People who want to feel important

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm, but the harm does not interest them … or they do not see it, or they justify it … because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves” (T. S. Eliot ).

Scriptures to protect you

  • “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Psalm 115:1).
  • “If anyone thinks he is important when he is nothing, he is fooling himself” (Galatians 6:3). 
  • “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (Romans 12:3).
  • “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
  • “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
  • “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 4:10-11).
  • “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breastand said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner. ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’” (Lk. 18:9-14).
  • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-9).

Steve Cornell

See also: A gospel postured self perspective

Are we really seeking God?

 

“We confuse two similar yet different human actions. We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning, and purpose to their lives, and loving acceptance. We know that ultimately these things can only be found in God. Therefore, we conclude that since people are seeking these things they must be seeking after God. People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives” (Thomas Aquinas).

  • “But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid …. so I hid” (Genesis 3:9-10).
  • “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:10-12).
  •  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
  •  “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23).
Steve Cornell 

A connection you must make

Have you ever made the connection between Romans 12:2 and 12:3? It’s somewhat unexpected but absolutely essential to spiritual transformation.

Notice the connection:

v. 2 – “be transformed by the renewing of your mind (your way of thinking)”
v. 3 – “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3)

The first area of transformation is renewal of the mind regarding self-perception. If you get “you” wrong, you’ll go wrong in many areas.

Get the right perspective on yourself! “…think of yourself with sober judgment.”

  • How do you tend to “think of yourself”?
  • What are your “self” thoughts?
  • What messages about yourself do you send to yourself?
  • What messages about yourself have you accepted from others (good or bad)?

If you don’t get “you” right, you’ll derail the path of spiritual transformation. Spiritual transformation can only happen in a humble mind of sound judgment.

Consider the great emphasis on this throughout Scripture.

  • Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7). 
  • “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves” (Galatians 6:3).
  • “We serve God by his Spirit, boast in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).
  • A church leader, “must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil” (I Timothy 3:6).
  • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).
  • “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
  • “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (I Peter 5:5-6).
  • “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me” (Psalm 131:1).
  • “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Psalm 84:10).
  • He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven'” (Matthew 18:2-4).
  • see: Luke 18:9-14

The context of the book of Romans

Everything in Romans 1-11 has been leading to the challenge of Romans 12. The point of reference for how we see ourselves is found in the vigorous argument being made in the first 11 chapters. It’s summarized as a universally shared history in sin and redemption.

  • Romans 3:22-24 “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
  • Romans 11:32  “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”

It’s in view of this great mercy of God (Romans 12:1), that the entire appeal of chapters 12-16 is built (On this, see: Unity through the gospel).

Steve Cornell

Progress or Decline?

Was the outcome of the election a sign of progress or decline? I still recall the over-the-top grieving of some of my friends when George Bush beat John Kerry in 2004.  It resembles some of the current responses to Obama’s re-election.


According to NYT columnists, Ross Douthat this behavior suggests that, “Winning an election doesn’t just offer the chance to govern the country. It offers a chance to feel morally and intellectually superior to the party you’ve just beaten.”



Douthat called this an “inescapable aspect of democratic culture” and even recommended that, “something in the American subconscious assumes that the voice of the people really is the voice of God, and that being part of a winning coalition must be a sign that you’re His chosen one as well.”



Perhaps this is part of the social psyche, but “the voice of God”? I don’t think so. While it’s true that God is sovereign over history, we’re wise to hear the warning that the godly servant Daniel gave to the King of Babylon about being humbled by God, “until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes” (Daniel 4:25).

The King became a little heady about his power and sovereignty. After being humbled, he confessed, “God’s dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth” (Daniel 4:34-35).

The apostle Paul told the philosophers of Athens that God, “gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” (Acts 17:25-26).

We’re also encouraged to anticipate a time when, “the government will be on his (Jesus Christ’s) shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

This is the time when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).


Gloating is always spiritually perilous but especially in a participatory form of government. Our system of government is far different from any form in biblical times and from what most people have experienced in history. “We the people” is a line many could only wish for in their countries.

Despite our imperfections and failures, we’re privileged to live in America. This is why I don’t like appeals to God’s sovereignty from those who don’t vote. We have no business talking about God being in control if we choose not to exercise our privilege and responsibility.

 When we do participate, a bit of humility about the outcome is fitting.

