Monday, July 17, 2006

You are worth more than many sparrows -- examining self esteem and the Gospel

This is written as a reflection on a TeamPryo blog post by Dan Phillips on June 30, 2006. I discovered TeamPyro trolling the web. TeamPyro comes from a different end of the Christian community who would probably be more comfortable being called fundamentalist than I would. They might find the title of my blog and other things a tad suspect. That said, I enjoy reading TeamPyro and agree with many things. Of course, the things I don't agree with really vex me. This is to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Since I'm responding to something that was posted 3 weeks ago, I decided to post my thoughts on own blog rather than try to reply within the TeamPyro blog.

This exerpt is from a TeamPyro posting on Friday, June 30, 2006 by Dan Phillips titled "What Price Freedom". This exerpt is in the context of Dan Phillips discussing our freedom as Americans and our freedom in Christ.

Fourth, Christ' s love is relevatory of HIM, not of US. If you ever find yourself starting a sentence, "Well, I think God loved me because I..." bail out! Step away from the stupid statement! The only true and Biblical way to finish that is "God loved because God loved." And the fact that God loved, and the wretches whom God loved, and the invincible fierceness with which God loved all way a great deal about God -- and nothing about me.

Yes. God loved because God loved. He made us as extension of His glory as beings made in His image. God made us out of His desire to expand the fellowship that He had originally with His begotten Son and Holy Spirit and then with His created angels and to have us be benefactors of His love and participators in His glory.

If it's going too far to say that God loved me because I am made in His image, it is true that God loves me as one that He has made in His image. God has made us in His image and has created us to have desires so that those desires would find fulfullment in God. As part of God's image in us, our desires were created so that we could see God's reflection in our nature, so that we could relate to Him with the intimacy of being His sons and daughters.

Part of our nature is our desire for self worth. This is a desire that comes from God in the same way that our other needs and desires have been given to us by God. Our desire for self worth is connected to our desire for glory, and, uncorrupted, our desire for glory is not a bad desire. Our desire for glory is part of God's nature that we share as beings made in His image. As God has given us these desires, God has called us into a fellowship with Him wherein we entrust God with our desires daily. It is in submitting our desires and needs to God that we give glory to God, allowing His executive leadership to extend His love to us and His glory through us daily.

In specific regard to our desire for self worth, God has called us to find our self worth in the reality that we have been made in His image. To bear the image of God is a profound honor that God has bestowed on us; it is a royal seal from God that is also a call to participate in His glory. As we participate in His glory as the bearers of His royal image, God's glory reflects back on us, meeting the need for worth and glory that we have been given. It is with this royal seal that we have been given the responsibility that goes with it -- to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

It is in understanding the position that God has intended for us that our present condition is brought to light and we begin to understand just how far we've fallen. It is from that height that we have fallen and have offended God's glory. It is from the depths that we have fallen into that we need Christ's atonement and Christ's guidance via the Holy Spirit for us to be brought back into that fellowship with God. It is on this basis that a Christian says "I have sinned" and takes full responsibility for his/her status as a son/daughter of God who has failed and needs God's redemption.

It is secular people who, in the midst of hubris and self-aggrandizement that we have all been guilty of, operate from the idea that the self is small. It is from a small sense of self that a secular person believes that one's self is subject to larger forces that are beyond one's control. It is from a small sense of self that one say's looks at one's failings and says, "it happened" instead of saying, "I have sinned". It is worldy people who attempt to meet their God given need for self worth through self-aggrandizing, looking to worth that is imparted to them by others around them. It is the same worldy people who try to meet their God given desire for self worth by not measuring their self against the standard of God's perfection but by saying "I'm ok just the way I am".

The Self Esteem movement is a social movement that is a secular attempt to deal the problem of self-worth. Self Esteem has operated from the small sense of self, believing that people's selves need to be protected from those forces that cause them to have low self esteem and that people will be successful if they believe that they are good and special. It is from this belief that the Self Esteem movement prosecutes things that might injure a person's fragile sense of being good and special. In schools, Self Esteem has prosecuted the dispensing of bad marks and the dispensing of firm discipline.

Self Esteem is a Neo-Marxist social movement that treats worth as something that everyone needs and that, like money and capital, must be distributed equally. Self Esteem is an attempt to help people of different classes of society who have been looked down on and treated poorly. From this, Self Esteem has the historical narrative that esteem has been hoarded by the few and must be re-distributed to those who haven't had it. From this perspective, those who have had more of it, historically, need to be given less and those who have had less, historically, need to be given more. In this way, the Self Esteem movement and the Politically Correct movement are wings of each other.

In the context of confronting sin, Self Esteem prosecutes the idea of the Gospel that people have failed God and have fallen into a wretched state. To confront this idea, Self Esteem says, in effect, "No, you're ok just the way you are". To the extent that Self Esteem has been subtly woven into the church, it is manifested in an unwillingness to reckon with the full wretchedness that we must be saved from. The Gospel is bad news before it is good news, and Self Esteem does not want to hear the bad news.

