Do We Become What We Think?

The false views of the Self-esteem philosophy have infiltrated teachings in the church. This article explains how Proverbs 23:7 has been misused for that purpose.

This is the second in a series introduced HERE.

Secular and Christian "authorities" tell us self-esteem is incredibly important and incredibly fragile:
  • "Every word, facial expression, gesture, or action on the part of a parent gives the child some message about self-worth. It is sad that so many parents don't realize what messages they are sending." Virginia Satir (1916 –1988) influential American psychotherapist who represents the view of many psychologists

  • "Self-esteem is the most fragile attribute in human nature; it can be damaged by a very minor incident and its reconstruction is often difficult to engineer." James Dobson, Dare to Discipline, influential Christian author and leader who represents the view of many Christians

According to self-esteem theories, a high self-esteem is essential for everyone's health and well-being.

It's become a major element of child-rearing, criminal rehabilitation, and addict recovery. 

However, studies show that self-esteem is not the answer to our human problems. (See Research Shows Harms of High Self-Esteem.)

Despite the facts that its a totally secular philosophy and it doesn't work, it's become deeply embedded in Christian teaching. 

It has taken us captive:

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ."  Colossians 2:8
In this post, I'll cover one of the Scripture passages commonly misused to support self-esteem philosophy.

1. Proverbs 23:7: "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" 

This is often quoted by self-esteem advocates to "prove" that what a person thinks about himself is what he'll become. Therefore, we should think highly of ourselves.

To have this meaning, this verse must be:
  • cut in half
  • taken out of context
  • only quoted in KJV

The false views of the Self-esteem philosophy have infiltrated teachings in the church. This article explains how Proverbs 23:7 has been misused for that purpose.
The entire verse in the KJV reads:
"For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee."
And in the NIV:
"For he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost. 'Eat and drink,' he says to you, but his heart is not with you."

This Proverb is about the thoughts of a stingy man, not about self-esteem.

We don't become who we think we are.

Feelings of inferiority as well as feelings of superiority are based on false views of self, but they do not make a person inferior or superior.

I might have such high self-esteem that I think I'm a writer in the same league as C. S. Lewis. But that wouldn't make me such a writer. It would make me an arrogant fool. And that's exactly what we're encouraging in our children when we teach them to think highly of themselves.

"Tracking almost 1,000 Australian high school boys for two years, the researchers found that over time, overconfidence about one’s athleticism and intelligence predicted neither better mental health nor better athletic or academic performance." (source)
The Bible says our goal should be a realistic view of ourselves:

"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." Romans 12:3

The false views of the Self-esteem philosophy have infiltrated teachings in the church. This article explains how Proverbs 23:7 has been misused for that purpose.
If our human problem was low self-esteem, surely God would have inspired Paul to write "Do not think of yourself more lowly than you ought."

Seeing ourselves realistically means acknowledging our weaknesses, sins, and failures as well as our strengths and successes.  The Bible clearly shows that human history is characterized by excusing our sin and inflating our goodness. That is our greatest problem.

When we teach children they can be anything they want as long as they believe in themselves, we are not being realistic or honest. We are not all given the same gifts or even an equal number of gifts. We should encourage our children to use whatever gifts, skills, and talents they possess to esteem God. Then, as they obey God and begin to understand His love and purposes in their lives, they will have a properly balanced self-image (Ephesians 3:14-4:32).

God's Word is the most relevant, unchanging, perfect, eternal view of man's needs and problems.

 If low self-esteem was such an important problem and human self-esteem was as fragile as many secular and Christian authorities purport, God would surely have addressed it. 

But the only places the Bible mentions self-esteem is to rebuke those who have too much of it.

Please read the rest of this series linked below:

Part 1: The Dangers of Promoting High Self-Esteem
Part 2: Self-Esteem's Twisted Proverb
Part 3: Self-Esteem's Twisted Words of Christ
Part 4: Self-Esteem's Twisted Psalm
Part 5: The Old Testament Refutes Self-Esteem Philosophy
Part 6: Godly Nurture Does Not Promote High Self-Esteem
Part 7: Secular Studies Agree with the Bible


  1. I love this! Continually criticizing a child is harmful, but never correcting them is even worse.
    This high self esteem has created a generation of adults who expect everything should be handed to them on a silver platter because "they deserve it!"

