I work with children and teens. The experts all tell me those kids need confidence, and that to give them confidence I ought to build their self-esteem; I should affirm them often by telling them how good or talented they are.

But I’m a Bible teacher. I have to resist that.

Oh, I agree encouragement is important. It’s just that self-esteem doesn’t truly, deeply encourage anyone. Frankly, the kids I teach already know this. They know that looking at their own goodness only gives confidence if they’re actually good—and often they aren’t. They know the participation trophy is for those who weren’t talented enough to win a real trophy.

No one finds lasting confidence by looking at how good they are, even if the whole world is in on the charade. No, looking at oneself is bound to reveal failures and ugliness. But looking at Christ is stunningly different.

Jesus is the compassion-breathing, love-giving, bully-confronting, sin-defeating, all-powerful, risen and eternal Son of the Father and King of the universe. Now consider that if I have faith in him, that person loves me. He died for me. He calls himself my brother, and gives me his Spirit, and prays for me, and gives me strength to obey God, and is coming to take me to be with him always. He transforms me from an ugly failure into a child of the all-glorious Father.

He transforms me from an ugly failure into a child of the all-glorious Father.

Although I suppose we might call it self-esteem to believe all that, I prefer to think of it as Christ-esteem. It’s what I hope to build in the kids I teach. It’s why I show them Jesus and who they are in him.

Looking at Jesus trains young believers to know they are good, able, loved, and destined for greatness—everything the self-esteem crowd promotes. But this is not due to the kids themselves, rather because of Christ in them. Only his blood makes sinners righteous. Only his Spirit makes hearts holy. Only his victory makes dead people live forever.

Christ-esteem gives a confidence worldly self-esteem can never match. Christ-esteem also produces peace, joy, humility, and thankfulness. And by pointing kids away from themselves, it prepares them for a life of serving Jesus and others. It fosters love.

I confess that I find it too easy to slip into a mindset that blindly follows the culture’s pattern, saying little things designed to give kids confidence in themselves rather than in Christ, or giving credit to kids when it ought to go to Jesus. But the more I learn to direct credit and attention away from them and to Christ, the more confident and secure my students actually get—because their confidence is well-placed.

Listen to Jack Klumpenhower's interview on SBE