Douthat is right about the current attitudes of many democrats in the wake of the president’s re-election. “The liberal conventional wisdom is that … Republicans are now Radio Shack to their Apple store, “The Waltons” to their “Modern Family,” a mediocre Norman Rockwell to their digital-age mosaic.”


Douthat admitted that it might be “too soon to pierce this cloud of postelection smugness” but “in the spirit of friendly correction” he wisely points to “some slightly more unpleasant truths about the future that liberalism seems to be winning.”



“Liberals look at the Obama majority and see a coalition bound together by enlightened values — reason rather than superstition, tolerance rather than bigotry, equality rather than hierarchy. But it’s just as easy to see a coalition created by social disintegration and unified by economic fear.”



Before anyone celebrates a new emerging America, we should ask whether the outcome of the election is about progress or decline. Is it possible that our direction is more united around “the growing failure of America’s local associations — civic, familial, religious — to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible.”



Perhaps the democrats did a better job appealing to the crises we face but as Douthat wrote, “whatever role government plays in prosperity, transfer payments are not a sufficient foundation for middle-class success.”



Steve Cornell 

 

The dignity and worth of human beings

Viktor Frankl endured three years of anguish in the Auschwitz concentration camp. After his rescue, he became a professor of Psychiatry and Neurology in the University of Vienna. Frankl recounted his horrific experiences and some lessons to be learned in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

Among his observations, he noted that inmates at the concentration camp were most likely to survive if they “knew that there was a task waiting for them to fulfill.” Frankl suggested that, “striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.” Writing in the late 1950’s, he suggested that, “The mass neurosis of the present time is the existential vacuum” (i.e. a loss of meaning in life). 

What Frankl observed almost five decades ago became a widespread philosophy of despair. Some called it nihilism. This label  was popularized by the German Philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. “Nihilism literally has only one truth to declare, namely, that ultimately nothingness prevails and the world is meaningless” ( Helmut Thielicke, Nihilism: Its Origin and Nature, with a Christian Answer).

“From the nihilist’s perspective, one can conclude that life is completely amoral, a conclusion, Thielicke believes, that motivates such monstrosities as the Nazi reign of terror. Gloomy predictions of nihilism’s impact are also charted in Eugene Rose’s Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age (1994). If nihilism proves victorious–and it’s well on its way, he argues–our world will become ‘a cold, inhuman world’ where ‘nothingness, incoherence, and absurdity’ will triumph.” (Ibid.).

More recently, apologist Ravi Zacharius observed that,

“One by one the generation that refused to be bound by the Pope, and refused to be bound by the Church, decided in an ecstasy of freedom that they would not be bound by anything–not by the Bible, not by conscience, not by God himself. From believing too much that never did have to be believed, they took to believing so little that for countless thousands human existence and the world itself no longer seemed to make any sense. Poets began talking about the ‘wasteland’ with ‘ghostly lives’ as Stephen Spender put it, ‘moving from fragmentary ruins which have lost their significance.’ Nothingness became a subject of conversation, nihilism a motive, frustration and despair a theme for novelists and dramatists…yet all is not lost” (Can Man Live without God)

The full biblical doctrine of humanity

In 1992, John R. W. Stott wrote about the pervasive effects of nihilism that Frankl warned against decades earlier. Stott noted that,

“Millions of people do not know who they are, nor that they have any significance or worth. Hence the urgent challenge to us to tell them who they are, to enlighten them about their identity, that is, to teach without compromise the full biblical doctrine of our human being – its depravity, yes, but also its dignity” (The Contemporary Christian).

The basis for Stott’s urgent challenge is that, “Christians believe in the intrinsic worth of human beings, because of our doctrines of creation and redemption. God made man male and female in his own image and gave them a responsible stewardship of the earth and its creatures. He has endowed us with rational, moral, social, creative and spiritual faculties which make us like him and unlike the animals. Human beings are Godlike beings. As a result of the fall our Godlikeness has indeed been distorted, but it has not been destroyed. Further, ‘God so loved the world’ that he gave his only Son for our redemption. The cross is the chief public evidence of the value which God places on us.”

My journey

I picked up a copy of Stott’s book in 1993. When I read his balanced treatment of human dignity and depravity it helped me tremendously (He also addressed these themes in the early chapters of Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today).

In my background and training in theology, most of the emphasis was placed on human depravity. Although thankful for that training, this was clearly an area lacking in balance. It narrowly focused on certain theological emphases without placing them in a larger biblical framework. No doubt this emphasis was itself forged in reaction to erroneous contemporary thinking.