    1. Yes. Unfortunately, building a child's self-esteem has become such a part of thoughts on godly parenting that it's hard for us to see that building character in a child is what truly gives them a healthy, balanced self-esteem. Being kind and loving doesn't mean we teach children they are wonderful just the way they are. It means teaching them that they are loved. And it means encouraging them to grow in unselfish love for God and others. None of us are wonderful just the way we are or God Word wouldn't contain so many commands, instructions, rebukes and corrections. We are all in the process of becoming who God designed us to be...well, I better stop here...more in my next post.

  2. What a wonderful Biblical view of self-esteem. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Sharon. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  3. Amen! I work to help my girls think more about God and less about themselves- not better about themselves. The kind of naval gazing that is so prevalent today makes us miserable. We'd all be better off to not worry about what we think and get busy blessing others!

    1. In a future post I hope to share some of the studies done that show how high self-esteem is damaging performance and growth in our children and in our culture. It really shocked me when I first read these studies. I'm glad you are encouraging your daughters to be other-centered.

  4. Great lesson here! I totally agree, I think as a culture we have take the whole self-esteem thing too far. I think American Idol is a great example of this, there are kids that fully believe they are talented in the area of singing bc their parents have told them they are good, knowing full well that they aren't. And they go on national tv and are humiliated. That is so hard to watch. But bc they had family that didn't want to hurt their self esteem they wholeheartedly believed they were good at something they clearly are not. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. American idol has come to mind many times as I've researched this subject. That kind of irrational self-esteem is present in many parts of our culture now.
      Thanks for taking time to comment.

  5. You've written and incredibly wise and powerful post, Gail. There are so many nuggets of wisdom here that I can't even count them. I'm familiar with the KJV of that verse, but had never compared it to the NIV to see how different it is in context! Wow! And I really resonate with what you're saying here because this is where God is dealing with me. In fact, I'm in a prayer group and one of my requests is for a more humble, sober view of myself. God's been so good to give me my request too--a little painful, but so freeing all along the way. Your words are a reminder of His truth--not the worlds. Thanks for linking this up at Wedded Wed. You hit this one out of the park, my friend!

    1. Thank you, Beth, for your kind words. I hope to offer more evidence as my series unfolds. I think this is so important to me because I was totally sold on s-e principles as were many of my friends. And now our culture is beginning to be shaped by adults who have great self-esteem but are ungrateful,unproductive and ungodly. And my heart's desire is to see Christians raising a different kind of the nurture of the Lord, not in the nurture of the s-e movement.
      Thanks again for your meaningful insights and comments.

  6. Thank you for this thoughtful, honest blog. I am so thankful to read this lesson.

  7. I just wanted to let you know that I added your post to my "Favorite Friday" list today. Every week I pick a few blog posts that I thought were awesome and share the links on my blog.

    1. Thanks so much, Rachel. I'm glad you think it's a helpful post. Bless you.

  8. Gail, I had to search through some school/teaching files the other day to find some paperwork for a new teaching job and pulled out my 'Self-Esteem' file from 1991, the year I started teaching. There was an article in there about the dangers of this 'new' (old, actually) movement/idea of building up kids' self-esteem.
    Here I am on the other side of 20+ years of teaching and I can tell you, the over emphasis has back fired.
    This was a well thought out reminder and reason for how/why we should think rightly about ourselves.
    Good job!

    1. It's interesting, Jody. If you google self-esteem, only a tiny minority of articles are about the dangers and most are about the benefits. And even though there is a huge body or research to back up the dangers, we are still a country high on high self-esteem.
      Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences. I'm actually surprised that your school included info on the dangers. Apparently there have always been a few sane voices trying to warn people, but very few people are listening.

  9. What a WONDERFUL post! This is so true! Both extremes are rooted in pride because they indicate that we have a preoccupation with ourselves. Humility is not to think of ourselves as unworthy, but not to think too much about ourselves at all! To think more about others than we do ourselves...and to have a proper perspective as to who we are. I am sharing this on FB.

  10. Wow, what an incredible and informative post! Thanks for writing, new follower :) And I will be sharing with my Dad who loves real theology :) -Amy @ Wildflower Ramblings

    1. Glad it was helpful, Amy. I hope your dad enjoys it as well.

  11. Hello, stopping by from Faith-Filled Friday. This was solid teaching and advice for any parent. I struggled in the beginning with the statement "You can do and be anything you want to be". Each of my children is unique and beautifully gifted as God has granted them but there are limits to these blessings. Telling them that they can do anything always felt like a lie. Hence, I haven't said it. Rather, I encourage their strengths and highlight their natural abilities. We praise each other for our talents and help each other in areas where one may fall short. I want them to have a confidence in themselves that comes from the reflected image of Christ.