Tom: Thanks, Gary. You’re listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him. Our topic in this segment of our program is what the Bible has to say about self versus what the world teaches about self.
Dave, as we mentioned last week, a large part of the problem for Christians in this is that “self” teachings are so commonplace, including within professing Christianity, that many Christians think self-love, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-image, self-worth, and so forth are, in fact, what the Bible teaches. So, what I would like to do—this is sort of deja vu, Dave—I can remember at least twenty-some years ago when we were putting together the materials for The Seduction of Christianity that we could be driving along the freeway and I’d start down a list. I said, “Okay, Dave, now here’s the deal: I’m going to lay this out for you and you give me your response,” and that’s what we are going to do right now. So to begin with, shouldn’t everyone love themselves? I mean, that’s certainly better than hating themselves.
Dave: Well, you don’t have to be taught to love yourself. The Bible never encourages us to love ourselves. “We’re to love our neighbor as ourselves,” Jesus said, which obviously implies that we already love ourselves, and the problem is we’re giving too much love to ourselves and we need to give some of it to our neighbor. The Bible tells us that we are to esteem—this is Philippians:2:3—“esteem others better than ourselves.” We are to deny ourselves, you know, and so forth. So, am I to love myself? I don’t find any exhortation in the Bible to love myself. In fact, Jesus says we must even hate our own lives. In other words, my problem is myself. I don’t know if anyone listening out there has ever had that problem.
I can remember literally being on my knees praying for humility and thinking I got it—the next thing I knew I was proud that I had become so humble. That’s what our hearts are: our hearts are “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” the Bible says. So, the idea that I’ve got to learn to love myself and treat myself, you know, and so forth—that is an instinct that actually began in the Garden of Eden. Self-preservation is the primary instinct. And we’ve probably mentioned this before, but you know, when you pass out a tray of cookies—let’s say five-year-olds, four-year-olds, three-year-olds, or ten-year-olds—you don’t have to say, “Now look, guys, just love yourselves, so try to grab the biggest cookie first.” That comes naturally. So, there’s no reason that we should have seminars in the church—which we do—about loving ourselves.
And this lie has been spread because Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Then we must learn, first of all, to love ourselves before we can love our neighbor? Anybody that wants to sit down and think about that for a minute would recognize that that simply isn’t true. Jesus is saying, “Love your neighbor like you inadequately love yourself?”
“Oh, your problem is you really hate yourself; you need to have some good solid biblical teaching on how to love yourself. But in the meantime, before you learn how to love yourself, love your neighbor like you love yourself inadequately.” That does not make sense, and that is not our problem. And yet self is the problem, and it’s a big problem in the church. And anyone who is honest will admit this—will recognize it. I’ve been publicly praying, Tom, and the thought suddenly comes into my mind, “Well, I hope they recognize what a great prayer this is!”
You remember the preacher shaking hands at the door, and somebody walking by shakes his hand and says, “That was just a fantastic sermon—the best I have ever heard!”
And he says, “Yeah, I know. The devil already told me.”
So, our problem is—well, you know, the disciples, they had such low self-esteem. Jesus tells them, “One of you will betray me.” There’s a momentary flutter of concern: “Is it I, is it I?” They should have locked the door and not let anyone out until they found out who this was. But in the next breath they are arguing among themselves who will be the greatest! Jesus is going to be betrayed, they are going to all forsake Him and flee, and what is their concern? “Well, I want to sit on your right hand. I want to sit on your left hand, you know, and, I think I will be the greatest in the kingdom.”
So Tom, I probably said too much about that, but that is so contrary a) to the Bible, b) to common sense—everything that we know about ourselves.
