Self-Esteem and Positivity v. the Gospel
In our culture, we’re often told the importance of loving ourselves, having good self-esteem, and thinking positively. But how does this jive with the message of the Gospel? Join us to discover how the Gospel offers something radically different – and so much better than the self-love and positivity movement.
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Today we are often met with messages about the importance of positivity and self-love.
Now, thinking positively and having a correct view of self are certainly helpful, but these messages go way beyond that. We are often told that embracing a positive mindset and believing in ourselves is the key to everything. If we would only do this, we would have a wonderful life where all our dreams come true. We are encouraged to pass these messages onto our students, as well.
We see this all over the place. For example, in Look Beyond the Clouds, author Michelle Gano shares a lot of great ideas and encouragement for teachers. But she also shares this philosophy:
“That magic is a person’s self-esteem, self-belief, and confidence. This magic makes you brave and have courage to persevere despite challenges...This magic, self-esteem, is everything. If everyone were comfortable in their own skin, imagine how different the world would be. People would be more kind, loving, accepting, and understanding. We can make baby steps towards that dream by teaching our students and ourselves the power of believing in oneself.” (p. 33-34)
Sounds nice, right? But is it true? Is this type of thinking consistent with the Gospel?
What the gospel says
I propose that the Gospel offers something radically different - and so much better than the positivity & self-esteem movement.
Loving ourselves and thinking positively is really just hope for hope’s sake. Eventually, it all comes crashing down because when we’re hoping in ourselves, that is not a very sure foundation.
It’s like holding onto a rope climbing a mountain. Hope is our rope. But the rope is only as good as what it’s tied to. If we are simply hoping in hope, the rope is tied to nothing and will inevitably lead to disaster. If we are hoping in ourselves, the rope is tied to an unreliable twig - destined to disappoint. But if our hope is in Christ - wow, what a firm foundation! That hope is reliable. (Thanks to Vicki Davis for this illustration!)
Let’s look at what the Bible has to say about our self-image and discover how different - and better - this message is than what we hear all around us.
1. We were created in God’s image. As such, every human has worth and value. We are not accidents. We were created. We are valued, loved, and bear God’s image. We have inherent worth and value because of this.
- “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;’” - Gen. 1:26a NKJV
- “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” - Gen. 1:27 NKJV
- “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man..” - Gen. 9:6 NKJV
2. We bear the consequences of the fall. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, sin entered the world. God’s perfect creation became very imperfect - mired in sin. Now, each of us is born a sinner and will fight that sin nature our entire lives. This means that even though we are created in God’s image, we are not good at our core - not since the fall. Our hearts are wicked. We cannot be good on our own. This flies in the face of the self-love movement, which tells us to love ourselves for who we are. It says we are wonderful and can do anything. But, deep down, we know it’s not true. We know we are sinners. We know we fail and mess up and that sometimes, we are just shy of a complete disaster. We have to face this awful truth before we can accept God’s wonderful intervention.
- “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—“ - Rom. 5:12 NKJV
- “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.’” - Rom. 5:19 NKJV
- “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.’ - Rom. 3:10-11 NKJV
- “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” - Rom. 3:23 NKJV
3. God made a way to redeem and sanctify us. The fall left us in desperate need of help. Whether we want to recognize it or not, we were slaves to sin and could not free ourselves. But God sent Jesus to not only die in our place, but to live the perfect life we never could. When we accept Him, we are not only freed from the punishment of sin, we also get His righteousness in return. The moment we trust Him, God declares us righteous, good, beloved, holy, and His child. He also gives us the Holy Spirit who works in us to help us live out this transformative work He’s done in us, so that we gradually behave more and more like Him.
- “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved…” Col. 3:12 NIV
- “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Rom. 5:19 NKJV
- “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” - Rom. 3:24 NKJV
- “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:” - John 1:12 NKJV
- “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” - Col. 2:9-10 NKJV
- “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” 1 Peter 2:9 NKJV
This is who we are and it’s not because of our own goodness. It is because Christ gives us all His goodness. God calls us holy, righteous, and good because of what Christ has done. When God speaks, it is. When He calls us that, then that is who we are.
4. One day, we will be perfect and live in a perfect world. One day, God will complete His work and we will be perfect - without sin. We will live in a perfect world - without sin. This is our great hope!
The implications of the gospel
So what does this all mean?
This message is so different than what the world is telling us. It means that true freedom and joy isn’t found in thinking positively about how good we are but instead starts with realizing that we actually aren’t that good on our own. That we are deeply flawed and sinful.
This realization leads us to look for the true answer – a Savior – Christ Jesus. When we trust in Him, He trades our sin and brokenness for His righteousness and perfection. He gives us His wisdom, His strength, His courage. He gives us a beautiful identity as a son or daughter of God –chosen and deeply loved. In Him, we have nothing to fear because He is our loving Father. In even the most challenging of situations, He is in control and uses it for good.
This hope is not a rope hanging on nothing or hanging on an unreliable twig. It is a firm and sure and solid rock that will hold our rope through all of the storms of life.
If you’ve never understood the Gospel in this way, I encourage you to explore it further and believe in Jesus. You can find out more at: https://www.truthforlife.org/thestory/.
If you are a believer, cling to the truths of the Gospel. Preach them to yourself each time you forget, and let them sink deep into your heart. Remind yourself of them when you are struggling.
If you teach in a Christian school, you should be helping your students understand how much better the Gospel is than simply thinking positively. If you teach in a public school, unfortunately, you cannot share the good news of the Gospel directly. But you absolutely can and must keep the Gospel in mind. It will prompt you to pray for your students and to see their true need clearly. It will change what you say and how you interact with your students.
Because the Gospel is so much better.
spread the word!
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