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Self-Esteem, Pride, Shame, and Humility

That's the paradox of self-esteem: Low self-esteem usually means that I think too highly of myself. I'm too self-involved, I feel I deserve better than what I have. The reason I feel bad about myself is that I aspire to something more. I want just a few minutes of greatness. I am a peasant who wants to be king. When you are in the grips of low self-esteem, it's painful, and it certainly doesn't feel like pride. But I believe this is the dark, quieter side of pride--thwarted pride.

[Edward T. Welch, When People are Big and God is Small, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1997), 32]

He had some interesting things to say about "self-esteem" in this chapter. Earlier he had said:

The massive interest in self-esteem and self-worth exists because it is trying to help us with a real problem.  The problem is that we really are not okay. There is no reason why we should feel great about ourselves.

[Welch, 29]

According to Welch, the biblical word for low self-esteem is shame. I think he is right. This is indeed a real problem, not in our thinking or feeling it, but in the cause of it: our sin against God and others, and our being sinned against. A mere silencing of it by saying, "Think well of yourself!" is a shallow and harmful way to deal with it--just about as harmful to a car as disconnecting the "Check Engine" light because it makes you feel bad looking at it.

The cross of Jesus Christ is the only thing that can truly take away our shame. And it doesn't replace it with a high view of ourselves (i.e. "Jesus loves me so I don't care if others don't"). Rather, it enables you to stand before God without shame, accepted by him through the blood of Jesus, and to find your joy in his (true) greatness, not in your (supposed) greatness; joy in making much of him, not in making much of yourself. 

This is (才是) true humility, not some external modesty ("No, I'm not great!") that internally treasures the compliments people make of you. This humility finds ways to love other people rather than seeking a sense of fulfillment from other people, i.e. it actually loves people, rather than using people for self.

This humility is true greatness.


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Matt Hauck (郝柏昇)

A once enemy now son, forgiven and freed by Jesus' blood, adopted and called by grace for glory.   (more...)

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