Needs, Rights, Self, and the Christian Life

Getting the biblical balance on love of God and love of self:

The topics covered here need to be approached carefully and prayerfully, but they do need to be discussed. And perhaps I should preface my remarks by this disclaimer: I am not a counsellor nor a pastor nor a therapist nor a psychologist. I am however a committed Christian who is very much interested in what follows.

The main theme of this piece is that we need the biblical balance when it comes to how we think of ourselves. We were told by Jesus that we are to ‘love our neighbour as our self’ (Mark 12:31). So there is a place for self-love, properly considered.

But so much of the direction in many current Christian circles is an overemphasis on self-esteem, feeling good about yourself, affirming yourself, and having a great self-image. That too needs to be balanced with the many passages that command us to deny our self, to crucify the flesh, to put off the old man, and so on.

And much of this discussion also involves the issue of whether we are first and foremost men-pleasers or God-pleasers. Do we seek above all the praise and attention of others, or of God? We know that ‘the fear of man brings a snare’ (Proverbs 29:25), but how many believers fear man more than they fear God?

As I say, we need to get the right balance here, but in my view much of the Western church today is far too fixated on self and self-worth, and too little concerned about pleasing God in all things. So let me tease this out a bit more.

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) developed a hierarchy of seven needs. It was a way to assess psychological health. The bottom two have to do with basic needs such as food, shelter, safety, etc. The 3rd and 4th have to do with things like love, belonging, esteem, competency, being recognised, etc.

There is some truth here, and if you have a lousy self-image or zero self-esteem, your life can certainly spiral out of control. So even secular counsellors and psychologists will work with people in these areas, and they can offer some much-needed help to people. But the Christian knows that there must be spiritual and biblical dimensions added to the equation as well.

The idea of simply feeling good about yourself, loving yourself and never criticising yourself is hardly biblical. But believing that I am nothing and my feelings and attitudes and so on do not matter at all can also be unhelpful. So we must get things right here. And as part of this, we must realise that we are all at different places in our journey.

Many Christians need to learn what saying no to self really means. They may well need, for the first time in their lives, to really learn what the denial of self entails, and why it is so important. But other folks are so beaten down, bruised and bummed out, that they will need help in the other direction.

Let me wax autobiographical here for a moment. For pretty much all of my life I have had a poor self-image and low sense of self-worth. Therefore for much of my life I have often sought the approval, attention and recognition of others. (Even as I write this, I am wondering what others will think of me!)

So I need to work on getting the mix right here. I need to know of God’s love for me and why he highly values me. But I also need to move away from being worried about what others think of me. God’s reputation should be my main concern, and it will take God’s grace to help me break free from some of the ruts I might be in.

Learning how to get all this in its proper place is an ongoing task. We too easily swing to extremes here. But as mentioned, for many in the Western church today, learning to say no to self may be the biggest need of the hour. And many great saints can help us out here. Let me mention just three of them.

Kerry, a friend of mine, made this helpful social media post a year or so ago:

William Wilberforce struggled with wanting the approval of man as we all often do. This prayer in his journal from 1811 made me think of the social media world where it is so easy to fall into the trap of depending on the comments of others for building us up. Yes, it is nice to receive encouragement and building up from our friends, but we need to be sure we are not depending on it and seeking it over and above our dependence on and being approved by God through Christ.


“Alas. Alas! How Vanity and Vain glory and the inordinate Love of Human Estimation still retain possession of my Soul. How incessantly do I find my Soul suggesting the Ideas of others’ Comments on my thoughts or affections which at all of a pleasing kind. Yet I humbly hope I discourage these, yet I can derive fuel to my Vanity from this very discouraging and so on again and again. O let me think what should I think or say if anyone who was thus the prey of incessant Vain Glory. O let the Consciousness of it humble me in the dust and make me long to be purified more from this vile passion and to be more entirely possessed with the grateful Love of my God and Savior. O make me more meet to be a Partaker of the Inheritance of the Saints in Light. Amen. Amen.”

Yes I hear what she – and he – is saying. A shorter version of events is found in one sentence from the American preacher and teacher, Paul Washer: “The desire to be affirmed and appreciated is deadly venom to a man of God, yet it appears that many have been bitten.”

Image of The Deeper Life: Go Beyond Knowledge to Experience Spirit-Filled Living
The Deeper Life: Go Beyond Knowledge to Experience Spirit-Filled Living by Tozer, A. W. (Author) Amazon logo

And the late great A. W. Tozer also spoke of such things. In the 2022 book The Deeper Life (Moody Publishers), the final chapter is called “5 Vows for Spiritual Power”. The fifth vow, “Never Accept Any Glory,” has some useful things to hear and apply to our lives. This is part of it:

God is jealous of His glory and He will not give His glory to another. He will not even share His glory with another. It is quite natural, I should say, for people to hope that maybe their Christian service will give them a chance to display their talents. True, they want to serve the Lord. But they also want other people to know they are serving the Lord. They want to have a reputation among the saints. That is very dangerous ground – seeking a reputation among the saints. It’s bad enough to seek a reputation in the world, but it’s worse to seek a reputation among the people of God. Our Lord gave up His reputation, and so must we….


