Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Friday, March 21, 2008

    Self Denial: The Key to Happiness

    “And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

    One of the tragedies of modern evangelicalism is the seductive worship of “self-esteem”, an idol that has been erected to draw church growth pundits to its disgraceful altars. The message of self-denial is not popular among today’s professing believers, yet on this point Jesus was most adamant, claiming that whoever would refuse to do this “cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).

    The false religion of pop-psychology, however, tries to convince us that the key to happiness and contentment is to build up self. The “self-esteem” concept was invented by necromancer William James late last century, and was eventually advanced to the throne of Christ in many churches during the early 1970’s. (See Self-Esteem: The New Reformation by Robert Schuller). Indeed, we have become “lovers of self” (2 Timothy 3:2).

    However, a recent scientific study has confirmed the biblical view that self denial, as well as esteeming others better than oneself, is the actual key to happiness.

    Money Buys Happiness When You Spend On Others, Study Shows

    “Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the Harvard Business School have found that it's possible to buy happiness after all: when you spend money on others...Regardless of how much income each person made...those who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not.”

    While money is only one issue in this complex makeup, the study does support the idea that the key to contentment is to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto the plight of others. Even better, turn them to Christ.


    SocietyVs said...

    I think it is a good thing to have a healthy sense of self esteem ' even God commands 'love your neighbor as you love yourself' - how can we love another without knowing what importance love is to us? We need to gauge out own experiences as the greatest commandments point out - even 'treat other how YOU want to be treated'. You are not seperate from the process of knowing what this all means - and your experiences.

    The charity part - I am down with the cause man. I agree - it is better to give than to recieve. I have even advocated charity is atoning for the giver.

    Puritan Lad said...

    Ah, the passage does not say to love your neighbor as you love yourself, It say to love your neighbor AS yourself. Big difference.

    There is a healthy self worth that is important, but I would hold that most of the problems that psychologists associate with low "self esteem", are actually caused by the opposite, self obsession.

    SocietyVs said...

    "the passage does not say to love your neighbor as you love yourself, It say to love your neighbor AS yourself. Big difference." (PL)

    Explain the actual difference between 'loving your neigbor as yourself' and 'loving your neighbor as you love yourself'? There really is no difference - the verb - 'love' - is what is placed on both the first subject and the second subject - as an action. Point being - how can someone love their neighbor if they do not even love themself? Even the idea 'God loved us so much...' screams this type of esteem for humanity out - from God's own mouth/perspective.

    The self esteem - self obsession problem you have noted - you have something there. I think a lot of people's problems arise from self obsession and the lack of following the very simple ideas as presented by Jesus - which are about sharing our humanity one with another (love your neighbor and treat others how you want to be treated). If people start to do this - they will find they are not the most important thing on the planet - but they are part of the mosat important thing - God's creation (humanity) and His love for it.

    Puritan Lad said...

    The difference is that loving oneself is never a Scriptural commandment. Whenever self love is mentioned in Scripture, it is done so in reproof.

    That doesn't mean that we hate ourselves, but the whole of the Christian life is self-denial, self-abasement, putting self to death, and esteeming others higher then yourself. Self is an idol that we are all tempted to worship.

    The convert to Christianity is one who realizes that there in nothing in ourselves worth esteeming. An accurate and Biblical examination of self only leads to dispair without redemption. The worst thing that a Christian can do is to try and evangelize using "self-esteem". Consider the "self worth" of these saints.

    Job: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5-6)

    Isaiah: “And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"” (Isaiah 6:5)

    Paul: "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh….Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:18-24)

    Our modern day "therapy" preachers would have recommended these saints for counseling. Why don't they know how important they are to God? Why God just can't make it without them? But these men had a proper view of their own worthlessness, and the holiness of God. It is in this context that their need was realized and met.

    What are you to yourself? Worthless? Vile? Empty?

    What is Jesus to you? Precious? Lovely? All your salvation? All your desire?

    What is sin to you? The most hateful thing in the world?

    What is holiness to you? Most lovely? Most longed for?

    What is the throne of grace to you? The most attractive spot?

    What is the cross to you? The sweetest resting place in the universe?

    What is God to you? Your God? Your Father? The spring of all your joys? The fountainhead of all your bliss? The center where your affections meet?

    Is it so? Then you are a child of God!

    Those low views of yourself . . . .
    that brokenness,
    that inward mourning,
    that secret confession,
    that longing for . . .
    more spirituality,
    more grace,
    more devotedness,
    more love,
    does but prove the existence, reality, and growth of God's work within you.

    Cheer up, precious soul!

    That soul never perished, that felt itself to be vile, and Jesus to be precious!

    From Octavius Winslow, "Evening Thoughts"

    SocietyVs said...

    "The convert to Christianity is one who realizes that there in nothing in ourselves worth esteeming" (PL)

    I disagree with this...if this is true at all - then why in your theology would God die on our behalves? Obviously, there is something about humanity worth redeeming? If there was nothing at all worth esteeming - then I am not sure God would even care about us...I mean - why should He?

    Maybe self-esteem gets a bad rap in Christianity - I would look at using the word self-respect...everyone needs to have that about themself (in order to become a disciplined person). I still contend self-esteem is something God is into for the human also - that it is essential for good health. I can't see God not being about our health?

    Your examples only point out that we are not 'as God' - and when we 'meet God' - this will be very evident. It actually does little to address the self esteem/respect/image these same people would of had of themselves (of that we cannot truly know). But obviously they had a few ounces of it or they wouldn't of risked life and limb for their beliefs.

    I think when people have no self esteem that we see real problems in this world (immorality). The person who does not care about himself will not care about anyone else...and then we things like crime, violence, and murder come into the picture. Maybe God is in the business of building our self-respect and imagery?

    Puritan Lad said...

    "I disagree with this...if this is true at all - then why in your theology would God die on our behalves? Obviously, there is something about humanity worth redeeming? If there was nothing at all worth esteeming - then I am not sure God would even care about us...I mean - why should He?"

    That is what is so amazing about amazing grace. There is no reason in ourselves why God would save anyone, outside of his own wise and determinate counsel. He saved us for one reason, because it pleased Him to do so.

    FYI: Caring for oneself is not quite the same as "self-esteem".

    Puritan Lad said...

    I think when people have no self esteem that we see real problems in this world (immorality)."

    This is the worst part of "self-esteem" theology. We assume that sin is related to low "self-esteem". In fact, Robert Schuller defines sin as anything that hurts our self-esteem. As a result, the modern church draws an unbiblical gap between justification and sanctification. They are not the same thing, but you cannot have one without the other. We then tend to treat sin with "therapy" as opposed to the gospel of repentance and atonement.

    According to the Bible, we sin because it is our nature, and is defined as "trangression of the law" (1 John 3:4). Immorality is not caused by low self-esteem. If anything, the opposite is true. A person who has a truly biblical view of himself cannot have too much self-esteem.

    Finally, God's business is to glorify Himself, not man's self-esteem. Despite it's popularity in modern evangelical churches, self esteem cannot be found in Scripture.