I was in my church class on Sunday, and it was almost over. We were about to pray and then be dismissed.
One of the girls was praying about our relationship with God. After asking Him to help us love Him more, she added, “And help us to love ourselves too. Because it’s important to do that.”
A flood of questions filled my brain. Is that right? Should we love ourselves? And above all, what does the Bible say about self-love?
What is Self-Love?
The world’s narrative declares that “we are enough” and “perfect just the way we are.” We are to “love every part of us and do what makes us happy.” At first glance, that sounds nice. But if we dig deeper, those sayings actually go against what the Bible says.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24 emphasis mine).
We are all sinners and badly need Jesus. We are not enough. The Gospel story is of Christ coming to save us because we are not perfect just the way we are.
Self-love is searching for a fleeting happiness inside yourself that you will never find.
What is Wrong with Self-Love?
Ultimately, self-love is selfishness. When you put yourself first and prioritize your wants and desires over others, it’s doing the opposite of what the Bible teaches.
Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Self-love takes the focus off loving God and pursuing Him. Instead, it emphasizes how we feel and builds our identity on who we say we are. When we build our identity on who we think we are, it is unstable and shaky. It doesn’t last. Yet, when our identity is on who God states we are in Him, it is firm.
As a Christian, I don’t love every part of myself. My sinful thoughts, actions, and words are not something I’m glad to have. Self-love encourages us to love and embrace every part of ourselves. On the other hand, Luke 9:23-24 says, “And He said to all, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”
We are called to deny ourselves, not embrace our sinfulness.
Looking to God Instead
At one point, I was very perplexed about whether self-love was biblical and true. So, I asked one of my wise mentors, and she told me, “Don’t focus on loving yourself; focus on loving the God who made you.” That brought great clarity to my confused heart. Because self-love would just lead me down roads of even more insecurity and confusion.
We are never told to love ourselves. In Matthew 22:36-40, we are commanded to love God and love people: “And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Sometimes “love your neighbor as yourself” is commonly confused as the command to love ourselves. But as John MacArthur puts it in The MacArthur Bible Commentary, “Contrary to some contemporary interpretations, it does not mandate self-love. Rather, it contains in different words the very same idea as the Golden Rule. It prompts believers to measure their love for others by what they wish for themselves.”
Love God, love people. That’s what comes first. When we fill our hearts with God’s love and pour out that love to others, it doesn’t leave room for self-love anymore. Instead, we are secure in God’s love, which is unconditional and never gives up.Love God, love people. That’s what comes first. When we fill our hearts with God's love and pour out that love to others, it doesn’t leave room for self-love anymore. Instead, we are secure in God’s love, which is unconditional. Click To Tweet
In Allie Beth Stuckey’s book, You Are Not Enough (and That’s Okay), she writes, “Our self-love isn’t enough to make us confident. Our self-sufficiency isn’t enough to bring us peace. Our self-care, self-empowerment, self-help, self-whatever are only going to give us so many good vibes before we move on to the next self-betterment program. The self isn’t enough—period. The answer to the purposelessness and hollowness we feel is found not in us but outside of us. The solutions to our problems and pain aren’t found in self-love, but in God’s love.”
Right View of Self
The extreme counterpart of self-love is self-hatred. Ironically, while they seem like opposites, they both stem from pride. Both entirely consume one’s thoughts with the same thing—self. Instead of being on either side of these extremes, we should have a right view of self in light of God.
Psalm 139:13-14 says:
“For You formed my inward parts;
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
my soul knows it very well.”
There are unique things about each human being the Lord has created that we can praise Him for, and the un-praiseworthy things in us are opportunities to express gratitude for Christ as we rely on His sufficient sacrifice and complete holiness. We can be brought to a place of humility—where we are not “thinking less of ourselves but thinking about ourselves less” (C.S. Lewis).
Christ’s Love is Enough
The beauty of our incapability to “love ourselves”, is that Jesus’ love can be enough for us. In our lack and brokenness, He fills us with Himself, allowing His perfect love to flow out.The beauty of our incapability to “love ourselves”, is that Jesus’ love can be enough for us. In our lack and brokenness, He fills us with Himself, allowing His perfect love to flow out. Click To Tweet
Instead of trying to fix our insecurity with fickle self-affirmation and self-love, we can accept God’s grace and peace. We can choose to believe what He says about us as opposed to trying to make a name and identity for ourselves.