Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

Increasing Self-Esteem, Decreasing Violence?

A recent story was posted by an ABC news affiliate out of Birmingham, AL entitled “Increasing Self-Esteem, Decreasing Violence.”


From the story: More people have been killed this year than at the same time last year. And for community leaders, the numbers are alarming. According to FBI (web) crime reports, more than 50 percent of the homicide victims and perpetrators are black. And many are not even out of high school. A group called Cover to Cover believes the answer lies in self-esteem. So, they are reaching out to four Birmingham neighborhoods where violence often occurs. A team of adults did a few simple deeds by giving haircuts to boys and makeovers to girls while repeating three simple words. "We love you," said George W. Stewart, coordinator of Cover to Cover. The event called I am your brothers- sisters keeper, touched nearly 100 kids and teenagers ranging in age from 5 to 18 years old. "They care and they want to give us a chance," said Shelby Wilson, an eighth grader. Wilson got the chance to be pampered and respected for a day.

Is the reason we have violence really due to a lack of self-esteem? Is the answer giving kids haircuts? It all seems so simple. But, our problem is much deeper than that of course. Our problem is in our nature: we are sinful to the point of violence when we are focused on self. Focusing on self is like throwing gasoline on a fire. Such a dynamic will only serve to increase violence.

The message of self-esteem militates against a true knowledge of one’s self before God and therefore militates against salvation and sanctification. The self-esteem movement can be described in no less terms than idolatrous as one worships self instead of God who alone is worthy of worship and deadly as one fails to see his enmity against God when he sees himself as good.

Moreover, the self-esteem movement is truly an attack on the gospel of Christ. Jeremy Lelek, President of the Association of Biblical Counselors, noted that some Christians try to mitigate the message of self-esteem to a certain degree but in so doing still distort the gospel message. “Christian's have attempted to squelch the humanistic bent of this worldview by saying such things as, ‘Since God died for you, you are special,’ but in so doing they remove the glory of redemption from God's merciful and graceful character and place it upon the significance of the one receiving such mercy and grace (i.e., self). Therefore, ‘Jesus died for me because I'm special’ usurps the gospel message of ‘Jesus died for me, the undeserving, because he is an infinitely merciful and amazing God.’ The former diminishes a person's sense of desperation for their greatest need, God's grace, while the latter recognizes this desperation, and therefore fosters a deeper sense of gratitude for God's incomprehensible goodness.”

The reality is that all are dead in sin, haters of God, and deserving of His eternal judgment. We have committed spiritual adultery.  The wonder of the gospel is that despite our sinful disposition and actions, God has set His love upon the spiritually adulterous, drawn us with chords of love, and made us His bride in Christ. That is a message that will fill one’s heart with wonder and love for a merciful God, not self. It is a message that gives hope and meaning and indeed fulfillment in life.

What is the cause of violence? The Scripture asks the same question and gives the answer: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war (Jas. 4:1-2).” Violence flows from self focus. The only solution to violence in our culture and indeed the violence in all of our hearts is to have hearts that are subdued by grace to love God and our neighbors as we already love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39).

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