Now, then people will say, “Well, what about the person that says, ‘I hate myself’?” Well, we could deal with that, too—I don’t know whether you’ve got that on your list of questions to ask—but the pitcher who—“I just did such a lousy job, you know. I only struck out 13, or whatever, you know, I’m just such a lousy pitcher…” No, he’s fishing for a compliment. He wants you to say what a good pitcher he is. The person that says, “I hate myself,” you don’t hate yourself. “No man ever yet hated his own flesh,” the Bible says. Now, if you really hated yourself, you’d be glad that you had bad grades; you’d be glad that you were ugly. You know, people say, “I’m so ugly, I just hate myself. I look in the mirror and I just hate myself.” Well, if you really hated yourself, you’d be glad that you’re ugly. You’d be glad people abused you and misused you. No, the problem is you love yourself, and you want to look better than you do. You want people to treat you with more respect than they do, and the only reason you are upset by the way people treat you is because you love yourself and you think you deserve more than they are giving you. Tom, it is so clear.
Well then, what about the person that commits suicide? “I hate myself.” We used to live a block away from a college. A young man hung himself in a tree on the college campus. Why did he go there? He’s delivering a message to some professor who mistreated him. Suicide is actually the ultimate act of self-love. I was counseling with a man who said he was going to kill himself because—he didn’t tell me what he had done, but he had done something for which he thought he probably would be arrested and put in jail—and he said, “I just hate myself. I’m going to kill myself.”
I said, “Look, you don’t hate yourself. You look upon suicide as an escape. You wouldn’t help someone that you hated escape. If you really hate yourself, then why don’t you stand in front of a judge and confess your crime and be really humiliated? If you hate yourself, wouldn’t you be glad to see yourself humiliated? No, you love yourself, and you are trying to do everything you can to escape what you really deserve.”
So, there’s some twisted thinking out there, Tom. The best thing that can happen to a person is to recognize, “I am nothing. I am unworthy.” Paul said, “I am less than the least of all saints.” Well, if he said that, what about us? So, we need to get a proper perspective.
Tom: Yeah. Dave, we’re going to kind of meander through some of these ideas.
Dave: All right.
Tom: Again, going back to twenty-some years ago as we would drive along, I’m laying this stuff out for you, and I’m trying to get a response, and I’m thinking, “All right, I really got him on this one.”
Dave: That’s how I got bald: pulling out my hair.
Tom: [laughing] Right? But more than that, what you would do would just demonstrate to me the logic—I mean, most of this is irrational, yet because it’s out there, we’ve taken it in by osmosis. We buy into it because it seems to make sense, but it doesn’t.
Dave, let me go back to the point of hating ourselves. Now, I think a person can only truly hate themselves by grace, and the person I am thinking of is Job. What did he say?
Dave: He says, “I have heard of thee with the hearing of the ear, now mine eyes seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” If we would get the picture of ourselves that God has, we would abhor ourselves. We’re such scum—I’m sorry, we’re such unworthy creatures. Well, is that a bad thing to say? No, it’s just the truth, and then we can look to God for His grace and for His remedy. I’m not carrying the load. It’s not up to me. I didn’t create the universe.
Tom, I was just thinking again—I’m sure we have quoted it, you can’t help but quote some of these things, maybe even recently—but remember Bruce Narramore. See, where did these ideas come from? Nobody got them out of the Bible. Bruce Narramore said—and he’s one of the leading Christian psychologists, nephew of Clyde Narramore, involved at the Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology, and so forth—he said, “It was humanistic psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers who first made us aware of the need of self-love and self-esteem and so forth, and we thought that was a good emphasis.” So then, the Christians—they get it from the humanists, from the atheists, anti-Christians—and then they say, “Well, maybe that’s a great idea. Let’s go back to the Bible and see if we can massage some verses around and make it seem like that’s what holy writ always said.” But Paul didn’t know it; nobody else recognized it; Andrew Murray or Charles Spurgeon, or—you name them—they never recognized this.
