The Gospel of Self-Esteem And The 'Make A Difference' Mindset

Please bear with me. I'm in a worldly state of mind today.

More specifically, I'm going to transition for just a moment from looking at Pietism to looking at what we Lutherans have traditionally called a "Theology of Glory" instead (not much of a hard transition though since they're directly related to one another).

Now, before you think my "It's Not About You!" pronouncements from the start will be the kind found in Rick Warren's infamous A Purpose Driven Life book -- think again!

I really mean to say that IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU!

Are you familiar with RELEVANT Magazine and it's impact and reach upon Christianity today?



Since 2002, RELEVANT has been the leading platform reaching Christian twenty- and thirtysomethings. Covering faith, culture and intentional living, the stories we tell are at the intersection of where a Christ-centered life is really lived. Our magazine is not about "being relevant" (whatever that means)—it's that God is relevant to every aspect of our lives. (And yes, we cover the stuff that's relevant to our readers.) We reach about 2,300,000 twenty- and thirtysomething Christians a month through all of our platforms, publishing every other month in print and iPad, as well as daily online, occasionally on RTV and weekly via our podcast.


Sometimes I think all my brothers and sisters in Christ at the LCMS Church I belong to who are in their Teens, 20s, and early 30s read RELEVANT regularly.

That may be the case, but that's not what this piece is about.

Here's an all too common article I saw sitting in my inbox from that popular American Evangelical source that I felt obliged to comment on...





Six Things That Are Holding You Back From Making A Difference


As a child, I used to dream of changing the world. But now, I no longer treat that dream as a reality. That desire to dream big and make an impact still lives on inside me, but I’ve buried it deep inside my imagination and tend to think of it as a fantasy. We all want to be world changers, but many of us give up on the idea as childish and unrealistic. Maybe we think we can’t make much difference as one person, or our contribution will be too small. We can become complacent, settling into our normal routines and giving up on the idea that we can really make an impact.


What's the problem?

I mean, it's an honest reflection of how so many Christians currently seem to want to "make a difference" in this world, but believe that they can't.

Isn't the desire to want to "Make A Difference" (especially if it's "In The Name of Jesus!") a noble and worthwhile pursuit for people of the faith?

Well, um, no. Let me explain.

In short, when we focus on our own "good works" they become self-serving and our motives are not free from selfishness nor are they done out of pure love for our neighbors. I'm getting ahead of myself though.

For starters, I find it incredibly telling that one of the most popular "Christian" magazines (and a giant in the Christian Digital Media space) would publish an article like that that DOES NOT mention Jesus or contain a single Bible verse anywhere from start to finish!

Actually, come to think of it, there's not a single overt Christian reference whatsoever either! Talk about a classic "Bait-And-Switch" here!

This is from their About Us page...


We’re twenty- and thirtysomething Christians seeking God and striving to impact the world around us. We are people who want to live well—outwardly, creatively and intentionally. We are pro-Church and want to love our neighbors as ourselves. We serve the Creator, so we love great art—whether that be redemptive music, movies, books or design. We are daily seeking to show how God is at work in the world and in our generation.

We try to publish ideas that break stereotypes, challenge the status quo and spur a generation to know God more—and change the world while they're at it. We want to engage our generation in a deeper conversation about faith, challenging worldviews and causing people to see God outside the box they’ve put Him in. Encountering God changes things.


Really? Seriously? Because if I didn't already know what RELEVANT Magazine was and someone just sent me a link to this article about "Making A Difference," then I would've concluded that it was just one of the dime-a-dozen "Pop Psychology" puff pieces out there today that are always encouraging people to do more, more, more!

By the way, therein lies the key problem for Christians reading an article like that and taking their cues on "How To Live The Christian Life" from RELEVANT Magazine.

My dear friends, it's not about us and what we do for God! It's about God and what He has done (continues to do) for us through His Son, Jesus Christ, through His Word, and through His Sacraments!

Yes, as we've been discussing for quite some time now, "good works" done to show love for our neighbors is encouraged and important, but "good works" that result in getting us to admire ourselves (or to look upon ourselves for the "proof" of our salvation rather than upon Jesus Christ, His Word, and His Sacraments) is spiritually dangerous and un-Biblical.



Isaiah 64:6 (ESV) We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.


In the uncleanness of our sin, "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment." Ah, but there's no mention of that Biblical reality, or about Jesus doing all the verbs (Ephesians 2:8-10; Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6), or about the Doctrine of Vocation as it applies to this topic anywhere in that article. None.

Such a story is nothing new though. However, there seems to be a a movement these days that more and more people are building up to a sort of existential rage because they've been raised with the "Gospel of Self-Esteem" as opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, naturally, when they grow up, they are shocked to learn that their actions have real consequences, because contrary to what mommy and daddy may have communicated to them their whole lives, it's not all about them since the world doesn't revolve around them.

