Self-Esteem Versus Self-Worth: A Biblical Perspective
Author: Tammie Burak
Publish date:
Summary: Is our value based on achievement and beauty, or is there more to the story?

Self-esteem is based on a subjective, emotion-skewed opinion of yourself. A little girl might be praised for being pretty by family members, friends, and strangers. Heard often enough, praise about her can cause the girl to grow up believing that she is valuable because she is pretty. As long as she believes she is pretty, she will have high self-esteem.

But what happens when she becomes a teenager and develops blemishes on her face? Her self-esteem is shattered. She loses the confidence she once had, simply because her self-worth is based on her appearance. This may explain why so many women and even teens are willing to have surgery to perfect their appearance. The underlying problem could be that their self-esteem is built upon the way they think they look.

For some, self-esteem is based upon achievement. When you meet the goals you set for yourself, you tend to feel good about yourself. When you fail to reach the goals you set, you tend to feel bad about yourself. Is there any way to break free from this up and down, self-love, self-hate experience?

The Difference between Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

The problems with the concept of self-esteem are that:

  1. It is not Biblical, but developed in the minds of men opposed to God,
  2. It is based upon our own perceptions of ourselves and,
  3. It is subject to change.

Ideas about your value as an individual should not fluctuate with every change in your personal circumstances. You should not feel great about yourself today because you have just gotten a job promotion and then feel worthless tomorrow because you’ve been fired. Your looks, your achievements, or your material possessions do not determine your value as an individual. What others think of you or even what you think of yourself does not determine your personal worth either. And remember, society's views of beauty are far from realistic.

It’s time we dumped the idea of self-esteem for a Biblical perspective. Rather than striving for greater self-esteem, we should strive to understand our value to God. A clearer view of our worth to God will result in a lasting sense of self-worth.

Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” If Jesus was willing to leave His glorious place in heaven, suffer humiliation, torture and death, so that you might enjoy heaven with Him forever, then you are priceless. What you’re worth to God never changes. You are worth the life of His only Son. Philippians 2:8 says this about Jesus:

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Jesus went through the experience of death because He wants to live forever with you by His side. Your eternal life has been paid for with the priceless gift of the life of Christ. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says, “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.”

And if that weren’t enough, did you realize that you are a source of joy to God? It’s true:

The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17)

Never doubt your value to God. You are priceless to Him.

Sadly, those who do not know this God of love have no clear sense of self-worth. For them, self-esteem must come from whatever positive feedback they can glean from others and from a positive self-evaluation in relation to society’s standards. Often what we mistake as self-esteem in those who reject God or don’t know Him, is simply pride which is transitory since it is based on a person’s evaluation of himself at the moment. Not only that, but pride itself is sin, having originated in the heart of Satan.

Proverbs 8:13 says, “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way.” Pride can make you feel good momentarily, but it can never replace self-worth rooted in God’s immoveable, unchanging love for you.

Now here is a crucial point: it is not because you are perfect that God loves you. God hates sin, but loves the sinner. And He never saves anyone in sin, but from sin. When you sin and feel bad about yourself as a consequence, you are feeling the effects of the warning system that God built into the human mind. God told Satan after he tempted Eve into sin, ”I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed” Genesis 3:15. So that unsettled, guilty feeling you have when you sin and fall short of the glory of God is a gift from God to help you feel your need for cleansing from the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (see John 1:29).

Recognizing that you are a Sinner does not need to Diminish your Self-Worth

Those who teach that you should dismiss your guilty feelings when you’ve sinned are deceitful. When coupled with all that God has done to redeem you by sending His Son in your place, your value actually increases. The difference is that with modern self-esteem theology, you lift yourself up with an attitude of self-esteem about yourself. Whereas in Biblical thinking, God lifts you up by placing value upon you and showing you his love for you by dying for you. In the Christian worldview, you accept God’s estimation of you by faith, despite your faults and shortcomings, and live in the love God lavishes on you every day of your life. Then despite trials and disappointments that may come your way, you can remain secure in the love of Christ.

For instance, Robert Schuller in his book, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, makes these shocking statements:

If the gospel of Jesus Christ can be proclaimed as a theology of self-esteem, imagine the health this could generate in society!i

The classical error of historical Christianity is that we have never started with the value of the person. Rather, we have started from the "unworthiness of the sinner," and that starting point has set the stage for the glorification of human shame in Christian theology.ii

It wasn’t Jesus’ mission to make people feel good about themselves. He boldly pointed out the sins of the haughty church leaders, calling them “vipers,” but gently instructed poor sinners to “go and sin no more.” Jesus’ battle was against Satan and sin, not low self-esteem.

Schuller also wrote this:

The core of original sin, then is LOT: Lack Of Trust. Or, it could be considered an innate inability to adequately value ourselves. Label it a "negative self-image," but do not say that the central core of the human soul is wickedness...positive Christianity does not hold to human depravity, but to human inability. I am humanly unable to correct my negative self-image until I encounter a life-changing experience with non-judgmental love bestowed upon me by a Person whom I admire so much that to be unconditionally accepted by him is to be born again.iii

Robert Schuller directly contradicts the Bible when he denies the wickedness of the human heart, for Jeremiah 17:9 declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” The Bible also teaches that Satan committed the original sin when he rebelled against God and His government. Regardless of how Schuller and others would like to redefine sin, the Bible is clear that “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). And none of us can claim that we are without sin, because 1 John 1:8 tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Romans 3:23 affirms, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” When a person realizes this truth and feels his need for a Savior, he can turn to Jesus for salvation. To believe Schuller’s lies is to forfeit God’s gift of eternal life.

And while it is true that Jesus loves us even though we are sinners, He is in fact our Judge. Schuller may say that God bestows “non-judgmental love” upon him, but the Bible tells us that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Those who live in rebellion against God will have to give an account to Him. Amongst them will be many religious people who trusted in their own righteousness, rather than in the righteousness of Christ (see Matthew 22:11-12 and Philippians 3:8-9).


The self-esteem movement is self-centered, not Christ-centered. But the Bible offers a better perspective on how we should view ourselves. Ellen White describes the correct Christian perspective:

It is not wise to look to ourselves and study our emotions. If we do this, the enemy will present difficulties and temptations that weaken faith and destroy courage. Closely to study our emotions and give way to our feelings is to entertain doubt and entangle ourselves in perplexity. We are to look away from self to Jesus (MH 249, 1905).

God gives clear teaching about this very topic. Read Biblical Principles for Developing a Healthy Sense of Self-Worth.


i. Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (Waco Texas: Word Books, 1982).

ii. Ibid.

iii. Ibid.

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