In preparing a course for our GFI Counseling Institute on The Role of Psychology, a major issue to be evaluated was that of “self esteem.” Dr. Chris Thurman’s book, Self-Help or Self-Destruction, sites and refutes some major myths of Pop Psychology; one of these is the notion, “We need more self-esteem…”
An example of what Dr. Thurman rejects can be seen in Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning’s book entitled Self-Esteem. Here they state the usual view that “Self-esteem is essential for psychological survival.” The authors have provided a series of affirmations which they advocate to enhance self-esteem. (In brackets I include the response by Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries to each.)
First, they prescribe that you say: “I am worthwhile because I breathe and feel and am aware.” [Well, shouldn’t that also apply to animals? And do I lose my self-esteem if I stop breathing?]
Second, they declare, “I am basically all right as I am.” [But is that true? Is it true for Charles Manson? Don’t some of us, in fact all of us, need some changing?]
A third affirmation is “It’s all right to meet my needs as I see fit.” [Really? What if I meet my needs in a way that harms you? Couldn’t I justify all sorts of evil in order to meet my needs? Well, you can see the problem with pop psychology’s discussion of self-esteem. Rarely is it defined, and when it is defined, it can easily lead to evil and all kinds of sin…] 
Psychologist, Paul Vitz, has written an expose of secular psychology, going so far as to identify it as a “religion.” And guess what is worshiped in this humanistic religion? Self! Vitz reasoned, “In spite of the non-scientific character of humanistic selfism, it has frequently claimed to be or allowed itself to be taken as a science and, as a result of this misrepresentation, it has gained greatly in money, power, and prestige. Historically selfism derives from an explicitly anti-Christian humanism and its hostility to Christianity is a logical expression of its very different assumptions about the nature of the self, of creativity, of the family, of love, and of suffering. In short, humanistic selfism is not a science but a popular secular substitute religion, which has nourished and spread today’s widespread cult of self-worship.”
For believers, this issue was directly addressed by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 16:24: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.'” In this context “self” can be defined as our wayward independence from God. Anything in your soul that stubbornly holds on to independent thinking, choosing, valuing and behaving is “self.” Even when applauded by TV psychologists, such independence from God is sin; it grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit in our lives (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).
To put this no-to-self dynamic in context, remember that at the beginning, Adam and Eve were created in innocence. Their spirits were in communion with God and naturally governed their souls and bodies. They enjoyed a beautiful, selfless harmony with their Creator, environment and relationships. However, eating from the forbidden fruit was a devastating act of independence and disobedience. This original sin plunged them–and the human race–into spiritual death and the natural bent to “do our own thing” (Gen. 3; Rom 5:12).
However, through repentance and faith, we are reconciled to God by salvation in Christ. This redemption joins the believer with God’s Spirit and provides freedom from sin’s authority (Rom. 5:1-5,10;6:6).
Now the disciple is voluntarily to return to God’s original design with a heart of love and gratitude. He/She declares total dependence on God, cooperating with Him in the Abiding Life (John 14:23; 15:5).
Here’s the paradox: Instead of missing out on self “actualization,” Biblically-based denial of self brings inner fulfillment! Following His pronouncement on selfless discipleship, Christ promised, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25).
This attitude of surrender and trust is our “daily cross” (Luke 9:23). The following lyrics to a new song testify of a believer who directly addresses “self.” He has reached a personal verdict to end this dysfunctional relationship…
“So Long, Self”
1. Well if I come across a little bit distant
It’s just because I am
Things just seem to feel a little bit different
2. Believe it or not but life is not apparently
About me anyway.
But I have met the One who really is worthy
So let me say,
So long, self.
Well it’s been fun, but I have found Somebody Else.
So long, self
There’s just no room for two
So you are gonna have to move.
So long, self
Don’t take this wrong but you are wrong for me, farewell
Oh well, Goodbye, don’t cry
So Long, Self.
3. Stop right there because I know what you’re thinking
But no, we can’t be friends.
And even though I know your heart is breaking,
This has to end.
4. And come to think of it, the blame for all of this
Simply falls on me
For wanting something more in life than all of this.
Oh, can’t you see
Oh so long, self.”
Fellow Christian, have you said “good bye” to your self-life? Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, can do a much better job as your source, your manager, and your Friend. So, fully embrace Him as your Lord and Life.
 Anderson clarifies this topic further:”William James, often considered the father of American psychology, defined self-esteem as ‘the sum of your successes and pretensions.’ In other words, your self-esteem is a reflection of how you are actually performing compared to how you think you should be performing. So your self-esteem could actually fluctuate from day to day. Self-worth, however, is different. Our worth as human beings has to do with the fact that we are created in God’s image. Our worth never fluctuates because it is anchored in the fact that the Creator made us. We are spiritual as well as physical beings who have a conscience, emotions, and a will. Psalm 8 says: “You have made him [mankind] a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands, you have put all things under his feet.” http://www.probe.org/content/view/820
“Roy Baumeister (and others) of Case Western Reserve University has found that people with high self-esteem tend to have low self-control. His excellent research lays the self-esteem myth to waste. Criminals, he has discovered, do not suffer from low self-esteem. They are not acting out their outrage at being oppressed, suppressed and abused. They are dangerous because they are narcissists. They believe that what they want, they deserve to have, and the ends justify the means.” – John Rosemond, John’s Weekly Column, December 2, 2001, “Unearned Praise Leads to Mediocrity,” available at: http://www.rosemond.com/ [December 8, 2001]. Cited by Spencer Gear, “Self Esteem, A Christian Response www.Christian-witness.org
 Paul Vitz, Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self Worship, 104, 105.
 For a Christian Critique of Abraham Maslow’s model see an article by Andrew Pfeiffer: http://www.aiias.edu/ict/vol_21/21cc_261-278.htm
 Mercy Me, “So Long Self” Album: Coming Up To Breathe. Song lyrics are the property of their respective authors, artists and labels. Commercial use of these lyrics is prohibited by copyright law.
Someone has observed the SELF spelled backwards is FLESH. These terms are virtually synonymous (Gal 5:16,17; Rom 7:18).
For a more complete examination of Self Esteem and related issues see the Clarifications article on Self Esteem. Related Grace Notes include: Sorting Your Self Out, Let the Real You Stand Up, The Daily Cross