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theology

Love yourself. Should we?

I hear a lot these days from other Christians that we should love ourselves. Is this biblical?

As I scroll through Twitter and Facebook I see a lot of memes, particularly from Christians that we should love ourselves.

That as well as loving God, and loving others, we should also be committed to loving ourselves. I’m not a theologian, and the theology I do understand, I struggle to put into practice on a daily basis. So in many ways I’m a pilgrim, examining the evidence, testing it, and asking the Holy Spirit to help me understand the bible as best I can. But I do think a strength of mine is discernment, and this is a doctrine that I have never felt very comfortable in accepting as biblical.

This doctrine goes hand in hand with a new age of evangelical teaching that mixes secular psychology and sociology with biblical theology and arrives at some self-help type of gospel which I’m not sure is either helpful, or biblical.

I’m not convinced that we should love ourselves. Does that mean I think we should hate ourselves? Of course not. The bible is clear, God loves us, and each of us hold an intrinsic value to God. The bible says this:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever should believe in Him, will not perish, but inherit eternal life.

John 3:16

Contrary to the world-view, our value and worth is not dependent upon merit, social status or how much money we have in the bank. In God’s eyes, whether prostitute or priest, pauper or president, he loves us all the same. And His love is a perfect love. He is love.

I wonder whether the doctrine has come about from a misunderstanding of these famous words from Jesus, written in three of the four gospels:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Matthew 22:37

Jesus here talks of two commandments. Perhaps some people look at the part that says “Love your neighbour as yourself” as a third commandment coming at us by stealth? Yet if we think about this logically, then it would follow that if we hate ourselves, then we should hate others as we hate ourself. We know this not to be true.

Jesus here is not commanding us to love ourselves, his emphasis is on on loving our neighbours. Why? Because God loves us. The gospel of John puts it in better language:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 

John 13:34

In fact if anything the bible warns against us loving ourselves. In a long list of negative attributes the apostle Paul warns us that a sign of being in the last days is when people do start to love themselves:

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good…

2 Timothy 3:2

The question to ask if “what is there to love about ourselves?” Surely we are created in God’s image, and that is a reason to love ourselves?

No, it’s a reason to love God.

Surely we can love the good that we do? The times we encourage others, the times we give to charity, the times we are compassionate, or kind, or forgiving?

If we are to understand our situation as Paul describes it, there isn’t anything to love. He reminds us of these words from the Old Testament:

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

Even our best deeds don’t hit the mark. They are usually marred by pride, self-importance, or in some way our own personal gain. See I think the danger of loving yourself is that you start to believe that you can be self-sufficient. You start to rely less on who Christ is and what He has done, and start to think that you are the one to be congratulated when things go well. If we love ourselves then we diminish glory that should rightly go to the Father.  If we love ourselves, then there is no need for the sanctification process to be at work in us, for why would we need to become more like Christ, if we can be more like ourselves? And by saying we love ourselves, we are saying that something is there to love!

Yet again Paul reminds us there is nothing to love as we look at ourselves:

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:24

Who will rescue us? Who can we love? The very person who loves us – Jesus. He should be our focus, His perfection and glory should receive all our love.

What about people of low self-worth? What about people who have been in abusive relationships, or who have been bullied, neglected and dismissed all their lives?

Of course, they need to be reminded of the value that God places upon their lives. But they must be taught that we are all unworthy. No-one is worthy, not even one! But because of who Christ is, and because of what He has done, ‘we can approach the throne of grace with confidence,’ as is written in Hebrews 4. The gospel message is so beautiful and so amazing, simply because we are nothing! God’s judgement has declared war on our fallen nature, on our unrighteousness, on our rebellion against God, on our pride, on our iniquity, and on our selfishness. Yet Jesus has stepped in, took our punishment on the cross, and we have escaped the wrath of God, and gained eternal life and communion with the Father.

In the book The Imitation of Christ, the author writes this:

If you wish to learn and appreciate something worth while, then love to be unknown and considered as nothing. Truly to know and despise self is the best and most perfect counsel. To think of oneself as nothing, and always to think well and highly of others is the best and most perfect wisdom.

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

When we understand Christ, and who He is, we can start to get just a glimpse of how far we have fallen and how unworthy we really are. When we look at ourselves there is nothing to love. Yes we have value, because God places a value on us! Yes, we are loved, but not because we are loveable! Yes, we can approach God with our head held high, but not because of our own merit, but because of what Jesus has done for us!

Don’t love yourself, look up, love God.

Don’t beat yourself up about your sin, but confess it to God, understand Jesus dealt with it on the cross, and move on.

Remember that God loves you, not for what you’ve done, but for who you are.

And focus all your attention, all your praise, all your thanksgiving, all your love, all your zeal, towards God.


Main photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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