This angst is then stoked by "Celebrity Pastors" like Joel Osteen who peddle a "Prosperity Gospel" when they constantly tell these same people that God wants them to be happy and to be able to do whatever they want in life that will help them to be happy while also making a difference for others.

What arrogance! What peddlers of Pietism! Do you see the self-centered, narcissistic, "Theology of Glory" (a.k.a. "Man-Centered Theology") present in all of this as opposed to a proper "Theology of The Cross" (a.k.a. "Christ-Centered Theology") instead? I hope so. I do, but then again, I was once a part of this group who was brainwashed into believing this was all Biblical.

When these unsatisfied self-esteemers realize that their lives don't match the Gospel of Self-Esteem's "You-Can-Be-Anything-You-Want-To-Be" version of the Great Commission, then you have an entire generation or two that raises its collective fist angrily at God, demanding a "do over," a "mulligan," or a "second chance" free from any real-world or eternal consequences, and one that bows to its demands and will.

Worse, perhaps this is part of the reason why so many youths and young adults eventually leave the church nowadays. After all, why associate yourself with something that doesn't do what it promises, that doesn't fulfill its end of the bargain, when you most certainly have done as much as you can to fulfill yours? At least, that's the twisted perspective they have, isn't it? It's a tragedy really.

There's another angle here I think. For all the benefits of new technology (like Social Media) that has been a true blessing to Christians like me, I also can't help but think about how it has done its part to promote this perverted Gospel of Self-Esteem by making us all feel so important through the likes of pictures and words about our lives incessantly shared on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter to name a few.

Please don't misunderstand me either. I'm not suggesting you go out and delete all your online accounts. Boy, that would be rather pious of me, wouldn't it? All I'm saying is that I think it's just more proof that this truly is the "Me, Myself, And I Generation" a self-help story like this appeals to.

Look, I'm also not saying that we should never be concerned with the welfare of others. That would be equally wrong and un-Biblical of me. However, let's keep in mind that the Gospel of Self-Esteem is just one small step away from the Gospel of Social Justice and BOTH are perversions of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ!

As dangerous as all of that is, we also need to prayerfully consider how efforts to continue to promote this Gospel of Self-Esteem could have eternal consequences.

It shouldn't come as much surprise that a direct result of preaching this kind of perverted gospel is the deadening of one's conscience and a belief that any feelings of shame or guilt (often the God-given conscience's intended response to sin) are to be avoided at all costs since they are "wrong" and are really the types of things that are "holding you back from making a difference in this world."


1 Timothy 4:1-2 (ESV) 1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,


Let's call this what this is.

The consciences of those peddling demonic doctrines have either been "branded" by Satan to show his ownership of them or "cauterized," leaving them unfeeling and unable to distinguish between right and wrong.

In short, this is why we Lutherans have historically believed, taught, and confessed that 1 Timothy 4:1-5 is a clear teaching from God about how some can (and, sadly, will) depart from the faith.

I recall something I once read to this end...


I’ve been hearing about and reading about how the doctrine of Original Sin has fallen into the realm of politically incorrect thinking these days. How dare it be insinuated that everyone is utterly wretched and sinful and sinful since conception, in fact! We live in a world where we focus on everyone’s need for self esteem. We are to concentrate on how good we are. We have to have the power of 'positive' thinking. Self esteem is a good thing for our life in the world, and we are also to encourage one another in our faith.



1 Corinthians 14:3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.

1 Corinthians 14:31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged


While we need to encourage one another, we still need to realize that we are sick and poor miserable sinners. But wait, you say "I don’t think I’m all that miserable"; but understand that the word miserable refers to anyone in need of mercy. We all desperately need Christ’s mercy-therefore we are in fact miserable. We need to be able to acknowledge the disease that is in us due to our original sin. Today even the confessions we speak in church sometimes have become watered down. We acknowledge those sins we do and don’t do, but we can’t mention how utterly sick and sinful we have been from the time we were conceived.


Psalm 38:3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.

Mark 2:17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”


I heard recently on the White Horse Inn radio program how many people, including many of the pastors in American Evangelicalism, don’t believe in Original Sin any more. Pelagianism was a heresy that the early church had to fight against. Well, guess what? It’s back! That’s a scary thought. It reminds us there is nothing new under the sun. To think that in America today many churches have done away with the idea of Original Sin which goes against American idealism. Yet Original Sin is something that the Bible clearly teaches. I’m sure that is why they have been able to do away with infant Baptism. That is a very sad fact. To turn a precious Gift that is given to us into a work to show they believe.