But now, the atheists, the humanists, these anti-Christian psychologists have showed us—they have revealed to us this is what the Bible always meant all along, and you Christians didn’t realize it! So, then the Christians say, “Oh, we can hold our heads up in the academic world now. We can get degrees in psychology. Jesus actually was the first psychiatrist or the first psychologist. You see, we can go along with this. This is great stuff!”
Tom: Dave, the thing that trips up a lot of people, as I said—they haven’t really thought through some of these things. They are not rational, they are not logical, and so forth. But when you take something like self-esteem or self-love and then you say, “But we’re just talking about a healthy self-esteem,” a healthy—“Oh, okay, you don’t really mean pride; you don’t really mean something that’s vile or anything—we’re talking about something healthy and good.” But that doesn’t work.
Dave: I don’t know where you will find a healthy self-esteem in the Bible. Well, look, the Bible doesn’t say you’ve got your chin dragging on the ground and you just keep saying, “I’m an unworthy worm, I’m an unworthy worm.” No, we are; you move on past that. “Now, Lord, what are you going to do?” Well, the Bible says that God takes pleasure…“He chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, the weak things of the world to confound the mighty.” Paul asked for this thorn in the flesh—which we don’t know what it was—to be taken from him. He besought the Lord three times, it says. And the Lord said, “No, my grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in your weakness.” So, the problem is self-esteem teaches you to be so strong in yourself and to have such confidence—you know, self-confidence…
Tom: We’re going to get into that in a minute.
Dave: …such confidence in yourself, you don’t need God. God is kind of my buddy; He’s going to help me, but I’m the main cheese here.
Tom: Self-confidence—Dave, you could pick out a hundred people and begin to address the issue of self-confidence on whether it’s of value or not. For example, somebody taking a test: they want to go in to take the test with some confidence, or the last shot in the basketball game—give it to the guy who’s got the most confidence, and so on. Or even brain surgery: isn’t there a level of confidence that’s needed to really perform in certain areas, that you would say, “Well, that’s biblical, or at least it’s not contrary to the Word of God”?
Dave: Well, Tom, it depends to whom you are speaking. If you are speaking to non-Christians, say a tennis player—if you have two tennis players of equal talent and physical strength and ability and so forth, the guy that is convinced that he is going to lose will probably lose, and the person who’s convinced he’s going to win, who has this great confidence in himself, he’s going to win.
I don’t deny that, but that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re not looking for success in this world, okay? This world passes away. Scripture says—1 John 2—“The world passes away and the lust thereof, all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life; it’s not of the Father, but of the world.”
Now, if I am going to do anything for eternity, the Lord is going to have to do it through me. And the weaker I am, the more I realize that I am nothing and I can’t do anything, the more I will rely upon the Lord. This is Paul’s example, and Paul said, “We have no confidence in the flesh.” He’s not talking about playing a tennis match. You want to get involved in that, go ahead, but he’s talking about the life of faith, and he’s talking about walking in the spirit. Living for the Lord: that is what a Christian ought to be interested in.
I can remember as a 19-20-year old, I was a fairly good athlete, and I saw pride in my heart. And I withdrew from athletics, because I said, “Lord, I can’t handle it. I get successful, and then I have pride welling up within me, and I just don’t want that,” so I backed away from the whole thing. I’m not saying everyone has to do that, but we’re not talking about success in the business worlds, success in athletics, and so forth.
And there’s one of the problems in the church today, as you know, that we’re trying to run the church like a business. So the pastor becomes the CEO, Chief Executive Officer, and we use business methods. There are success techniques—think positively, you know, and all this kind of stuff—it will work in the business world. But if you are a Christian businessman, maybe the Lord is not going to allow you to have success on that basis, because then you take the credit yourself. And all I can say is, Tom, when we walk the golden streets of heaven, we will have no credit for anything. Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ. Now, if you’re crucified with Christ,” he said, “we have no confidence in the flesh.” Then all the glory is going to go to the Lord. Second Corinthians 4—“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” Now, how am I going to give God all the glory if I am at the same time trying to build up my self-confidence and my self-esteem and thinking what a great person I am? No, God delights in choosing the weak things.
