This is post is really a continuation of my earlier post Who Do You Say You Are? While that post talked about knowing the love of God so that we can love ourselves this post talks more about why Christians should love themselves. I am writing this as one of the most important things the Lord has showed me over the past 4 years or so is that I needed to love or at least like myself a lot more. For so long I fed myself a steady diet of self-criticism and rebuke and as a result I believe so many people around me also suffered the same fate. At home I had been taught not to think to highly of myself and as a Christian to love others and care for them first (none of this wrong), but I had never been taught or told that I should love myself. I had also not experienced much love and so when I became a Christian and people talked about the love of God, I felt nothing. It was only after I started to think about how Jesus would talk to me and how He would want me to see myself that I realized I needed to work on liking or even loving myself in Christ.
Unfortunately so many Christians seem to misunderstand what it means to love yourself. Too often we use it as an insult ‘she loves herself so much’ meaning she thinks she is better than anyone else and therefore is selfish and self-centered. However as I have worked through this, I have discovered that to love myself does not mean that I think I am better than anyone else, or more important or anything comparative at all. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the needs of others or always put myself at the front of the line. Rather I believe that to love myself means to value and esteem myself as a beloved, child of God. To claim my identity in Him and to live from a place of security and acceptance rather than insecurity and rejection. While I am still on this journey and this is probably not as well reasoned out as I would like yet, I thought it would be good to share some of it now. As I said I have touched on some of this in an earlier post but in this post I wanted to give you five, Biblical, reasons why, after receiving the love of God, you need to love yourself:
1. Loving ourselves is agreeing with God about our value as His creation
Throughout the Bible we are told that man is God’s greatest creation. We are called His masterpiece, His beloved child, His friend, His workmanship. We are told that our names are engraved on the palms of His hands. But most important of all we know that God loved us so very, very much that He sent His beloved son Jesus to die for us so that we could be reconciled to Him. Paul, in Romans 8:32 writes that ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? When we fail to be loving, kind and compassionate with ourselves we are in effect saying that Jesus’ death was really a waste. We are negating the very great worth that God says we have with and we make little of everything He has said and done for us. God loves us and says we are precious in His sight and when we love ourselves we are claiming this as our identity.
2. We become who we believe we are
Proverbs 23:7 says ‘As he (a man) thinks within himself so is he’ a verse I have quoted many times before, but one that I think is so, so important. If we think that we are not lovable, or worth loving, or pretty or important or valuable or fun to be around or any other negative thought than not only will start to act in ways consistent with this, but we will also be looking for evidence of this in our lives. For example if I think ‘I feel like such a loser because I have no one to go to church with’, then when I go to church I look down, I sit at the back, I try to be unnoticed and sure enough I am unnoticed. As a result I can then draw a faulty conclusion such as ‘see no-one cares about me they must think I am not worth speaking to, see what a loser I am’. But if I embrace the truth that I am a Child of the Most High God and He goes to church with me every week and because He is my friend I can be confident and hold my head high then I will approach church in a totally different way. I will sit down the front, I will say hi to the person beside me, I will be friendly and confident and I will find that people will respond in the same way, and they actually have. Loving ourselves is claiming our identity in Christ so that we can then live that out in our daily lives as confident and secure men and women of God.
3. We are commanded by Jesus to love our neighbours as we love ourselves
Jesus in Mark 12:31 said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. Too often we neglect the last two words of this commandment, AS YOURSELF. If you don’t love yourself it is virtually impossible for you to sincerely and graciously love other people. If you are not patient, kind and understanding with yourself when you make mistakes but instead speak to yourself in a critical way, putting yourself down, then what will happen when those around you make a mistake? If you don’t treat yourself as a precious, beloved child of God, then how will you be able to treat anyone else like that. If we don’t love ourselves then we can also have a wrong idea about what loving our neighbor looks like. We can have poor boundaries, allow people to mistreat us or take advantage of us because we think that is loving our neighbor but really that is not loving at all, that is indulging our neighbor. When we love ourselves we know what healthy love looks like and so we can have relationships that reflect that, in particular romantic ones. Jesus knew that for us to be able to love others that we would need to love ourselves first.
4. Loving ourselves sets us free from performing
When we love and accept ourselves we no longer believe that have to perform to earn the love of others or even the love of God. For so long I, subconsciously, thought that I had to be be essentially a perfect person in order for God to love me and to show His favor to me. I tried not to swear, to never lose my temper, to be patient always (even in traffic), to speak kindly in all situations, to be wise with my money, to work hard, to put myself last etc etc and frankly it was totally exhausting. At the end I could not keep going, I could not keep trying to be this ‘perfect’ Christian and so I thought what a failure I am. No wonder God doesn’t answer my prayers, no wonder I don’t have a husband, it must be because I still do not have it all together yet. I had failed to comprehend that God sees us not as we are today, but as we are in eternity, clothed in robes of righteousness and perfected by the blood of Jesus (see Galatians 3:27 and Isaiah 61:10) . He sees us beautiful or handsome and perfect but not because of anything we have done but because of what He has done for us. He does not want us to think that we have to perform to earn His love, He wants us to inhabit the identity of His beloved son or daughter. To inhabit that we have to declare and believe that we are greatly loved and to love and accept ourselves. When we love ourselves according to who God says we are we get to rest in His embrace and stop trying to perform. We then can also stop performing for others to love us too and can be relaxed in who we are.
5. Once we know God’s love and can love ourselves we no longer need to demand love from others
Finally, if we love ourselves we are setting ourselves free from demanding that others love us in order for us to feel good about ourselves. When we do not love ourselves we usually do not know in our hearts how much Jesus loves us and as a result we start to demand love from those around us in order to boost our self-image. We then feel good when people love us and terrible when they don’t. We are up and down dependent on other people’s regard for us, which is a terrible way to live (trust me I have been there!). When we love ourselves we set people free and let them love us in their own way. We cease demanding love from them in order to boost our fragile self-image and as a result we enter into a healthier relationship that is not symbiotic or dependent. When we do this, if for some reason this love is taken away then we may be hurt or upset but we are not devastated or beyond hope as we have not depended on this person to prop us up.
For me loving yourself does not mean you are in love with yourself, it means valuing and esteeming yourself because of who you are in Christ and because of His sacrifice on the cross. It does not come from us, it is a gift from God. Throughout the Bible there are exhortations for people to love foreigners as themselves, to love their wives as they love themselves and Jesus sums all this up in loving our neighbor as ourselves. Some authors argue that it is dangerous to love yourself as it will lead to sin, but I disagree, I think that loving ourselves is a natural and necessary response to the love of God. John in 1 John 4:19 writes that ‘we love because He first loved us’ and I do not believe that only applies to other people. No, I believe that it applies to us too, we love ourselves because He first loved us, and we love others as we love ourselves. Today celebrate and demonstrate the love of God by showing love and care for yourself and for those around you.