Romans 5:12 [ Death in Adam, Life in Christ ] Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned

1 Corinthians 15:22
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.


Sin came into the world through one man, Adam, and salvation came to us all through the One who could redeem us, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth, died and rose again to save us from all our sins. I’m thankful we have Confession and Absolution in our church services. We need to be able to admit to others, as well as to ourselves how sick and wretched we really are. We need to cling to the cross and Christ’s awesome grace and mercy that He freely gives to us! Until and unless we can admit how sinful we truly are, we cannot completely appreciate how much we need our Savior.

So, let’s not worry about the political correctness of our day which thinks we should never be ashamed or feel any guilt. Shame and guilt can be good things, because they direct you to the cross, and the empty tomb that tells you that Jesus loves you and He did it all for you!

*- Kari Anderson
Confessional Lutherans For Christ’s Commission (CLCC)
December 1, 2009


(The Confessional Lutherans for Christ’s Commission is one of the many confessional groups that regularly posts on this website. Like BJS they seek to equip laymen to know and support Confessional Lutheranism. CLCC posts are archived on the Regular Columns page of this website.)


Well, there you have it.

Pretty straight-forward stuff and 100% faithful to the Scriptures...unlike preaching that is constantly building you up, telling you how great and important you are, and how you need to use your greatness and importance to make a major difference in this world.

Make no mistake, guilt and grace go hand-in-hand (and the former should never be stifled!). How so? How exactly does that work?



As God has put His Law into the hearts of all people (Romans 1;18ff) and as Christians we have been instructed by God’s Law through the Word and the Spirit instructing and moving our consciences, we do feel guilt because of our sin. Repentance is the response of the Christian to this Word of Law in contrition (that’s the guilt, or feeling sorry for one’s sin) and faith. Faith then clings to the Gospel, the Word of God that says in Christ you are declared “not guilty” as Christ has paid for your sin. There’s a subtle difference here between hearing that we are “not guilty” and the message of “stop feeling guilty”, but this difference is the difference between Law and Gospel. With the latter, we have yet another work to do, and a tough one at that. However with the former, when God speaks through His called and ordained Servants of the Word and says that we are “not guilty”, He takes away our guilt.

So then, what is the answer to the Christian who says, “but I still feel guilty even after I receive absolution”? Well, my counsel is not to work up some kind of spiritual self-esteem, but rather to hear again and again those words of absolution. One of the most sure ways our Lord has given us to hear this Word is in private confession and absolution. It may certainly be a fearful task to actually speak our sins out loud… especially the sins which make us feel all kinds of dirty and guilty. But these are the ones that Satan uses to deceive us into thinking what the pastor says on Sunday morning in the General Absolution is not for us. (even though it most certainly is!) When we have confessed our sins specifically, then we can be sure that Satan cannot use the guilt of these sins against us… after all we heard forgiveness spoken explicitly for those sins.

Now often, if there is a sin that has caught hold of a Christian in an addiction like way, the pastor may, after absolving your sin, discuss ways to avoid that sin and reassure you that if/when you do fall back into sin to again hear the Word of the Gospel that your sins are forgiven.

To your second question, there is quite a difference between how Lutherans and other Christians will approach the issue of guilt. Most will put the focus right back on you that you either need to fully amend your life in order that you may be forgiven, or that you must make satisfaction by doing some good work in order to be forgiven. As Lutherans, we take God’s Word seriously that the Gospel is the free gift of the favor of God on account of what Jesus has done for us (Romans 3:23-25 and Ephesians 2:8-9). The life we live of putting away/running from sin and of good works are a fruit of our faith… that’s the life of the new creation that we are in Baptism.

*- Matthew Lorfeld, Pastor
Messiah Lutheran Church


One of our main goals here (besides proclaiming Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind) is to alert you to the many "truths" that are circulating out there with a "Christian" label, especially when they are ultimately anything but.

Furthermore, these are often many of the key reasons why I felt I needed to escape American Evangelicalism myself once and for all.

What makes them difficult to spot, at first, is how benign and sweet-sounding they are on the surface. Let's face it, how many of those of you who are reading this have thought, "Come on Jeff! What's so bad with wanting to 'Make A Difference' and 'In The Name of Jesus!' when we know what Philippians 4:13 says?"

I'll leave a proper exposition of Philippians 4:13 out of this for now (even though that would illustrate the point I'm trying to make in a blog post like this) and simply respond by reiterating that it's not wrong to want to do such things, but there's a very fine line between a Theology of Glory and a Theology of the Cross given the way both are often presented to us today, and that's what's wrong.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, yes, we should attempt to edify and encourage other believers (Colossians 2:7; Jude 1:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:11), and we should love our neighbors by doing good works for them (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:18; James 2:20; James 2:26), but not to the extent where we preach the Gospel of Self-Esteem (or "Make A Difference-ism") at the expense of preaching the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a Lutheran-In-Name-Only at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that perhaps wouldn't be too big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in interpreting a specific portion of Scripture exegetically, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!

Share|

No comments:

Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with...Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all mature spiritually (myself included) then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

Powered by Blogger.