Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Christ-Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends


Christ-Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends
by Don Matzat
Harvest House, 1990. 102pp.

This review pertains to the online pdf version of this book, July,2007.
Available online at:

Here is an out-of-print book that is noteworthy for its rare perspective on the 'self-esteem' movement that has become commonplace thinking in western culture since the closing years of the 20th century.

Having often grappled with making sense of self-esteem from a Biblical viewpoint, I was delighted to read this author's counter-cultural perspective that "Biblical Christianity teaches us to know ourselves so that we might turn away from ourselves and discover our life and identity in Christ Jesus." (p.20)

His premise is well-supported from Scripture, from historical Christianity (often quoting Martin Luther), and from life experiences (his own and those he has counseled). Matzat contends that until 'we come to grips with the depth of sin within our hearts, our relationship with Jesus will remain superficial.' (p.19)

Regarding cultivating a positive self-image, he wisely points out that: "Contrary to popular opinion, how I think about myself will not change the situation nor adjust what I am. Embracing a positive image of self will not, in the long run, make any difference, because I am still wrapped up in myself. I simply become a self-centered sinner who is trying to like himself. Even if I feel bad about myself and [do]not like myself, I am still focusing upon myself, and "myself" is the problem. The corrupted condition of my human "self" is not a mere figment of imagination which can be adjusted by thinking differently." (p.34)

Instead, Matzat points out that God intends to free us from the tyranny of pre-occupation with ourselves and to give us instead the very life of Jesus, such as Paul speaks of in Gal.2:20—"I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life I live here in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God."

Although the distinction between the self-life and the life of Christ lived through me is not a simple thing to fathom, and even less straightforward to put into practice, it is clearly called for in Scripture. This book offers practical counsel and guidance along these lines for anyone who is ready to trade self-esteem for 'Christ-esteem'. Sanctification is not about my self improving, but about learning to deny self and abide in Christ who is my righteousness…

Because it was first published in 1990, some of the references to current popular teachers are outdated. But the thoughtful reader will identify other modern teachers that have merely changed their labels but teach much the same things in the guise of preaching truth. It is sad to see how little positive self-talk teaching has really changed but how much more widely it is accepted among even believers with the passing of time.

One disclaimer I would make is that Matzat uses a couple of terms repeatedly which in my opinion are poorly chosen. He speaks of the necessity to 'accuse' oneself, and to 'detach from' oneself in order to be joined to Jesus. In light of the devil's job description as 'accuser of the brethren' this seems a less than ideal depiction of 'death to self'. Given their contexts however, I believe he has the right idea but has not expressed it as accurately as he might have. For this reason I still highly recommend his book for its courageous call to "turn away from 'self' and find our identity in Christ Jesus."

Only then will we "be HIS witnesses. We will no longer show forth what great, wonderful people we are. Rather, we will demonstrate what a great, wonderful Lord and Savior we have in Jesus Christ. To HIM be the glory....."


If you're not sure you have time for another book right now, do at least consider these valuable quotes…

"Contrary to popular opinion, how I think about myself will not change the situation nor adjust what I am. Embracing a positive image of self will not, in the long run, make any difference, because I am still wrapped up in myself. I simply become a self‐centered sinner who is trying to like himself… The corrupted condition of my human "self" is not a mere figment of imagination which can be adjusted by thinking differently." (34)

"I would challenge anyone to demonstrate where the Bible teaches us to be consciously concerned with our self-image. Urging Christians to become engrossed in self by seeking to develop self-esteem is not a part of the solution to the human dilemma. Since I am the problem, focusing attention upon myself merely magnifies, activates and compounds the problem. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves. Such self-denial is not the giving up of ice cream for Lent but is the actual denial of "self" itself. "(34)

"Centering and focusing attention upon self is merely digging up the corpse, so to speak. If you know that you have died with Christ, how can you feel good about yourself? A funeral director may make‐up and neatly dress a corpse and the family may gather around the open casket and say, "Doesn't he look good," but the cold facts are, the corpse is dead no matter how good it may look. "(38)

"Because of this failure to identify "self" with Christ Jesus in his ascension, many today boast of their new identity here on this earth. They strive to build their self‐image upon what God has done for them. They talk about "their spiritual gifts" and their victorious Christian lives. They seek to build and defend their great ministries and so that they might be known as "great men of God." Nothing has changed! They are still become wrapped up and indulged in 'self' ". (44)

"This is a very important principle. When you look at yourself, you must see your sin. When you look away from yourself to Christ Jesus, you see your new identity, your perfect righteousness, your glorious position with God in the heavenly places." (44)

"The person of Jesus Christ IS OUR SPIRITUALITY. Rather than speaking of "becoming more spiritual," we should rather think in terms of growing in our daily faith relationship with our Lord Jesus. This is as spiritual as we can get." (52)

"Our human pride would like to have spiritual benefits and experiences in order to enlarge ourselves and be identified as "deeply spiritual people." God does not offer to us forgiveness, righteousness, love, peace, joy, gifts, ministries, wealth and prosperity as separate entities. Since our identity is in the heavenly places, we can not claim anything that comes from God as belonging to us. God has only given to us one thing: His Son Jesus Christ who is our life." (53)

"This separation of the content of the Christian life and experience from the person of Jesus Christ is no small matter! It will inevitably lead to numerous distortions such as humanism, mysticism, occultism, or legalism." (54)

"We don't talk about the 'great men of God' on this earth, for there are none. No matter how high and lofty a position a person attains in the Church of Jesus Christ or how much influence he is able to exert upon a large number of people, he remains a little, sinful man in whom is being manifested a great God and Savior, Jesus Christ!" (56)

"We do not pull ourselves up by our boot straps by declaring how good, wonderful, and talented we are. Instead when we look at ourselves we declare, "I am the problem. I am a sinner. Nothing good dwells within my sinful nature." But we don't stop there, we look up to the throne where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and confess, "my God has redeemed me in Christ Jesus. He has granted to me the very righteousness of Christ and has already lifted me up and seated me in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. My God is able to do far more abundantly above all that I ask or think." (74)

"We do not speak forth the Word and promises of God in order that they might be brought into reality. We declare God's Word, because it is reality. … Whether I declare the truth or deny the truth does not change the truth. "(75)

"Depending upon Jesus as our life means that we are no longer depending upon ourselves, and this is not easy. It is very difficult to give up on ourselves and to arrive at the conclusion that Jesus is the only source of our peace and joy. We always want to hang on to our own lives and maintain the hope that somewhere, somehow, just around the next corner, we will discover the key to happiness, contentment and peace of mind in ourselves, but nothing ever changes. We become trapped in a way of life. It is in giving up on ourselves and turning to Jesus that we discover his life in us." (90-91)

"Of course, it is impossible to totally put away the personal emphasis upon "self," the defense of "self," or the desires of "self." If this were the case, we would experience heaven on earth. But this is the goal that needs to be clearly expressed "up front" within the life of the Christian community." (102)

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