological principle of God’s fatherhood or analogy of being is explained by Thomas Aquinas: God reveals himself while taking in account our experience and our limitations. We can think of God as a father, as the source of our existence, or as a shepherd who cares for us.

Although the arbitrariness of certain leaders may damage the image that some have of God as a king, God’s image remains mostly related to his compassion as a father and to his care as a shepherd. A dedicated and honest leader, a father exercising authority with justice and love, a pastor practicing self-sacrifice reflect the components of the divine reality and help to rebuild the distorted images of God given by some fathers.

Content in all circumstances: the life of the redeemed

The letter to the Philippians shows the foundation for right Christian self-esteem, especially for Christians who depreciate themselves. Becoming servants of God [2] gives true freedom, from the slavery of lower masters (sin, death and the world) in the service of Christ.

While acknowledging his guilt, the Christian puts his trust in the promises of God who will perfect the maturation of his Christian life begun with the conversion.
The imprisonment experienced by the apostle Paul is in itself demeaning. But the chains for Christ [3] give him dignity and value. Our self-esteem does not depend on our situation but on the way we let God take advantage of it. To Christians believing themselves useless and irrelevant for service, the apostle points out that God chooses what is weak and foolish [4] according to his criteria and not according to those of the world.

To devalue oneself is not just false modesty but a denial of God’s generosity, which may make us unfit for service. A Christian does not lack gifts or talents [5] but he must discover them and exercise them in a responsible perspective, for the edification of the Church and the witness in the world.

Gifts, humility and genuine worth

Gifts also raise the question of Christian humility. [6] It is not self-disparaging but a just appreciation of others, loved as oneself [7] and recognizing that everything comes from God. Giving new dignity to human nature which he considered worth saving, Christ humbled himself voluntarily, stripping himself of his heavenly glory to come as a servant to our level and then to elevate us to his level.

The cross, the criterion for self-esteem

In the light of Christ cross all that the world can offer sinks into insignificance. [8] Thus it is the only essential criterion for assessing self-esteem or esteem of others.
Paul then opposes self-esteem based on family or national privileges – the righteousness of the fulfilled law – or on personal realizations, and true self-esteem based on faith in Christ, as Jesus himself taught it in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. [9] This does not mean devaluing our works but being freed from the illusion of being able, by our perfection, to buy our ticket to the presence of God. The way he looks at us, and not the assessment by others, builds a balanced self-esteem, independent from works and performances.

To the apostle, worldly notions of self-esteem and self-worth and search for performance are paltry, given the dignity granted by Christ; they may even harm the building up of fair and robust self-esteem. Because the value of the Christian comes from having been called and claimed by Christ. His self-esteem is related to the action of God who has redeemed him through the cross and the resurrection of Christ; and the promise of future transformation in the image of Christ is independent from the world’s evaluation criteria. Trust in God’s love and in the value judgment he passes on us is a guarantee against hopelessness and the sense of helplessness ; it is also an essential component of Christian joy.

The encouragement in Christ: the life of the Church

Empathetic, careful and respectful listening, unconditional acceptance of the person difficult to endure are essential to psychologically understand his problem. The prayer of thanks for the gifts of another, the preaching of encouragement rather than of reproach, give value and courage to the weak and the fragile. Their value before God does not depend on their particular skills, but on their commitment to Christ, the head of a spiritual body whose members esteem each other through their various functions.
Teaching can help giving value to all those who attribute their success to God and their failures to themselves. Although we are undoubtedly sinners, God gives us value. The doctrine of grace is not attempting to humiliate us. It encourages us to value our works and those of others, not to rely on them, but to see them as the fruit of faith, as a gift of God he accomplishes through us, and through them for the good of the Church.

God also teaches and accomplishes his plan through failure, provided that failure is not attributed to false reasons, to a negative self-esteem: “I have failed because I am good for nothing”, but to real and truly useful causes, a differentiation that the leader can help to establish.
Estimating or giving value to a person does not mean condoning his weaknesses and his sin but encouraging him to move forward, by settling on the present and not only on the past, even if the past may give some explanation to the current disorder. Criticism from others, which is difficult to accept but essential to the Christian life, promotes self-examination and growth. As an essential element of the pastoral ministry, a useful and constructive criticism is based on the knowledge of the other; we are criticized by God who knows us. It implies a commitment towards the other – God stands with us to help us accomplishing his plan for us. It falls within the context of the esteem and the valuation of others. Attesting esteem makes oneself more receptive to justified criticism. Criticism is not an end in itself but it helps understanding the reality of sin to make receptive to grace, to help discovering one’s gifts.

The Church is the place where people give value to each other, where everyone gets esteem. It is free of the world’s value criteria. It stems from an New Testament idea that it is the body of Christ. A community that protects its members and takes care of the weaker with concern for the well-being of all, gives everyone dignity and value.
Availability, acceptance, mutual esteem are not always easy. But seeing ourselves both as sinners and as hidden in Christ helps to be sincere and empathic for each other.

C. Streng

[1] Mt 6.25-31
[2] Ph. 1.1
[3] Ph 1.13
[4] 1 Co 1.26-29
[5] 1 Co and 4.7 Mt 25.14-30
[6], Ph 2.1-11
[7] Mt 22.35-40
[8] Thomas A Kempis, author in the 15th century of The Imitation of Christ
[9] Luke 18. 10-14.

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