Rev. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
What do you think of yourself as a person? How is your self esteem? In other words, in your eyes, how much are you worth?
This isn’t a burning question just in the church world today. (It is that, too. I own and have read just two of the many books written about “self esteem” lately. Ray Burwick wrote one called, Self Esteem: You’re Better Than You Think, and Robert Schuller, Self Esteem: The New Reformation. And, though Burwick’s does not attack the basics of the Reformed faith as Schuller’s does, it isn’t very helpful, at least until the last two chapters. But the question—”what do you think you are worth?”—is a vital question in apractical way, for every young person. Even if you’ve never actually come out and asked yourself the question, surely you have had times when you felt worthless and wondered, “What use am I?”
“Bob” came to school the other day with his hands hanging down and head low. Grades had come out just last week and his parents still were not treating him very kindly after having seen his “C”s and “D”s in every class but one—PE. Even though he had put a fair amount of effort into studying, he just couldn’t “cut the mustard.” Now, to top it off, his teacher just added to his grief by using him as an example of what not to do in a homework assignment. “Doesn’t he care a bit about how I feel?”
“Mary” was feeling blue because almost every other girl in the class had gotten a date for the Junior/Senior banquet; but she had not. She was not very good looking, so she wasn’t on the top of the young men’s list for whom to ask for a date. Not being very popular with the guys made her feel pretty low about herself.
“Greg” was the highest scoring basketball player his high school had ever had. A quick, accurate shot, he captured the headlines in just about every Saturday morning sports page. For him, to make the basketball team a winning team, and be the star, was the goal of his high school life. But he didn’t feel so hot about himself either. He didn’t know why, but regardless how well he did with the ball team, he felt like nothing. He didn’t know why; he simply felt as if he wasn’t worth much . . . .
At the same time, the most popular girl in school, who had almost every young man asking or wishing to ask her out, was surely glad that everyone in school didn’t know how she felt inside.
What’s the problem here? Why is it that some of God’s people feel worthless about themselves? And how can it happen that not only those who are not so “popular” but also those who are “popular” can feel so poorly about themselves? The problem is what everyone calls low self esteem. The problem is old. God’s people are not immune to it. And young people often are most susceptible to it.
We need to have a solution to this problem. Some may have a twisted view of the Reformed faith and say, “That’s OK; in order to avoid pride, we need to feel poorly about ourselves. We’re totally depraved sinners who ought to feel like worms. Poor self esteem is proper. We don’t need a solution.” But this is a wrong-headed application of the truth of depravity. We MUST abhor and humble ourselves because of our sins, but God’s people, being regenerated, are more than their old man. They have .something to be happy with about themselves, even though it’s nothing that they can take credit for. To say it differently, as sinful as we are, we have great worth. Every one of God’s children can have a high “self esteem,” if that’s what we want to call our view of our own worth.
There are certainly wrong ways to try to gain some self esteem. Self esteem does not come from knowing you are “successful.” True self esteem will not come when you have a lot of friends, or are good looking, rich, or smart. It won’t appear when you can dunk a basketball or hit a home run. Just because your parents are influential or popular will not help.
The wrongness of these solutions is that they all base self esteem on what other people think of us, or on what we have achieved. If we do that, we’re in deep trouble from both directions. From one direction, there are many people (right now) who are rich, successful, famous, esteemed by others as great people, but have the self esteem of a whipped dog. You may very well attain “Trump-like” wealth, may very well practice and practice until you’re the best “Sky- hooker” or point guard in the state, may very well work your tail off until you attain the honored place in society or government. What guarantee is there that this will bring you the needed feeling of peace in your heart?
From the other side, you may never be able to reach that status in looks, sports ability, riches or success, that attracts the attention and approval of others. Then the temptation will be to do whatever outrageous things you can think of to be accepted and approved of by someone—anyone. This is what happens to some young people when they find themselves out of the “in” crowd. Not having found acceptance and worth, they reach out just about anywhere for a feeling of acceptance, often in the “wild” crowd.
(In parentheses, if you parents, teachers, and pastors are dropping in on us here, let me ask, “Have you and I perpetuated this unbiblical lie that worth is based on what great things one can do for the church or school or family? Have we given our intelligent children [in our home or our classroom] the impression that they are intrinsically worth more because of their higher grade point average? Have we given our athletic children, because of their success on the basketball team, the impression that they are worth a great deal because of their success? If we have, then we may be to blame for the depression of some young people, for the permanent psychological scars of the “below-average” student and non-basketball star, and for the wild behavior of that teenager reaching out for approval and acceptance by someone else because he or she couldn’t get it from us. Let’s repent of this soul-destroying attitude and behavior with our children.)
