The concept of self-esteem dominates psychology and psychotherapy. Even a cursory Google search on self-esteem will reveal the strong relationship between the two. Psychotherapy aims at helping boost a client’s self-esteem, showing them their supposed inherent value and importance. Ultimately, it teaches the client to love herself, frequently adding that self-love is absolutely foundational to good mental health and healthy relationships.
This emphasis on self-esteem, however, directly contradicts the basic Gospel message. John MacArthur, in his sermon, The Gospel: Self-love or Self-hate?, demonstrates from Scripture that the person clinging to self-esteem can never benefit from the Gospel because she can’t truly face the truth of her sinful condition and utter dependence on Christ as her only source of righteousness.
The Bible, in stark contrast to psychology’s emphasis on self-esteem, teaches that salvation comes only as we recognize our depravity and consequently come to hate ourselves. Jesus said, in no uncertain terms, that feeling good about ourselves would automatically prevent us from receiving God’s mercy.
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” ~~Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
I know some of you are objecting that this parable talks about pride, not self-esteem. But if you think about it, isn’t self-esteem simply a socially acceptable description of pride? Look at the Pharisee and the tax collector again. Wouldn’t you agree that the Pharisee had pretty high self-esteem and the tax collector suffered from low self-esteem? And yet Jesus said that the tax collector was justified by God, Who looked on the man’s humility with favor.
The Gospel asserts that every human being, with the exception of the Lord Jesus Christ, is a sinner by nature and by choice. As sinners who habitually violate God’s Law, we rightfully deserve eternal punishment in hell. Because of our helpless condition, Jesus came to earth as a Man (without ceasing to be God) to live a sinless life. He suffered a criminal’s execution on a Roman cross, shedding His innocent blood in payment for the sin of all those who would believe in Him. On the third day He rose again, proving that God the Father accepted His sacrifice and will therefore raise believers to eternal life.
The first component of the Gospel, you’ll notice, focuses on our sinfulness, which in turn verifies our desperate need for a Savior. Self-esteem, however, denies the gravity of our sinfulness, falsely assuring us what we have something to contribute to our salvation. As a result, we skew the Gospel, diminishing Christ’s work while subtly claiming some of the glory for ourselves.
Psychology, precisely because of its relentless promotion of self-esteem, rips away the very foundation of the Gospel. As Bible-believing Christians, we must categorically reject psychology because of its integral ties with the self-esteem movement. By recognizing psychology’s unbiblical underpinnings, we embrace the biblical teachings on sin which prepare us for the Good News of Jesus Christ.