During my years of training, a surge of contemporary thinkers both secular and religious began promoting views of humanity that downplayed depravity by offering more utopian notions of humanity. Perhaps they were trying to correct the philosophy of despair with a more positive perspective. But, on the popular level, it produced a kind of self-esteem movement with an emphasis on self-love as the greatest human need.

As this “new” emphasis became mainstream, it filtered into seminaries and Churches, ignoring large and important portions of biblical truth about the sinfulness of humanity. “Self-esteem or pride in being human” one minister wrote, “is the single greatest need facing the human race today” (Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.19). “Once a person believes he is ‘an unworthy sinner’ it is doubtful if he can honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Christ.” (Robert Schuller, Ibid., p. 98).

Lack of success on every level of life (at work, in school, in relationships) as well as almost every form of evil and destructive behavior would soon be traced to low self-esteem. So the agenda in education, counseling and parenting became focused on the goal of encouraging self-esteem and self-love.

This no doubt prompted reactions in the opposite direction from those committed to a biblical worldview. Biblical perspectives on depravity and the sinfulness of humanity were put on the defensive as they were often dismissed as archaic and even dangerous(see Karl Menninger’s Whatever Became of sin?).

Forming beliefs in reaction is never a good idea and I came under the influence of such reaction in some of my earliest ministry education. Gratefully, God used the teaching of the late John R. W. Stott to help me be more faithful to the entire witness of Scripture on these matters (see: Holistic Ministry and Fundamentalism).

Stott suggested that, “Christian teaching on the dignity and worth of human beings is of utmost importance today… for the welfare of society.”

”When human beings are devalued, everything in society turns sour. Women are humiliated and children despised. The sick are regarded as a nuisance and the elderly as a burden. Ethnic minorities as discriminated against. The poor are oppressed and denied social justice. Capitalism displays its ugliest face. Labor is exploited in the mines and factories. Criminals are brutalized in the prisons.”

“But when human beings are valued as persons because of their intrinsic worth, everything changes. Men, women and Children are all honored. The sick are cared for, and the elderly enabled to live and die with dignity. Dissidents are listened to, prisoners rehabilitated, minorities protected, and the oppressed set free. Workers are given fair wages, decent working conditions, and a measure of participation in both the management and the profit of the enterprise. And the gospel is taken to the ends of the earth. Why? Because people matter. Because every man, woman and child has worth and significance as a human being made in God’s image and likeness.” (The Contemporary Christian).

The balance in Stott’s teaching is often missing in local Church ministry. We too easily become one-dimensional. We focus on the spiritual needs and overlook the physical and social. Or, as in the case of many mainline protestant Churches, the spiritual needs of mankind are de-emphasized. 

The priority should be placed on the gospel and the human need to be reconciled to God in the context of a holistic view of humanity. Stott widened this concern when he suggested that,

“There is a cluster of popular attitudes which are fundamentally incompatible with Christian faith: e.g. the concept of blind evolutionary development, the assertion of human autonomy in art, science and education, and the declarations that history is random, life is absurd and everything is meaningless. The Christian mind comes into direct collision with these notions precisely because they are “secular”—that is, because they leave no room for God.  It insists that human beings can be defined only in relation to God, that without God they have ceased to be truly human.  For we are creatures who depend on our Creator, sinners who are accountable to him and under his judgment, people who are lost apart from his redemption. This God-centredness is basic to the Christian mind” (Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life).

In Auschwitz, Victor Frankl painfully experienced the darkest side of human depravity. Yet he also observed the deepest reserves of human dignity. We live in a world where both sides to humanity will be experienced. As we seek the peace and prosperity of the city of our exile, let us not reduce or minimize the sweep of the gospel as God’s power to address the whole reality of human need.

Without faithfulness to the gospel, one cannot claim to respect human dignity. 

Steve Cornell
Senior pastor
Millersville Bible Church
58 West Frederick Street
Millersville, PA 17551

The history of evil

The ambition of an angel led to the suspicion of Eden (that the best life is outside of the will of God not within it). This led to the delusion of self-rule (which only resulted in bondage to sin and death). The cycle continues — ambition, suspicion, delusion, death.

Creation took its first turn toward disaster when the ambition of an angle incited a revolt against the Creator. It was a delusional and arrogant bid for autonomy. 

How irrational for a created being to think of autonomy as a possibility! The only real option for created beings is dependence. It’s a delusional  and dangerous fantasy for creatures to make a bid for self-rule and self-determination.

