The Problem with Self-Esteem: Get out the Court Room!

“Both low self-esteem and pride are horrible nuisances to our own future and to everyone around us.”

-Timothy Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

Self-esteem has always seemed like a stupid concept to me… I just always felt like “liking myself” more or “self-love” would never cut it or begin to solve my problems (it doesn’t either) & that somehow it was a view/esteem of “God ” not an esteem of “man” … So after I read Timothy Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness I was not surprised to learn why, in fact the problem with most of us and the source of majority of the problems present – whether that is the little personal trifles everyone faces or heinous crime – IT ALL BEGINS WITH OUR VIEW OF GOD OR THE LACK THEREOF & HOW WE ESTEEM SELF MORE THAN GOD…

Keller’s book is centered around I Corinthians 3:21 -4:7

 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

(1 Corinthians 3:21-4:1-7 ESV)

“Paul is saying that he has reached a place where his ego draws no more attention to itself than any other part of his body. He has reached the place where he is not thinking about himself anymore. When he does something wrong or something good, he does not connect it to himself any more.” Wow what a goal to strive towards… Our egos can either get in the way of enjoying life with God and those around us OR we can surrender them to God + ask that He fill our painful, busy, empty egos with vision of Him that we too, like Paul, would be as aware of our egos as we are of our eye, big toe, or knees- may we only be reminded of them when there is a problem and even with those problems – be reminded of the ANSWER 🙂 Furthermore, as servants of Christ, our identity is to be hid in Him, so like Paul may we pray to not connect our deeds to ourself as this can inflate + draw attention to our egos.

This is a short + powerful book. And it’s only $4 on Amazon (a great gift or book to read with people + a great convo starter)… There were a few key quotes that really stood out to me:

1.) C.S. Lewis on gospel-humility + what this means.

“C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

This is why I say “self-esteem” is frustrating – when I am overwhelmed with my problems or even in everyday life – the truth is I get sick of getting sucked into myself- it’s so easy to try + connect everything with myself but in most cases – doing this only creates pressure for performance or room for comparison or judging myself-  things I shouldn’t do & things Paul clearly lays out as no no’s for living in light of the gospel.

2.) Get out of the court room! This is something that will stay in my head because it’s easily  an enemy the gospel that many struggle or have struggled with – I certainly do.

“You see, the verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict. Because He loves me and He accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my résumé. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness.”

“the problem with self-esteem – whether it is high or low – is that, every single day, we are in the courtroom.”


“In his book Sickness Unto Death, Søren Kierkegaard says, it is the normal state of the human heart to try to build its identity around something besides God. Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.”

“Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance? The atheist might say that they get their self-image from being a good person. They are a good person and they hope that eventually they will get a verdict that confirms that they are a good person. Performance leads to the verdict. For the Buddhist too, performance leads to the verdict. If you are a Muslim, performance leads to the verdict. All this means that every day, you are in the courtroom, every day you are on trial. That is the problem. But Paul is saying that in Christianity, the verdict leads to performance.”

Once again-  GET OUT OF THE COURTROOM – take yourself off the judgment seat: it is not your place! And there is rest in this! We are not the “boss” of this show! I do not have the infinite knowledge, understanding, love etc. needed to run the universe let alone my own life! And boy oh boy am I reminded of this when I have ever attempted to find meaning or a sense of self-worth outside of God… My life is filled with so much more joy when I get down off of that thrown of self: of judging myself, comparing myself to others, putting others on a pedestal, constantly highlighting my failures… And see that Jesus died for my sins, the verdict is in and I can live in light of that verdict, not with pressure to perform for a verdict; but peace + joy because the Righteous One has passed down the verdict by His death + resurrection & so now I can do things just because He has given me the ability to do just that – live as a servant for Him!


4.) An ego that’s filled functions like the toes…

“The way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.”


“The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself.”

5.) Re-live the gospel… Every single day.

I can’t stress this enough. Our nature, the nature of the human ego, it’s there and it’s necessary to combat it with the gospel every day… I pray for help one day, improve, and am right back to praying for the same thing again a few days later + praying for reminders on top of that because I NEED to be reminded. I need to preach the gospel to myself EVERYDAY.

“… we have to re-live the gospel every time we pray. We have to re-live it every time we go to church. We have to re-live the gospel on the spot and ask ourselves what we are doing in the courtroom. We should not be there. The court is adjourned.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.