This month we continue the theme of acceptance, as we turn from our acceptance from God to acceptance of self. One of the buzz words of our generation is “self-esteem.” It means feeling good about oneself. Self-esteem is our own appraisal of our worth and how that makes us feel. So, if you are happy with the way you look and with what you do with your life, what relationships you are in or what you say, then you will have high self-esteem. If you are not happy with these things then you have low self-esteem. People with low self-esteem can suffer from anxiety, stress and depression and so turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography to dull the sense of worthlessness.
Seeking a sense of worth is not wrong. It is a good thing to be happy because we know we are valuable. The question is: where does a lasting sense of self-worth come from? Where can I find happiness for me being me?
In Romans, the Apostle Paul shows that self-esteem can never truly come from within. Most people might think that an Apostle would have fairly high self-esteem, perhaps because he was good, or a high achiever, or good with words, or popular, on the right tracks. But when Paul looks at himself, when he looks within himself, he does not like what he sees:
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. ..What a wretched man I am! Romans 7:18-24
Paul shows in his letter to the Romans that our sense of self-worth must come from outside of us, from God. Our worth is not intrinsic, that is built-in, but extrinsic, it comes from God. That’s why Paul repeats the good news of Jesus Christ again and again in chapter 5:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ …if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Romans 5:1&9-10
To be justified means that there is now no atmosphere, no iciness, no coolness, no awkwardness between God and believing sinners, just love. Paul is at peace with God because of Jesus. Once an enemy he is now a friend of God’s, he has been reconciled. And all this is because of what Jesus had done for him and for billions of others.
When we stop and think of who Jesus is and what he has done for us, then we find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We once chased after that elusive sense of self-esteem. But whenever we thought we were getting near, when our job was going better, or our exam results improved, or our athletic, sporting, music or ministry achievements were on the up, we discovered that never really found self-esteem.
This is what Denise Lewis said she discovered when she won the gold medal at the Sydney Olympics (Amanda and I were in the stadium that night). She described standing on the medal rostrum and singing “God Save the Queen.” She talked about the immense sense of pride and self-worth at climbing mount improbable and clinching the gold medal she’d worked for since she’d watched Daley Thompson and Seb Coe win gold at Los Angeles in 1984. And then she described the greatest sense of loss of direction and emptiness as she stepped off the podium. The medal had not secured the sense of self-esteem that she had thought it would.
The only lasting sense of worth comes from knowing Christ. May we find our worth in him.
With love, Neil.