Yet because we’re created as moral beings, we’ve been given a kind of freedom to choose without coercion. This gift was given to us to be either honored or to be abused. We chose the latter. We still choose it.

It all began when a created and subordinate being declared “I will” in a universe where there had only been one will. A revolt began and disaster followed. The cycle hasn’t changed.

It begins with discontentment with one’s place in the will of the Creator. Discontentment involves contemplation of the pleasures of self-rule. It fosters a desire to be in control, to call the shots, to set the agenda, to define the boundaries, to be Master of my fate and Captain of my soul, to alter destiny… These are the delusional bids of dependent beings.

The seeds of discontentment are planted when creatures lose sight of the glory that belongs to them as beings made in the image of God. Discontentment easily leads to an imagination for and pursuit of lesser glories. Those who take this path might think of themselves as wise, but only fools “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:22-23).

The suspicion of Eden was ignited when an ambitious angel offered a different version of reality. “For God knows,” Satan said, “that when you eat from it (the forbidden fruit) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The language is intentionally deceptive. Humans were made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27) so how could “you will be like God” hold any power to tempt? Likeness had boundaries that distinguished created beings from the Creator. Rebels resent and resist boundaries unless they get to set them. Is it possible that the good life is found outside of the will of the Creator, not within it? This was the suspicion of Eden. It continues each day.

How should we access the moral categories of “good and evil”?

In keeping with reality as we know it, God created humans as moral beings and gave them ethical imperative when he said, ““You are free to… but you must not…” (Genesis 2:17). If the original man chose to violate the “you must not” part, his culpability would lead to judgment — “when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). 

But before this ambitious angel could incite the suspicion of Eden, he had to deny the consequences of violating the boundaries of God’s will. Along with his denial was a deceptive invitation to reach for autonomy – “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

This “Knowing” was more than “knowing about something.” It carried the weight of self-determination. It was based in an offer to step outside the boundaries; to declare personal independence by violating the only prohibition given by the Creator.

The language is somewhat cryptic. What was the lure? What did the mother of humanity see as “desirable for gaining wisdom”? (Genesis 3:6). After disobeying God, in what sense were “the eyes of both of them opened”? (Genesis 3:7). Opened to what or to whom? How did their perception or perspective change?

It appears that a vision of life that flourished in fellowship with the Creator and His creation narrowed destructively toward self-centeredness. What was about God and others became about me and mine. The delusional bid for autonomy turned life’s meaning and purpose toward the self. Protecting self, even at the risk of hurting others surfaced quickly. “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). The history of victimization and blame began. It continues.

The delusion of autonomy began with a delicious but momentary indulging of the pleasures of what appeared to be “good for food and pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:5). But it ended in death. It always does because “…each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).

“Sin in Genesis 3 is like a contagion, transmuting from shame and vulnerability to heightened alienation, even to the point where Yahweh’s own voice is no longer invitation but threat. Cain’s murderous act results in his exile (Gen. 4:1-16); a restless, godless society emerges (Gen. 4:17-24; 5:28-29); global violence leads to global destruction (Gen. 6:1-9:18); sin within Noah’s family leads to the enslavement of one people by another (Gen. 9:17-27); and, finally, the imperialism of conquest leads to the confusion of languages (Gen. 11)” (from, Body, Soul, and Human, Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible, Joel B. Green).

The history of destruction began in this way.

It continues. I read about it each day in my newspaper and fight it each day in my heart. Discontentment. Suspicion about the pleasures of life outside of the boundaries. Restlessness, violence, destruction and death.. A delusional bid for autonomy. Pursuit of diminished glory. The shrinking of life into a wad of self-absorption. Sin and Death. A life-pattern of  flight and hiding. What a sad exchange for life!

 Love wins

Gratefully, the original narrative of death was conquered by the merciful and loving pursuit of the living God. From the beginning, He is the Seeker of those who flee and hide. No man (of himself, in himself or by himself) seeks God. God is the only seeker.  We respond only when He seeks. Unless He pursues, we remain in flight.

God’s pursuit culminated in an unimaginable divine entrance into the created world. The Creator, Lawgiver and Judge became man to become our Redeemer. God accepted a costly rescue mission to save us from sin and death. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8, NLT).

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-4,14). 

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

“Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son (Jesus Christ) also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

“Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me’…. First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”  (Hebrews 10:5, 8-10).

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).

“if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. … God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:17-21).

