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Teacher, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” 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. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:36-40).
A great place to begin is by returning to the Garden of Eden before sin when love was pure, and they did it well because there was no sin anywhere. There is nothing to unlove in a perfect world. Assuredly, Adam loved himself because you can’t believe he hated himself. Imagine it. It is a challenge for post-fall people to perceive how loving yourself could be right and pure (Genesis 3:6). Pre-fall creatures could only love themselves purely because it could not be any other way. Our problem is that we live in a post-fall world, so our love for ourselves is convoluted at best and turns in on itself at worst. Our inwardly curved hearts send us into the ditches of self-hate or self-esteem.
It should be apparent to anyone that we must not hate ourselves, but in a post-fallen world, there are many self-haters among us. Jesus is assuming in Matthew 22:36-40 that we already love ourselves (in the purest way that we can and should love ourselves even as a fallen creature). Jesus could not be talking about an impure love of yourself because it would imply sin, and He would never say we should love ourselves from a sinful perspective, motive, or desire. If you’re thinking rightly about God and yourself, you should not hate yourself, whether during the pre-fall with Adam and Eve or the post-fall with the rest of us. If you hate yourself, there is much heart work to get out of that ditch.
Everyone understands the temptation to love ourselves the wrong way, which is why the culture has a self-esteem gospel. What would you expect God-rejectors to propagate? If you remove the Bible from your worldview, the primary thing a fallen person would be motivated to do is self-love. Without any governor, there would be no limit to how much we would love ourselves. Totally depraved and unrestricted minds know no limit to how far into the darkness they will go. Part of their curricula would say that to experience wholeness, you must love yourself more than God and others, a narcissistic type of love.
But let’s say that God has regenerated the wayward soul. This person knows they must fight, always resisting any temptation to hate what God has created, including themselves. This Christian wants to cooperate with God to reverse the curse; part of that means maturing into Christlikeness, a model nobody could reasonably hate. It would be sacrilegious to hate yourself because you would hate your Creator, albeit unwittingly or passively, and the new righteousness imputed to you. To hate the painting is to make a hateful commentary about the Painter. The newly minted, regenerated person shakes off this worldly way of thinking about love that drives them inward to a morbid, all-consuming, and deteriorating self-love. Of course, it’s not easy for every Christian to fight this fight.
Depending on the consequences of the horrific shaping influences that have complicated a soul, like an angry parent and other demeaning authority figures, the believer will have difficulty coming to a biblio-centric way of loving themselves. As they mature, they will export their biblical love to others, always striving to live in this biblio-centric sweet spot. They might say, “I love you biblically as I love myself biblically.” Because of a lack of sinless perfection, they’ll always struggle with the warping shame-shaping effects of their unique Adam-ness, plus what the other mean people have put on them. Their fight will be continuous, working against over-sensitivity that tempts them to be offended and angered or always angling for the favorable opinions of others through their proactive manipulations.
Without active repentance, they will not experience liberation. They will always be bound to self-love that will descend into controlling other people to ensure that they live in a carefully governed environment that steers all good opinions toward themselves. Should this happen, they must go back to the Garden, realizing that God created them in the best possible image (Genesis 1:27) and that there is nothing to hate other than their sin (Romans 7:24-8:1). As they do this, they will be on guard against the tendencies that tempt them to turn the Imago Dei into a self-centered love that has less concern for others and more concern for themselves, i.e., protecting their reputation, hiding their shame, and rejecting perceived rejections.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).