God-Confidence in a Self-Confidence Driven World
WORDS BY INONGE SILUKA
Many of us have struggled with self-esteem to varying degrees, and for some, this is a constant battle. By “self-esteem,” I am referring to how we view ourselves; this is often closely connected to self-image, self-worth, self-confidence, or self-assurance. Christians are not immune to this, so how should we address low self-esteem or coming alongside friends who fight this ongoing battle?
There are many reasons why we might have low self-esteem. Quite often, our mental health can skew our perspectives, and medical input may be needed to help. Other times, life experiences like bullying, comments from family or friends, messages we hear about what society values, and social media can bring inevitable comparison, making us feel like we don’t measure up; all these things can affect how we view ourselves. While I don’t think it is wrong to affirm what is true in response to the lies we might believe, that is not enough because it does not deal with the root of the problem. It is like putting a Band-Aid on a gushing wound. So, what is the alternative?
The Self-Defeating Goal of Self-Esteem
The first thing to consider is the aim or the goal. Where do we want to end up from a place of low self-esteem? For the world, it is simple: self-confidence, a self-esteem boost.
But as Christians, we need another goal, a bigger and a better goal.
Have you ever noticed that insecurity and low self-esteem comes about because a “standard” has not been met? This can be a body image standard, beauty, accomplishments, status, or skills. The source of insecurity is that you have not measured up to whatever you perceive to be the goal in that particular area.
The Inconsistency of Invisible Standards
The sad thing is that someone else often sets the standard based on its values, whether that’s society, your friends, or your parents. You may have a low view of yourself because you feel that you are not beautiful; in that situation, the measure of worth is beauty, and a standard of beauty has not been met, leading to low self-esteem. Or you might say, “I am worthless because I am not good at anything.”In that situation, the measures of worth are skills and accomplishments, and you have not accomplished what you think needs to be accomplished in order to be of value. This leads to bondage.
Whatever standard you have not measured up to, whether created by society, peers, family, or yourself, you are in bondage to that. Your worth and value are measured by other people in what is, in effect, people-pleasing. You keep trying to measure up to all these standards in order to get your worth and feel good about yourself. The Bible calls this the fear of man, and it often leads to despair. Why? Because the standards are always shifting, and it is never enough.
When we try to measure up to society and others, and the burden grows heavy, some people decide to create their own measure or standard of worth. They’ll say something like, “I don’t care what other people think. I am just going to do me.” So they reject one set of values, other people’s, for another one, the self. This is often reflected in current popular culture with the message of self-empowerment.
As alluring as this message is, she is still creating a measure of worth; it’s just that she's no longer pleasing other people, but instead herself, and this can also lead to despair. The Bible warns about self-obsession and liberates us from all of this. We are encouraged to not put our confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:) or in any of these values that are meant to determine worthiness but always fall short. This is because, for the Christian, there is only one verdict that matters: not society’s; not other people’s, not even your own, but God’s verdict.
The Freedom of the Gospel
The Gospel liberates us from this; you don’t have to keep performing either to the standards you set or the standards that others set before you in order to get value and acceptance. The moment you believe the Good News of what God has done for you in Christ, his perfect performance is given to you as if it belonged to you, and you are given a new status, adopted into his family. Knowing you are loved and accepted in Jesus, you don’t have to perform in order to measure up. The only person whose opinion counts looks at you and says: chosen, holy, precious, treasured possession because of Christ (1 Pet. 2:9). You don’t have to worry about what you look like, what status you have, or what accomplishments you achieve.
This is radically different from how the world deals with this. It makes sense for the world, because in a universe without God, the solution for low self-esteem is self-confidence based on the values it creates to give worth and meaning.
Quick affirmations sound empowering, but they lead to a cycle of dissatisfaction and an endless preoccupation with self. They are solutions separated from our Creator God.
But for the Christian, the Gospel gives what Tim Keller calls the freedom of self-forgetfulness, which is freedom from self-occupation for rest found in Christ.
Here is the difference for the Christian: self-confidence is not the goal, God-confidence is. We can say with the Apostle Paul that we count earthly confidence as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:7). The shaky confidence the world holds so dear is nothing compared to the unshakable confidence that we have in Christ. Run to him and rest in him.