This Self Esteem and Politically Correct influence on the Gospel is not overtly stated in so many words in the church. Rather, it is a "dark matter" influence that is manifested in certain omissions that render the Gospel not as a call for people to pick up their cross daily and to lay their interests and agendas daily at the Lord's feet. Here, the Gospel is presented merely as a therapeutic and motivational tool for people to advance their careers and families successfully in the world. Self Esteem is part of the "Niceanity" that places a premium on not offending anyone, and is part of the phenomenon of the church being afraid to confront people on many specific ungodly behaviors.
And so Dan Phillips continues, confronting this encroachment of Self Esteem into the church.

Away with all self-help pop-psychologizing, that tries to find self-esteem in the Cross.
Many say, "God loved me so much that He gave His Son to die for me -- so I must be worth a lot! I must be worthy! I must be special!" I can't imagine a more perverse line of reasoning. What the Cross says about us is that we're helpless, we're helpless, we're lost and doomed, and only the most extreme, radical, outrageous act on the part of God could redeem us from the wreck and ruin in which we'd buried ourselves!
The Cross says horrible things about us, as we are in ourselves, as Christ finds us! But it says wonderful things about God!

The Gospel says horrible things about our condition, not our value. The blood of Christ did not impart a brand new worth to us in the idea that our worth had been totally annihilated in the Fall as a result of our sin. Rather, the cross was the ransom for God to complete the work of consumating our worth with His redemption -- worth that we had never lost, but that we had profaned as a result of our sin. It is true that this profaned condition is dire and contains with it the consequence of death and damnation -- barring our redemption through Christ. Still, though, this condition is not a reflection of our worth. When Dan qualifies what is "horrible" to mean the "horrible state that we find ourselves in, that Christ finds us in" it seems as though he may be confusing our horrible unredeemed condition with the idea that that condition conferrs on us a horrible and lowly worth.

When I first read Dan saying that the statement, "God loved me so much He gave His Son to die for me, so I must be worth a lot! I must be worthy! I must be special!" is a most perverse line of reasoning, I was taken aback. If someone said, "God loved me so much, He sent His Son to die for me, so I must be worth a lot" and stopped right there, as a line of reasoning, it would be absolutely true. A person is worth more than many sparrows. We are beings with immeasurable worth -- worth that has been given by God to us, who are in a horrible condition in need of the Cross and Christ's redemption.

If someone actually uttered the full statement that Dan criticizes that includes the statements, " I must be worthy" and "I must be special", then this would be a red flag that one was probably focusing too much on one's self and one's worth and not enough on Christ and His love in the midst of one's wretched condition. As such, this may very well indicate that one has been influenced by the Self Esteem movement's dark matter pull on how people understand the Gospel.

So what do we do with the fact that we are are worth more than many sparrows yet harbor a corrupted sense of self worth? What is it to deal correctly with this via Christ's redemption? Our desire for self worth is a God given desire, and we are called to find our worth as image bearers of God's glory. However, our desire for self worth is a corrupted desire wherein we seek our own glory, while at the same time excusing our faults. It is to confront this corruption that we are called to surrender our desire for self worth to God daily, and, in doing so, die to the aspect of our desire for self worth that has become corrupted.

When Jesus says, "He who wishes to be great among you should be the servant of all, and he who wishes to be greatest among you should be slave to all", he is not giving an ironic nod to our desire for glory, rather, he is treating it seriously. It is in trusting God with our need for self worth and glory that we take our God given need for it seriously. "Pooh-poohing" our needs for self worth and glory as being nothing and insignificant is an act of false humility that denies the nature that God has given us. Rather, we are to hand over these needs to God in fear and trembling. It is in the act of being a servant to others that we entrust our worth to God and not to men. In this way, we reckon properly with our needs, including our desire for self worth, trusting them to God, not treating them as things to be grasped on our own or as things to be removed or "blown out" as the Buddhists would say.

As we walk with God in this way, God prunes away the sin so that God can meet that desire for worth and glory in God's way and in God's time. As we grow in our relationship with God, we develop the character to trust that God will meet our needs for worth and for glory in His way and in His time. As God begins to remove our corrupt attempts at seeking our own self worth, we begin to see that we were as C.S. Lewis described as "the kid who preferred making mud pies in the slum because he did not know what was meant by a day at the beach". We begin to experience the redemption of the royal self--His image--that He had entrusted to us before the Fall. Here, we begin to glimpse the glory that God has given us as an extension of His glory and fulfillment of His purposes. Far from being hubristic, it is a freeing and humbling experience.

So when Dan Phillips say that "Christ's love is relevatory only about Him and not me", I understand Dan's desire to confront the self-aggrandizing impulses of Self Esteem by emphasizing our depravity--our horrible condition. Christ's love is relevatory of Christ's love not our love. Dan goes on to talk of the freedom that we have as kings and priests with Him through the redemption paid for by Christ's blood.

Even so, I have a problem saying "Christ's love is relevatory only about Him and not about me". The redemption of us via the cross includes God's redemption of the glory that he had intended for us to have in Him as His image bearers from the beginning. It is for this reason that I have a problem making a dyad of Christ's love and our nothingness. The worth that we have in God is not outside the circle of His love but is a part of it. So I say that Christ's love is relevatory of the full array of God's intentions, and one of those intentions is the redemption of His image that He has imparted to us and intends for us to enjoy with Him as it is restored.

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