"All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isa. 40:6-8, cf. 1 Peter 1:24). 
"Abraham answered and said, 'Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes'" (Gen. 18:27).
"For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14).
Self-esteem is defined by the world as learning to love yourself; this is a false gospel of Babylon that is motivated by self-interest. By the world's standards, our self-esteem should be based on some intrinsic worth we find in ourselves which supposedly distinguishes us from others and makes us special. We therefore can value ourselves. The true gospel based on God's love for us teaches self-respect.
The Bible teaches that God has "respect unto the lowly" (Psalm 138:6, KJV). The introductory inspired verses are not an insult. We are dust. He formed man from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). It would be easy to blame mankind's inherent worthlessness on the entry of sin, but we were created before sin. God even gave pre-Fall mankind the Sabbath to remind us of how the dust He formed came to be worth more than dust. Therefore, even before sin, mankind's intrinsic worth was the value of common dust. Though sinless, humans have never had power to create or even transform inert matter into life. God can do both.
God's special love, agape, is not created by the value of its object. Since God is love, God loved His creation, and in love created value in it. Humans pervert God's love because we are born self-centered. We generally have trouble loving ugly or disagreeable people. We call them "unlovely." I have a friend who has only two or three pictures of herself as a baby. Her mother told her she was so ugly, she didn't want to waste the film. Our hearts go out to a person who was so abused. We are quick to assure them of God's respect. However, that doesn't change the fact that my friend, like me, only has the intrinsic worth of dust. What gives us all respect is not something from within us, but the sustaining love and power of God.
Satan appealed to Eve's ego when he suggested that by eating the fruit, she could enhance her intrinsic worth to become as God. Even though she and Adam had been created in the image of God, this gave them no value without His life-sustaining power. If the most talented sculptor in the world managed to carve a piece of marble into the exact shape of God, it would still be a piece of marble. The sculptor cannot transfer any worth to the marble other the shape he gives it. It is still just marble. The sculptor cannot give what he does not possess in himself--life. What created importance in the dust that God formed into His image was the breath of life He breathed into it.
The self-esteem "gospel" which has been so popular throughout the latter part of the 20th century and the first part of this century, is a subtle deception of Satan. He has perfected the art of sophistry in convincing Christians that before they can love others they must first love themselves. This is a subtle twist of the words found in the great commandment: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 19:19).
If Satan can get Christians to think that self-love, self-esteem is an essential part of the gospel, then he has defeated the principle of the cross. The cross is the revelation to our dull senses that God is self-denying. Satan has perpetually accused God of self-exaltation--that He asks of us more than He requires of Himself. The cross has forever settled the issue of God's self-denying love.
Now that issue plays out in the final crisis which is just upon us. If Satan can get us to buy into the self-esteem movement, then he knows that we will cave in over the "mark of the beast." The love of self will be the prime value, over loving God and neighbor in the great controversy.
In fact, the self-esteem "gospel" is one of the evidences that "Babylon is fallen, is fallen." There has been no restoration of true agape in popular Christianity. There is a woeful misperception of the cross of Christ. This popular trend has leeched into our circles to the extent that we have bought into the self-esteem movement.
Some believe Christ's admonition that "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" proves we are to develop "love" for ourselves. It was God who filled those words with their proper meaning: "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" (Rom. 8:32).
We are natural-born self-lovers. It is a contradiction of terms to say that innately we are capable of loving others as ourselves. A self-centered person is incapable of loving others as he loves himself. So the only way that this commandment can be understood properly is through the prism of God's agape. God's love is self-giving. It led Christ to self-denial. It led Him to the point of giving His life for His enemies.
It was Jesus who spoke the words "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If one wants to talk about loving oneself before he can love his neighbor in the context of self-giving agape, then it means to prefer harm to oneself over harm to another. It means the pouring out of one's own life in order to preserve the life of another, even his enemy. It means evaluating the life of another as more valuable than his own life. Jesus did not value Himself more than He valued you.
Does this mean we are to somehow conjure up a nice feeling about ourselves so we can transfer that to others? We have no such capacity, we cannot create genuine love. It is difficult to admit this, but the truth is, we are completely helpless to generate unselfish love. We may choose to permit Jesus to crucify our self. All ideas that we can contribute enough worth in ourselves to merit salvation are vane. Unless we choose to identify with Him we will always be offended by the cross of Christ.
"The cross is and always has been a symbol of disgrace. To be crucified was to be subjected to the most ignominious death known. The apostle said that if he preached circumcision (that is, righteousness by works), 'the offense of the cross' would cease (Gal. 5:11, KJV). The offense of the cross is that the cross is a confession of human frailty and sin and of inability to do any good thing. To take the cross of Christ means to depend solely on Him for everything, and this is the abasement of all human pride. Men love to fancy themselves independent. But let the cross be preached, let it be made known that in man dwells no good thing and that all must be received as a gift, and straightway somebody is offended" (E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 113).
Does this mean we should develop low self-esteem, constantly talking about how worthless we are? The death of Christ establishes our value in His sight, but it also reinforces our total helplessness to create value in ourselves. This is the 1888 dynamic of self-respect. We choose to identify with the Crucified One. We choose to believe that He (not us) is worthy to receive honor, glory, power, and blessing.
The "gospel of self-esteem" is different from "the gospel of self-respect." The latter is from the Lord; the former is a snare. The Bible does not encourage self-esteem, but it does teach genuine self-respect.
True self-respect, a true sense of one's value, is rooted in the cross--the Son of God gave Himself for you; that makes you equivalent in value with Him. True, we have no value of ourselves; but agape creates value in its object. Let the truth sink in: your security, your value, is only "in Christ."
 Unless noted otherwise, Bible texts are from the New American Standard Bible.
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