Now, it is the easiest possible thing to give a message like this. The hard thing is to make it work in one’s own life. Remember that these five vows are not something you write in the back of your Bible and forget. They have got to be written in your own blood. They have to be made final, irrevocable. If it only comes off the surface, it’s no good. Much of our consecration is just that way – it comes off the surface. Many of our promises come off the surface. No, no. Let it come out of the depths of your heart, the deep depths of your spirit.


These vows cut against the old human nature. They introduce the cross into your life. And nobody ever walks back from carrying his cross – nobody ever. When a man takes his cross he’s already said goodbye. He’s pulled the roll top shut on his desk and said farewell to his wife and children. He’s not coming back. The man with the cross never comes back. When you make these vows, remember, they strike at the heart of your self-life and there is never a place to go back to. And I say, “Woe unto the triflers!”


In America – and maybe in other places too – so many people are saying, “Try Jesus, try God!” Triflers, experimenters, tasters they are. Like a rabbit with a half dozen holes so if one is stopped up he can flee to another! No! From the cross there is no place to flee. You don’t “try” Jesus. He’s not there to be experimented with. Christ is not on trial. You are. I am. He is not! God raised Him from the dead and forever confirmed His deity and scaled Him and set Him at His own right hand as Lord and Christ. Turn everything over to Him and you’ll find your life begin to lift. You’ll blossom in a wonderful way.


Now, if you happen to be one of those on whom God has laid His hand for a deeper life, a more powerful life, a fuller life, then I wonder if you would be willing to pray this kind of prayer: “O God, glorify Thyself at my expense. Send me the bill – anything, Lord. I set no price. I will not dicker or bargain. Glorify Thyself. I’ll take the consequences.


This kind of praying is simple, but it’s deep and wonderful and powerful. I believe, if you can pray a prayer like that, it will be the ramp from which you can take off into higher heights and bluer skies in the things of the Spirit.

This is the sort of teaching that perhaps most of us need to hear today. Yes, there is a place for taking pride in some of your accomplishments. You can enjoy doing some hard work in your job, providing a good product or service, and taking pride in your efforts. Sure, God enabled you to do it, but you did it.

My old pastor used to say that some folks need to learn how to accept a compliment. ‘Oh no, it wasn’t me, it was the Lord,’ they will say. But we do not need any false modesty here. If you build a nice cabinet, write an inspiring poem, or sing a beautiful song, and you are praised and thanked for that, you can accept such compliments. We are God’s sub-creators (as Tolken put it), and we are also his workmanship.

Yes, at the end of the day God gets all the glory. But we need to keep striving to become who we should be: those who can take wholesome pride and satisfaction in our work and service, but who also above all else seek the praise of God, and do not worry overly much about what others think of us.

It is a real balancing act, and I am still working on it – after all these years. Maybe you are too.

[1832 words]

3 Replies to “Needs, Rights, Self, and the Christian Life”

  1. Let me encourage you on this, Bill. Never forget that you have made considerable contributions to the cause of the sanctity of life through your excellent books on abortion and euthanasia and be justifiably proud that you have spoken up for the vulnerable and weak in our society. For that noble and godly endeavour is something to feel pride and worth in. Whenever your life ends, I suspect you’ll encounter a cloud of witnesses saying ‘he spoke up for me’ and testifying to your valour, courage and selflessness in that work.

  2. I mostly gave up oh 10 or so years ago seeking man’s approval since I wasn’t getting it. I realized then I didn’t need THEIR approval only God’s. Sure it would be nice to have both but I find since I truly got into my faith, I was raised in the Lutheran church but didn’t really know Christ till late middle school thanks to Jack van Impe, I was contrary to the church and to church groups on the internet I would join. The latter were cliquey and former just wasn’t on fire very Laodicean. Back then I craved approval yet didn’t change who I was or what I said. Then I finally gave up realizing if God is happy with me I really shouldn’t care what anybody thinks. It’s nice to hear good words from you and a few others but I’m not craving them anymore. If they come great if not fine.

    Self esteem has always been a problem for me. I never think much of my self. When I see love you neighbor as yourself I think I hope I can do better because that isn’t really going to result in much for my neighbor. Everybody’s hoping to hear when they get to heaven “well done thou good and faithful servant”. I would be glad to hear “I’m proud of you”. I’m not horribly depressed and feeling absolutely worthless but I am always slightly on the depressed side, that’s been life for just over 3/4ths of my life so I’m used to it, and I feel like no matter what I do it’s not enough no matter what I give it’s not enough. I feel I’m letting the Lord down no matter how much I do or give. I guess I have a bit to work on too.

  3. Paul, you need to listen to Julie Green of who was suicidal until a few years ago and now she is ministering mightily for the Lord as she is so in contact with Him.

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