When our Savior faced the impending judgment for our sins, a window to the mysterious intensity of His costly sacrifice is opened when we learn that, Jesus “knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done'” (Luke 22:41-42). In some way, Jesus entered and conquered the conflict of the will that was traced to the origin of sin. Union with Him is our only hope for freedom from bondage to sin and death. 

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (Romans 6:5-12).

The Creator, Lawgiver and Judge—The Master of our fate and Captain of our soul—is also the Redeemer, “There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. “Turn to me and be saved,  all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:21-22).

with gratitude to our great God and Savior,

Steve Cornell

 

Is self-love our greatest need?

So how do you feel about yourself? How’s your self-esteem?  Do you have a good self-image? Answers to these questions have become prominent concerns of education, psycho-therapy, counseling and parenting.

One writer suggested that, “Feeling good about ourselves may in fact be the cornerstone of our total well-being.”

When this emphasis became mainstream, some church leaders jumped on the wagon. “Self-esteem or pride in being human” one minister wrote, “is the single greatest need facing the human race today” (Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.19). Schuller even wrote that, “Once a person believes he is ‘an unworthy sinner’ it is doubtful if he can honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Christ.” (Robert Schuller, Ibid., p. 98). Unbelievable!

As time went on, lack of success on every level of life (at work, in school, in relationships) as well as almost every form of evil and destructive behavior would be traced to low self-esteem. So the agenda in education, counseling and parenting became focused on the goal of encouraging self-esteem and self-love.

It’s certainly not unreasonable for parents, educators and counselors to see some connections between one’s view of oneself and other issues in life. Building healthy self-respect and confidence is not necessarily a bad thing — if built on the right foundation.  But those of us familiar with what the Bible teaches (and honest about the reality of life) have good reasons to be guarded against overstatement on self-image, self-love and self-esteem.

Is self-love mandated in Scripture?

Scripture assumes that we love ourselves when it says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) or “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but feeds and cares for it” (Ephesians 5:28-29).

The mistake some interpreters make is to misread these passages as mandates to love yourself. The text does not present two commands, one to love your neighbor; the other to love yourself. The texts above assume self-love as a current reality and mandate love for others. Scripture actually warns about the dangers of self-love and the need to put limits on self-esteem.

2 Timothy 3:1-4

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

Misdirected love

The “terrible times” in the “last days” are partly due to misplaced love. Notice where love is directed:

  • verse 2 – lovers of themselves
  • verse 2 – lovers of money
  • verse 4 – lovers of pleasure
  • verse 4 – rather than lovers of God

Along with this, people become:

  • verse 2 – boastful, proud and ungrateful
  • verse 4 – conceited

These traits are labeled as dangerous. They belong to the degeneration of wholesome society.

Clear warning

In 1 Timothy 3:6, there is a direct warning about dangers related to self-esteem. It warns against allowing a new believer to be an elder/leader in the Church: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.”

Conceit is best defined in Romans 12:3-  “…I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment…” This offers an important word against unrestrained self-esteem.  “Think of yourself with sober judgment” –realistically and honestly— with humility (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7).

Would it be wrong to encourage someone to have confidence in himself or to have a little self-respect? No! But these statements shouldn’t be taken too far (Consider Luke 18:9-14 with Luke 15:18-19).

Old Testament examples:

  • Moses (Exodus 4:10-11; 3:11)
  • Gideon (Judges 6:15)
  • Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5)
  • Amos (Amos 7:14-15)
  • Job (Job 42:6)
  • Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:28-37)

New Testament examples:

  • Peter (Luke 5:8; 22:31-34)
  • Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
  • John the Baptist (Luke 3:16)

Philippians 2:3-5 – the mind of Christ

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”

Kingdom thinking

The best way to overcome misdirected love is to live by a kingdom of Christ understanding of life.

How did Jesus present himself?

“Also a dispute arose among the disciples as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves'” (Luke 22:24-27).

Consider the contrast

   

The self-Image focus Says:

God’s Kingdom Calls Us To:

1. Love Yourself Love God and others (Ma. 22:37)
2. Build your self-esteem Build up others (Hebrews 10:24-25)
3. You are good None righteous (Romans 3:23)
4. Believe in yourself Heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9)
5. Put yourself first Put others first (Philippians 2:1-4)
6. Think highly of yourself Be humble (Romans 12:3)
7. You are of great value We are sinners (Romans 3:10-11)
8. Do what you want to do Walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16)
9. Find yourself Deny yourself (Matthew 16:24-26)
10. Have self-confidence Put confidence in God (Philippians 4:13)

See: Pride: Should it be removed from the seven deadly sins?