“The problem with self-esteem–whether it is high or low–is that, every single day, we are in the courtroom. Every single day, we are on trial.”
Recently, a friend suggested a small booklet by Timothy Keller called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.
This booklet addresses the issue of ego. Ego can either become so inflated that it is unbearable to others, or it can become so deflated that it is unbearable to others. On the one hand, it is difficult to put up with someone who is constantly bragging or overly sure of themselves, but, on the other hand, it is difficult to put up with someone who is insecure and always looking to be built up and affirmed.
Keller shows that they both have the same root problem: it’s all about the self. He also shows that the answer is not to have a lower view of self, or a higher view of self. In his words, the answer is “not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.”
That’s why he titles the book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.
But how can we possibly just stop thinking of ourselves? To Keller, the answer is found in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4:
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.
Paul’s answer is not to put people around himself who will be positive and build him up. His answer is not to tell himself that he is strong, important, and smart. He does not care what others think, but he also does not care what he thinks.
This is not some hipster who is too cool to care what anybody thinks. Human opinions have not actually become smaller to Paul. The judgments of peers and his own heart have not changed in size. The whisper of men and the echos of the heart have not changed volume, but the trumpet blast of God’s judgment has drowned them all out.
The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that God pronounces a judgment of “accepted and not guilty”, not based on performance (because all are guilty), but on the basis of Jesus Christ’s obedient life and perfect sacrifice. God calls us righteous. God calls us loved. God accepts us. When the shout from God comes, “No condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,” it drowns out all other judgments and condemnations.
The phrase, “Only God can judge me” is true, but it doesn’t remove the responsibility of right living. God’s judgment is not based on my performance (thankfully), but he does call me to live out the judgment he has proclaimed over me. Because he says, “You are righteous in Christ,” I live righteously. Because he says, “No condemnation from Me,” I live like someone who would not need to come before a judge for punishment.
When a life has been shaken by the voice of God saying, “Righteous, accepted, and loved,” no other voice can shake it. Whispers from outside or inside may be harsh, critical, and sometimes very right, but my identity is built around God’s judgment of me, and my character will continue to be built on God’s judgment that I am his righteous, loved child.