Biblical Nurture Doesn't Promote High Self-Esteem

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When God tells us to nurture our children in the Lord, that does not mean promoting self-esteem. Read why.

If building self-esteem is wrong, what's right?

"Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to resentment], but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord." Ephesians 6:4 Amplified Bible

Biblical Nurture
Most Christians know the verse above, but many confuse nurture with satisfying all of our children's desires and building up their self-esteem so they feel wonderful about themselves.

Build Character, Not Self-Esteem
God wants us to build our children's character, to nurture them in God's Word so they become God-focused and other-centered. Telling them they are wonderful doesn't achieve either of these goals. Sometimes our children should feel bad about themselves (see Sometimes Down is Up).

When God tells us to nurture our children in the Lord, that does not mean promoting self-esteem. Read why.
We should teach children they are loved just the way they are, but we should not teach them they are wonderful just the way they are.

All of the words used for a father's responsibilities in Ephesians 6:4 (above) involve warning, teaching and disciplining a child to do what God has commanded because:

Man is Not Born Good
Self-esteem philosophy is based on the premise that we are born good (even wonderful) and our environment and circumstances damage us. God teaches us that we are born damaged and only He can save us from that damage. Our fallen human nature is selfish and sinful. If we were wonderful just for being human or being alive, then Christ's salvation would be unnecessary. 
See Proverbs 22:15, Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:22, and Created in God's Image.

But it was necessary because:
"As it is written: 'There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.'" Romans 3:10-12

Not Even Christians Are Wonderful

When we become Christians, we're loved by God, made part of God's family and saved for eternity. But the Bible teaches us we are not okay the way we are--we need to change and become more like Christ.

That's why the Bible is full of passages similar to these instructions given to Titus: 

When God tells us to nurture our children in the Lord, that does not mean promoting self-esteem. Read why.
"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you." Titus 2:11-15

Sanctification is a Process
Christians are in the process of sanctification, not finished with it. And if we doubt that, we can read the words of the Apostle Paul, one of the most dedicated Christians who ever lived: 

"I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:10-14

Self-esteem philosophy is based on false premises and encourages false pride in us and in our children. 

Instead of building a child's self-esteem, let's build his self-control and teach him to say "no" to ungodliness. 

"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness..." Ephesians 4:22-24 

If you doubt the dangers of high self-esteem, I encourage you to get an exhaustive concordance of the Bible and do a word study of pride, esteem and humility. You'll not find a single verse that encourages self-esteem, but hundreds that warn against it.


  1. Great thoughts! I try to remind my boys we are no good with Jesus. When we have Jesus in our heart,then we have something good in us and we can strive to be more like Him. I found you at The Better Mom.

  2. An interesting, thought-provoking and biblical post as always, Gail. I'm really enjoying your series and so glad you linked it up over at Wedded Wed. Thanks for walking through this issue so thoroughly!

  3. This series continues to be excellent. I especially love this part: "Instead of building a child's self-esteem, let's build his self-control and teach him to say "no" to ungodliness." I am giving this a FB shout-out! Thanks so much for linking up again last week at Walking Redeemed.