Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Pit of Self-Esteem

In the book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the character Christian asks the character Ignorance the following: 

“You think you must believe in Christ when you don’t see your need of Him! You see neither your original nor your present weaknesses, but you have such an opinion of yourself and of what you do that it plainly renders you to be one who has never seen the necessity of having Christ’s personal righteousness to justify you before God. How then can you say, ‘I believe in Christ?’”

For 38 years of my life, I was a “church-goer.” It would never have crossed my mind to call myself a Christian, and no one in my family or church ever used that term. We were Presbyterians, not Christians (and very liberal Presbyterians at that!). The notion of being a Christian was something utterly foreign to me. 

I went to church because that was what “good” people did. I got married in a church. I participated in infant baptisms in churches. But the name of Jesus Christ never crossed my thoughts or my lips. In fact, the name of Jesus was a big “no-no” in my upbringing. To name Jesus would make us “holy rollers,” “hypocrites” and the like. The same held for the Bible. That Book was nothing more than a spiritual prop for the liturgical-based tradition that I understood to be “church.”

My childhood church, while never coming out and saying they believed in Christ, still called themselves a church within a Christian denomination. There are many other people and churches who do say they believe in Christ yet want nothing to do with Him, personally or corporately. 

I recently attended two very old churches in downtown Boston. I was struck by the promotion of vagueness, of belief in platitudes that could have come right out of a Reader’s Digest feel-good story. The speaking was all about “surprises from God” and “being good just the way we are.” This is the insanity I grew up listening to! And we know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. How many times can we be told how “good” we are before we finally figure out that it’s not working? How long before we finally entertain the idea that perhaps we aren’t so good after all?

All my years of striving and positive self-talk had left me judgmental and critical: in short, a victim. There was no growth in personal integrity. My dissatisfaction with life only grew worse. But I was told to keep “believing in myself.” And I continued to attend churches that catered to self-esteem, adding link after heavy link to the chain that was dragging me deeper into darkness: the dark empty pool of ME.

The chains of dysfunction were finally cut when beautiful voices carried the Good News of Jesus to my ears. I finally saw myself as the sinner that I am; a person with no answers, lost and in need of Jesus. Jesus busted through the image of myself that had built up over the years and He halted the progression of those heavy links of self-pride. And one by one He began to remove them.

In His mercy, as the weight was lifted, I began to rise from the depths of the pit of self-esteem that the world and I had dug. Jesus freed me by trusting me with His picture of reality, asking me if I’d like to leave the life of humanistic insanity behind. Thus began the giving over of myself to Jesus: a life of sanity, finally! A life of results and regeneration at last.

“Churches” that esteem self are nothing but institutions of ignorance and false hope; peddlers of human high regard; worshippers of waywardness.

Isaiah 53:3 says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

This hiding from Jesus continues today in the hearts and minds of those who relentlessly choose to go it alone by esteeming themselves. If, indeed, we are depending on personal righteousness, how then can we say, "I believe in Christ?"

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Colossians 2:8

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