The gospel says there are two things we need to know about ourselves. Together, they produce a dynamic far greater than self-esteem.
One difference between a gospel mindset and a worldly one shows up in how we teach kids to think of themselves. In Western cultures, the world’s prevailing view is that kids need confidence, and confidence comes from self-esteem. So teachers who buy into this view tell kids that they’re good, able, loved, and destined for greatness.
Gospel teachers see it differently. We too want kids to be confident, but we realize that confidence in oneself is misplaced. So instead of teaching self-esteem, we teach kids that they need to know two things about themselves: who they are without Christ, and who they are with him.
The Bible tells us that without Christ we are helpless, lost, and dead. We’re captive to sin and all its effects. To a typical teacher whose goal is building self-esteem in kids, such talk sounds potentially harmful. But a gospel teacher knows it’s actually honest, and what it leads to is better than self-esteem.
Looking at oneself is bound to reveal failures and ugliness. Looking at Christ is stunningly different.
Jesus is the compassion-breathing, love-giving, bully-confronting, sin-defeating, all-powerful, risen and eternal Son of the Father and King of the universe. Now consider that if I have faith in him, that person loves me. He died for me. He calls himself my brother, and gives me his Spirit, and prays for me, and gives me strength to obey God, and is coming to take me to be with him always. He transforms me from an ugly failure into a child of the all-glorious Father.
Although I suppose we might call it self-esteem to believe that, I prefer to think of it as Christ-esteem. It’s what I hope to build in the kids I teach.
Christ-esteem trains young believers to know they are good, able, loved, and destined for greatness—everything the self-esteem crowd desires. But this is not because of the kids themselves, rather because of Christ in them. Only the transforming power of his Spirit makes hearts good and lives holy. Only his blood makes sinners clean. Only his victory makes dead people live forever.
Christ-esteem gives a confidence that worldly self-esteem can never match. Christ-esteem also produces peace, joy, humility, and thankfulness. And by pointing kids away from themselves, it prepares them for a life of serving Jesus and others. It fosters love.
I find it all too easy to slip into a teaching mindset that blindly follows the culture’s pattern, saying little things designed to give kids confidence in themselves rather than in Christ, or giving credit to kids when it ought to go to Jesus. The odd thing is that the more credit and attention is directed away from them and to Christ, the more confident and secure my students get—because their confidence is well-placed.
So when I need a simple framework to keep me on track, I recall the two things kids need to know about themselves: who they are without Christ, and who they are with him.
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