What is it that makes us worth something? It certainly is nothing in ourselves. This is where so many books and counselors today go wrong. Failing to see or acknowledge the truth of total depravity, they misguide and thus hurt people more than they help. There is no worth in a totally depraved sinner. In addition, this points out that there is no true self esteem except through faith in Christ.
Then where is our self worth?
First, self esteem is rooted in this: We have been bought by the precious blood of the Son of God. That is how much we are worth. It cost the death of God’s only Son to purchase you. You are precious because the blood of the only begotten Son of God was spilled for you, personally. You are precious because the Lord has determined to take you into the kingdom and restore in you the image of His Son. You are precious because God loves you and determined to send His Son to die for you. THIS is how much you are worth in the eyes of God!!! In love for you, Christ says, “You are mine and no one else’s. You belong to me. I love you, care for you, and possess you as my own. You are precious to me.” The same precious blood was spilled for you as for every other child of God in the world, smart or not so smart, athletic or clumsy, pretty or not.
Second, self esteem is enhanced by understanding that Christ Himself lives in us. We are temples of the Holy Spirit of Christ, of God Himself. This is the basis for the Lord’s warning to us against all damaging or polluting of our bodies by ourselves—overeating, smoking, using drugs, committing fornication, etc. But this is also an encouragement for us in our spiritual life. The Holy Spirit has taken up residence in you! The Holy Spirit has “made His nest” in your heart. He’s not there because He found you to be a nice place to dwell; but you have some worth because the Holy Spirit is in you!!
Third, we are members of the body of Christ, needed and useful regardless of what anyone else may think. There is not room here to write out a most significant passage about this. But I hope you take the time to look up and read I Corinthians 12:12-27. Paul makes the point there that no member of the body ought to think himself insignificant, because no member of the body IS insignificant. The foot may not say to the hand, “Since I’m not a hand, I’m not worth anything.” The ear may not say to the eye, “Since I’m not an eye, I’m not even a member of the body.” Of course not. Each member, regardless of his place, is a member, and is an important member. Paul even said in verses 22, 23, “Nay, much more those members of the body which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour . . . .” Your worth doesn’t depend on what others think you are worth. When I ponder this truth, I’m always reminded of my appendix which the doctors had to remove some years ago. I’m doing just fine without it. The doctors all say it’s not necessary—they don’t even know what its function is. But when we get to heaven, I believe we’ll find out what our appendix was for. It served a purpose. Well, each of you serves a purpose in the body of Christ. It may not be very evident to others. It may not be very evident to you; but it is true regardless. You are important to the body of Christ in your God-given position.
In sum, our self worth is based on what God thinks of us, and what God has done for us, not on what we can accomplish or on what others think of us.”
This has something practical to say to you, young people, who may be down in the dumps because you feel yourself to be worthless. What is your worth? Is it what you can work and how much you can accomplish? If you base your self esteem on that, you will always feel worthless, because we can do nothing for God of ourselves. Your worth is established by God’s love for you. After that is established, you are worthy, you are precious in God’s eyes. THEN you can work—work as hard as you can, as God has given you the ability. Then, if you are great in the world and accomplish great things, to God be the glory. And if you are small (as most of us are small) and accomplish small things, to God be the glory, too. These small things, as do the large, done in the name of the Son of God, have eternal weight and significance! This is the icing on the cake.
We have a member in our congregation who never will have anything that would make her honorable in the eyes of men. Linda won’t ever win a beauty contest or get a date. She can’t dunk a basketball, won’t ever hit a home run, spike a volleyball, snow-ski or water-ski. She never got a report card, much less a good one. Linda can’t talk. Linda can’t walk. Or communicate. Or come to church. Since a little girl, her mind and body have been malformed from epilepsy and other ailments even her parents don’t understand. But before God she is worth just as much as the winningest, best looking, smartest young person you have ever known. She’s been bought with the precious blood of Christ. Christ Himself dwells in her. She’s a member of the body of Christ. She’s precious in God’s sight.
*(There are other things that contribute to an undermining of our self esteem, as well as things that help keep our head up and knees from becoming weak. We don’t have room to talk about all that here. Why don’t you send for one of the pamphlets that our church has published for distribution in our community, entitled “Christian Joy.” Our address is, Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church, 1945 84th St., Byron Center, Mich. 49315).