Self-esteem may be defined as self-valuation, self-regard, self-appreciation – the regard with which one looks upon oneself, the thought and affection value that one puts upon oneself, his appreciation of himself.
Self-esteem, like every other grace of Christian character, can be abused. Its chief abuse is thinking more highly of oneself than one ought to think. Our text warns, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” Another abuse of self-esteem is to think too disparagingly of oneself. Proper self-esteem lies between these two extremes, as we read “to think soberly” – to form a non-exaggerated, conservative, all-rounded, all-sided and true self-appraisal of oneself.
“The Measure of Faith”
Our text tells us what a proper thinking of oneself is, in the words, “according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” The word faith here means faithfulness, which results from one’s fully trusting his belief. The expression “measure of faith” means one’s ability for faithfulness. God’s people differ from one another in such ability, as the Apostle intimates in the five verses following our text (Romans 12: 4-8). God gives to each one of his consecrated people an office whose duties and privileges he is capable of fulfilling, if faithful.
God assigns each one his place as it pleases Him (1 Corinthians 12: 18), but He does not act arbitrarily. God takes into consideration three things: (1) one’s spirit of consecration, (2) one’s talents and (3) one’s providential situation. God makes a proper, true appraisal of each disciple of Christ, and then assigns him a place. All we need to do to think soberly of ourselves is to find out what our place is, and then think of ourselves accordingly. Once we have done so, we will have a proper self-esteem as a grace and not as a disgrace.
The Elements of Self-esteem
Self-esteem contains three elements: self-confidence, self-satisfaction and self-respect:
(1.) Self-confidence is a belief in one’s ability to do what one believes God desires him to do.
(2.) Self-satisfaction is something that we cannot properly exercise now because of our fallen condition, including our lacks, faults and weaknesses. To exercise self-satisfaction now would imply satisfaction with our imperfections, pride, which would prevent us from making the progress necessary for our development and overcoming; for who would strive to develop himself if he were self-satisfied. In God’s Kingdom, when perfect, we will exercise self-satisfaction properly.
(3.) Self-respect respects oneself as a child of God should – as too worthy to stoop to the low, the mean and the disgraceful, and worthy to think of self as the high privilege of being a child of God calls upon him to think of himself.
When self-esteem is exaggerated it produces pride, which is one of the most condemned disgraces in the Bible. It is especially dangerous to Christians, for “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4: 6) (1 Peter 5: 5). Pride, like self-esteem, also has three elements:
(1.) Exaggerated self-confidence takes on various forms, like self-sufficiently, audacity, forwardness, self-asssurance, presumptuousness, etc. It leads people to aspire to things beyond their capacity, and to attempt things for which they lack the necessary abilities.
(2.) Exaggerated self-satisfaction is always wrong in fallen man, yet there are varying degrees of it. It is self-conceit, self-complacency and self-admiration. It makes its possessor feel like the center of the universe.
(3.) Exaggerated self-respect manifests itself in vaunting ambition, haughtiness, arrogance, contempt and high-mindedness. It tends to disdain and despise others, especially those who are superior to oneself.
Lack of Self-esteem
Lack of self-confidence frequently makes one fail in matters which he is qualified to succeed in because of his disbelief in himself. Those who are thus handicapped need to believe in their ability to do God’s will for them.
Lack of self-respect frequently leads people to engage in conduct unworthy of themselves – like unchastity, drunkenness, gluttony, tobacco and drug addiction, filthiness of appearance, taking mean advantage of others, etc. – if they properly respected themselves.
Self-esteem properly developed enables us to develop a Christlike character, to influence others favorably and to honor God and Christ.