SELF ESTEEM (Part 2)
by Dr. W. J. Prost
CHRIST LIVETH IN ME
We have seen that true Christian position is that of being dead, buried and risen with Christ. As far as sin is concerned, God has condemned it at the cross. In the death of Christ, God saw the crucifixion of my oId man, and the cross was the end of all that I was as a sinful creature of Adam's race. Now I am entitled to take that position practically, and reckon myself to be "dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11). With this blessed truth in mind, we can go on to see the true, scriptural answer to self- esteem.
The title of this section is from a verse in Galatians:
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
The wisdom of this world, as we have already seen, says that we must develop our good qualities, and realize what our potential is. We must realize that we are valuable people, and have a contribution to make. We are told that we must have faith in ourselves. We have already commented that there is some merit in getting us to recognize our God-given abilities, but unless the factor of sin is brought in and dealt with, such teaching will never solve the problem of self-esteem.
Occupation with ourselves will always end in either pride or disappointment. All has been tainted by sin, and we will either be puffed up because of what we are, or depressed because of what we are not. Doubtless in some cases such teaching will develop a quality or ability in an individual, so that people will say that it works. However, such an approach can never take us beyond the realm of ourselves. The basis for it is so fragile, and can be lost so easily. The one who is occupied with himself is never truly happy.
What we need is to let Galatians 2:20 get a grip on our souls. We need to realize what it is to be "crucified with Christ." The "I" here is what I was before I was saved, the "I" that I was as a child of Adam, and a member of a sinful, fallen race. Having a new life in Christ, I am entitled to say that the old "I" is not really who I am anymore. Before God, I am "in Christ," and I am to let the new life Christ has given me be the "I" from now on. Since this is really life in Christ, I can truly say, "Christ liveth in me."
God tested man throughout the Old Testament, and all His testing only proved the utter ruin of man in his fallen condition. Now God has finished with the "first man," and is beginning again with His Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. The marvelous truth is that when the first man (Adam, and ultimately ourselves) failed in everything God committed to him, God brought forth His Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ was faithful in every area where the first man had failed, and all God's purposes are going to be fulfilled in a Man, His own beloved Son. This is the meaning of Psalm 8:4-5, which says, "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him? For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor." In wondrous grace God has chosen to associate you and me with Him, and has given us new life in Him! Instead of expecting something from man, God is putting something into him. God's answer is not self-esteem, but "Christ-esteem"!
I read a story some time ago, which I think illustrates the point very well. There was a young woman who had had a very difficult upbringing. Some of you can relate to this. She had been told by her parents and others that she could not do anything right, and as a result had serious problems when she got into early adulthood. To a casual observer she seemed to have a lot going for her. She was attractive, had quite a bit of natural ability, and was a true Christian, but she just could not seem to get over the idea that she was worthless. She went to psychiatrists and all sorts of self-help groups, but nothing seemed to change. Finally she came to a Christian man who was prepared to listen to her story and try to help. She told him her situation, how that she could never seem to do anything right, and ended by saying, "I just feel so worthless all the time."
After listening carefully for a long time, he looked at her and said softly and gently, "Maybe you are worthless." He was referring, of course, to her sinful nature, not to her God-given abilities. You can imagine her reaction. She looked up at him with anger in her eyes, and said, "No one has ever spoken to me like that before! My psychiatrist always tells me that I am a valuable person, that I need to believe in myself, that…" Then he interrupted her by asking," And has it worked?" "No," she said, "but I am not ready to give up on myself yet!"
We must be ready to give up on ourselves as to our sinful nature, if Christ is to practically live in us. We had to come to the end of ourselves in order to be saved, and we have to realize the total ruin of the "old man" if we are to walk as Christians in the right way. As long as we focus on ourselves, things will never be right. God wants our new life in Christ to be practically expressed in us.
Perhaps we say, "Oh, I've tried, but it's no use. I just can't seem to do it." Then we are like the man in Romans 7, who was trying to do it in his own strength. There will always be a struggle, and we will always lose until we lay hold of what Christ has done for us at the cross. Just as we had faith that the blood of Christ was sufficient to put away our sins, so we must have faith that our "old man" was crucified with Christ. In both cases faith counts on God's estimate of the finished work of Christ. Faith believes what, in God's sight, is an al- ready accomplished fact – that in the death of Christ, I died to sin. Then I have power to act on Romans 6:9, and reckon myself as dead practically. Then I take God's view of me, that the real "I" is now the new man, the new life I possess in Christ.
If I have a new life in Christ, is it possible that I can fail in something that God gives the new "me" to do? No, for all the resources of God are available to the one walking in the path of obedience, and allowing the new life in Christ to express itself. This seems elementary, and yet is an astounding fact. The new life, which always acts to please God, cannot fail in anything it does.
Yet the challenge of allowing the new life to display itself in our lives is probably the biggest single difficulty every Christian has. Like the young woman to whom I referred, we are not ready to give up on ourselves and recognize that our sinful nature can do nothing to please God. We want to be more like Christ. We talk about it, perhaps we sing about it, but the bottom line is that we like ourselves too much. It is not self-love that we need, for that will only occupy me with what I am by nature. The antidote is to be occupied with Christ, and enjoying His love in our hearts. Then I will be occupied with what He is, and not with what I am.
We see an example of learning to look away from self and to the Lord in the life of Gideon. The Lord had delivered the children of Israel into the hand of the Midianites because of their sin. When the angel of the Lord approached Gideon and told him that the Lord was going to use him to deliver Israel, his response was, "Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house" (Judges 6:15). But he was willing to be obedient, and the Lord led him on gently. When he still could not be persuaded to go ahead, the Lord graciously answered when he put out the fleece on two separate occasions. Then, to show that it must be done in His strength, the Lord reduced his army to only three hundred men. Finally, he told Gideon to go down to the camp of the Midianites, and there he overheard a conversation inside one of the tents that convinced him that the Lord was going to give him the victory. Gideon got the victory, but in such a way that the Lord got all the glory. Gideon had nothing in which to boast, for it was clearly the hand of the Lord. He exemplified the scripture, "When I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).
After the victory, when the men of Ephraim were upset with him because they felt he had not given them the place of honor, Gideon's right attitude was displayed in his answer to them. Instead of pride displaying itself, grace gave them credit for what they had done, while Gideon took the low place. The bad feeling was defused because Gideon wanted no credit for himself, but was glad to give it to others. Later when the men of Israel wanted Gideon to be the ruler over them, he refused, saying that the Lord should rule over them.
Contrast this with Jephthah some years later, who evidently had a real problem with pride. He refused to lead the people in battle against the children of Ammon unless they promised to make him head over them if he delivered them. Then, when the same men of Ephraim became upset again, Jephthah answered them roughly, and a civil war ensued in which forty-two thousand were killed. The world would say that both Jephthah and the men of Ephraim had low self-esteem, but pride is the right word here.
"Oh," you say, "but if I didn't have some pride in myself, I wouldn't bother about my appearance, about doing a good job at my work, about looking after my home, etc." My late father-in-law once told me that as a young man he had asked his father that same question. His father's answer was,
"Son, if you remember that every time you step out the door and walk down the street, every time you go to work, every time you interact with others in any way, you are a child of God, and that everything you do and say reflects on the One to whom you belong, it will take care of all those things such as your appearance, work, etc., but without giving you any room for pride. If you remember that you have been sent into the world to please the Lord, you will do all those things in a right way, but with an Object outside of yourself." ¢
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