Tom: Let’s wrestle over this a little bit more. Now here’s a subject I know absolutely nothing about: brain surgery. But I would think that if I were a Christian and I had this education, this training, and so on, and given the delicacy—given the complexity of it all—that I would really have to do my homework; I would really have to sharpen my skills; I would really have to work at that. Now, that’s not to say that self-confidence is going to be motivating me, or even enabling me to do what I’m doing, but I have to do the work. However, as a brain surgeon—and this is why if I were in that field I would be on my knees almost all the time—because given the delicacy, as I said, of an operation like that, there are variables that you can’t control; they’re way outside any individual’s ability to control. You know, it’s something as simple as a hiccup at the wrong time, or moving into a very delicate operation.
So here’s my point, you’ve got to do the work. You’ve got to apply yourself. If I’ve done a hundred operations, that gives me a confidence in the sense that I know what I’m doing here, I’ve been through the process and so on. You know, as a Christian, I would think I would still continually be presenting this before the Lord—that my confidence would be in Him, my trust would be in Him, the outcome of the operation would be in His hands. Would you call that self-confidence? No, but a confidence, a trust in Him—a confidence that I have done my homework. I’ve done the best job I could do.
Dave: Whatever we are, and we’re not all preachers, so there are many—most Christians who are in the business world or, you know, the world out there—have to have a secular job doing secular things. We ought to be as competent as we can be. We should be the most competent. We should work harder to do a better job than anyone. But at the same time, as you said, I’ve got to trust God about this.
Now, even when it comes to the Christian life, listen to what Paul says. He says, “Not as though I had already attained, [this is Philippians:3:12] either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” In other words, Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” He says, “Whereunto I labor, striving according to His working, which works in me mightily,” Colossians:1:29. So, Paul is saying, “I’m going to give it everything I’ve got to be what Christ will enable me to be.”
I don’t just sit back and say, “Okay, God, you’ve got to do it all.” No, I have to put everything I’ve got into it: my learning, my practice, my effort. So he goes on and he says, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, [in other words, I haven’t achieved everything that God wants for me] but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Now Paul has raised the bar quite a few notches, because I’m not just laboring to be the best that God is going to make me to His glory, the best witness and so forth, to glorify Him in this life, but he’s got something else, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. And what is that prize? It’s not a prize that I’m going to have, and that I’m going to be able to parade around heaven and say, “Look at this prize!”
Jesus himself said in John 5, “I do not receive honor from men.” That’s one of the things that really disturbs me, Tom. In many circles they are honoring men—“Oh, we’re going to give him an award, give this award, and give this award.” Okay, Jesus said, “You’ve had your reward. You’re not going to get a reward in heaven.” You have received praise from men and men have given you this reward. I don’t want any rewards from men. Don’t compliment me or praise me, because I don’t deserve it. So, it’s not some prize that we’re going to display—“Oh, look, I’ve got this one!” No, the prize is, 1 Peter:5:10 tells us, “God of all grace, who has called us unto His eternal glory.” The prize is I’m going to be like Christ, and this is what He’s going to do: He’s going to restore the image of God in which man was made and which Adam lost by sin, and it’s going to be even better than Adam had, because Adam could lose it. This will be the image of God—Christ in us—that you can never lose.
Okay, so that’s what I’m aiming for, and that makes everything else pale into insignificance. So what am I doing? To build up my self-esteem, to get the praise of men? No, I want to be what He wants me to be. I want to please Him, and He’s going to have the last word. So to aim for the praise of men in this life, Tom, “that’s vanity,” as Solomon said, and he found it out—“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity under the sun.” Let’s work for eternity and for the Lord. And I think that pretty much takes care of self-esteem, self-love, self-acceptance, self-confidence. You will have none of that when you are standing in the presence of the God of this universe. We will be just very small. [chuckles]