Recently, I have been criticizing the notion of self-esteem. I have argued that Scripture teaches the exact opposite of what large swaths of modern psychology teach. Rather than calling us to esteem ourselves highly, Scripture demands that we esteem ourselves lightly and instead that we esteem Christ and others highly. Our problem is not that we have too little self-esteem but that we have too much of it!
As with any issue, though, it is possible to overreact to problems. An example of overaction would be to conclude that the Christian response to self-esteem ought to be self-hatred. That is, rather than thinking, “I’m valuable,” Christians should instead think, “I’m worthless.” Many Christians struggle with these types of thoughts.
Scripture never encourages self-hate. Self-hate is just as much a problem for the Christian as is self-esteem. They both offer the wrong approach to self-identity.
A correct self-understanding is found in between the opposites of self-esteem and self-hate. Self-esteem goes awry in the place where a person is supposed to find joy—namely, self. Self-hate goes awry in its opposition to joy—a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). The truth is found in the middle of the two extremes. Scripture encourages us to reject finding joy in ourselves (an element of self-hate) but instead to find joy (an element of self-esteem) in Christ. This balanced approach emphasizes an element of both self-esteem and self-hate and yet avoids the problems endemic to both.