The Gospel of Self-Denial vs. The Gospel of Self-Esteem
by Pastor E. Keith Hassell | December 12, 2013
Matthew 16:24 (NKJV) "Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.'"
The Gospel is a gospel of self-denial rather than a gospel of self-fulfillment. Self-denial is opposed to the modern versions of the self-esteem or self-help gospels being promoted today in books, pulpits, and on radio, television, and internet. The self-help gospel is clearly articulated by Robert Schueller, one of the fathers of the modern self-esteem gospel, in his book written years ago, "Self-Esteem: The New Reformation": "It is precisely at this point that classical theology in its insistence that theology be God-centered and not man-centered...This masterplan of God is designed around the deepest needs of human beings. And what are those needs? Self-dignity, self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem. The pearl of great price is genuine self-respect and self-esteem...If we follow God's plan as faithfully as we can we will feel good about ourselves...God needs you and me to create a society of self-esteeming people."
That message "feels" so good! Many people are "feeling saved" by that message. But is their "soul" being saved or something else? Is this a gospel of "self-salvation" rather than "soul-salvation"? The difference is huge. Could it be "another gospel" that Paul warns us about? (2 Corinthians 11:4) Compare the self-esteem message with the message of Jesus: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." There seems to be a contradiction here. Are we to assume that Jesus did not "get it"? Did He not understand that the "deepest needs of human beings" is "self-dignity, self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem"? Was He too negative? The great delusion of the self-esteem gospel is that good is trapped within the human heart by negative thinking caused by negative influences. The belief is that men are by nature good but are trapped in a cycle of bad behavior because of negative thinking. They will be good if they will think positively about themselves. Is that true? Is there good trapped within the human heart? Consider Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV) “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" Are we to believe that men left to themselves without law, restraint, or consequence will do what is right? Would not anarchy rule instead? Would not men become utterly wicked instead? Consider again the words of Paul: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells." (Romans 7:18 NKJV) Paul says there is "nothing good" in self. Was Paul wrong? Aren't there good people? Jesus said that there is none good except God. (Mark 10:18) Paul said, "There is none righteous, no not one." (Romans 3:23) The Bible teaches that there is nothing good in self. Self has no goodness by which to save itself. If it does, then the Cross was unnecessary. Jesus should not have come to save sinners but rather negative people. The self-esteem gospel is another gospel. It is a gospel that offers redemption of self rather than the soul. It offers salvation without the Cross. The self-esteem gospel fails to see self as the enemy of the human soul. It fails to see the utter corruption and deception of the self life. Self is by nature self-centered, self-promoting, and selfish. It is consumed with self-fulfillment. Self seeks to find a life of its own apart from God. Self counterfeits life as lust counterfeits love. Freedom of the human soul will never be found in the gospel of self-esteem but only through the message of the cross. Wherever self lives and reigns, the soul is lost: "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 16:25 NKJV) Therefore it is no wonder that self hates the message of the cross that confronts and destroys it. It is no wonder that self seeks a gospel that eliminates the cross so it can live and prosper. Through the message of the cross God awakens a desire in the lost human soul to follow Jesus. Self rises to resist that desire. "Self" is like a husk around the seed of the human soul that must broken for new life to begin. Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain." (John 12:24 NKJV) The true Gospel is a call for men to deny self to follow Jesus. It is a call to take up the cross and die to self so that the soul might live. It is the only hope of freedom for the lost human soul.