Question (composite of several): You say that the need for self-esteem and self-love are not taught in the Bible but that we naturally esteem and love ourselves too much. Yet Jesus Christ said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How can we obey that command if we hate ourselves? Yes, I’ve heard people sincerely say, “I hate myself!” Dr. Dobson and other Christian psychologists aren’t the only ones who emphasize the need to acquire a positive self-worth, self-esteem, self-love, and self-image. Many preachers teach the same, such as Josh McDowell, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, and others. Who are you to disagree with them?
Response: Any Berean comparing such teaching with God’s Word will find that it doesn’t pass the test. For example, Philippians:2:3 says, “…in lowliness of mind let each esteem other[s] better than themselves.” Romans:12:3 warns us not to think of ourselves “more highly than [we] ought to think.” Nowhere does the Bible warn us against thinking too poorly of ourselves. Human beings don’t have that problem. For example, Samuel Yochelson, a psychiatrist, and Stanton Samenow, a clinical psychologist, spent six and one-half years investigating hundreds of hardened criminals and could not find one who did not think highly of himself even when plotting a crime.
No wonder the Bible frequently reminds us that we are sinners and unprofitable to God in and of ourselves. How reluctant we are to admit that truth! As Horatius Bonar wrote in his classic, God’s Way of Peace, 150 years ago, “It takes a great deal to destroy a man’s good opinion of himself…[and] even after he has lost his good opinion of his works, he retains a good opinion of his heart….” Note the difference between what Christians used to believe, based upon the Bible, and today’s opinions, influenced by humanistic psychology!
Yes, there are people who sob, “I hate myself!” Common sense, however, tells us it isn’t true. They may hate their status, stature, physique, ineptness, looks, job, salary, academic record, or the way people treat them, but they don’t hate themselves. If they did hate themselves they would be glad they were unattractive, poorly paid, abused etc. Psychology has convinced millions of a lie. The Bible tells the truth: “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh [i.e., himself]…” (Eph:5:29).
When Christ said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He wasn’t telling us we hate ourselves and need therapy or seminars to teach us to love ourselves. If so, He was saying, “Love your neighbor as you inadequately love or even hate yourself,” which makes no sense. Christ was correcting the obsession with self that is our natural bent. He was saying, “Give some of the love and attention and care to your neighbor that you give to yourself!” And who of us does not need to heed that exhortation?
You mention Josh McDowell. He has devoted two entire books to helping Christians develop their self-image, self-esteem, and self-worth: Building Your Self-Image, Tyndale, 1978 and His Image, My Image, Here’s Life (Campus Crusade for Christ), 1984. Josh is a magna cum laude graduate of Talbot Theological Seminary and the author of some excellent books on apologetics; yet his ready acceptance of psychology has caused him to embrace unbiblical beliefs and even to try to use Scripture to support them.
In His Image, he presents three psychological essentials for a normal person: 1) a sense of belonging (acceptance by others); 2) a sense of worthiness (feeling good about oneself); and 3) a sense of competence (confidence in oneself). He didn’t learn these ideas from the Bible but from humanistic psychology. In fact, most if not all of the heroes and heroines in the Bible lacked all that Josh says we need. Moses, for example, was rejected by his own people and considered himself to be both unworthy and incompetent. If there was ever a man with an abysmal self-image and self-esteem—and one who, by today’s views desperately needed help from Christian psychology—it was Moses. Instead of prescribing months of Christian psychological counseling to raise his self-image, however, God said, “I will be with you!” Millions are being robbed of the presence and power of God in their lives by being turned to self: self-love, self-image, self-acceptance, self-worth, etc.
Look at Paul. Hated by the Jewish community and rejected by most of the church (“no man stood with me” – 2 Tm 4:16; “all they in Asia be turned away from me” – 2 Tm 1:15), he considered himself the chief of sinners (1 Tm 1:15) and “less than the least of all saints” (Eph:3:8). Did God seek to build up his self-image and self-esteem? On the contrary, Christ declared that His strength was made perfect in Paul’s weakness (2 Cor:12:9). Try to reconcile Paul’s self-evaluation, “when I am weak, then am I strong” (v 10) and “in me dwelleth no good thing” (Rom:7:18), with psychology’s three essentials! Josh supports psychology’s self-esteem, self-worth, and self-acceptance with a blasphemous paraphrase from the Living Bible: “I want you to realize that God has been made rich because we who are Christ’s have been given to Him” (Eph:1:18, LB). Elaborating on this erroneous interpretation, Josh says we should feel good about ourselves because God was enriched through gaining us as His children. The context, however, is all about the blessing we receive from God. Clearly, the riches of his inheritance in the saints” refers to what God has given the saints, not to an inheritance they have bequeathed Him. Nowhere in the Bible is God enriched by man. It is man who is always benefited by God. Common sense makes that clear. God, being infinitely rich and needing nothing, cannot be enriched by anyone or anything.
Christian psychology has promoted the lie that God loves us because of some value He sees in us; and even that Christ’s death proves we are of infinite value to God. In fact, He died for our sins. Spurgeon said it well:
Jesus…did not come to save us because we were worth saving, but because we were utterly worthless, ruined, and undone…[nor] out of any reason that was in us, but solely and only because of reasons which He took from the depths of His own divine love. In due time He died for those whom He describes…as ungodly, applying to them as hopeless an adjective as He could.
Tozer likewise wrote, “Until we believe that we are as bad as God says we are, we can never believe that He will do for us what He says He will do. Right here is where popular religion breaks down.” Such has been the unanimous opinion of Christians for 19 centuries. It is only since psychology entered the church that the selfisms of today became popular. Let us get back to the Bible!