Biblical Self-Esteem: How to Love Ourselves the Way God Desires
In Matthew 22:39, Jesus tells us that the second greatest commandment is that we love other people “as we love ourselves.” While this directive from Jesus is surrounded by plenty of other weighty dialogue, for many of us the commandment to love others as we love ourselves presents the most daunting challenge in the entire passage. However, our issue is typically not that we don’t love others as we love ourselves, but that we do. We just don’t love ourselves very well.
Worse yet, in many cases we have become OK with our lack of self-love and have even convinced ourselves that it is biblical.
I don’t know about you, but elementary school and junior high were some pretty challenging years for me. I was an introvert who was a little overweight and somewhat socially awkward. My family was not poor, but we certainly did not have the resources that many others had. My grandmother believed that Rustler jeans (think “Walmart special”) were high fashion. I owned the “knock off” version of pretty much every name brand item that served to elevate one’s social status during those formative years. I was extremely shy, wore braces and played violin in the school orchestra (you can probably imagine the grief I caught when I carried my violin case into the football locker room).
Oh, and my last name is McNutt. Even if you haven’t already thought of some clever one-liners yourself, you can probably imagine the fun that my peers had with that one at my expense.
If Loving Ourselves is Right, I Don’t Wanna Be Wrong . . . or Something Like That
If I have learned anything in my four decades of life, it is that the world gives us plenty of opportunities to think less of ourselves. What is worse is that Jesus followers are sometimes tempted to embrace those opportunities, engaging in self-deprecation and calling it “humility.” However, humility has nothing to do with denying our intrinsic value. Author and theologian, C.S. Lewis wisely stated, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.”
Just as there is nothing holy about despising others, there is nothing inherently good about denying our own worth. In fact, since the Bible describes each of us as “God’s handiwork” (Ephesians 2:10), I believe such behavior is actually an offense to God. Contrary to what many of us have been taught, learning to love ourselves is not sinful, but is instead the third step in God’s process of enlarging our hearts in love.
I think there are a number of reasons why the idea of loving ourselves might seem sacrilegious or blasphemous to many of us – we have been told we are worthless by others, we don’t understand grace and the reality of how God feels about us (we think we are agreeing with God when we are actually in opposition to Him), or we don’t believe our love for God is real (we see ourselves as hopeless hypocrites).
Before we can love our neighbor as ourselves and actually fulfill the commandments of Jesus, we must first learn to love ourselves in the grace of God. I am not talking about loving ourselves in a fleshly or selfish way, but in a way that simply agrees with God – knowing and affirming what we look like to Him and who we are in Christ as His inheritance. This includes valuing and rejoicing in who God made us to be, both physically and in our personality, gifts, and talents.
We must know who we are in Christ and rejoice in that reality. If we understand, believe, and have a healthy focus on who we are through the prophetic decree of the Lord, and not just on who we are today in our immaturity and weaknesses, we can begin to love ourselves, not just because of who we are, but because of who He is in us and who we will become. If the idea of loving yourself in the grace of God seems foreign, overwhelming, or even heretical to you, take a look at the words of King David in Psalm 139:13-17:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.Psalm 139:13-17, NIV
Do these sound like the words of one who despised himself or did not place extreme value on what the Lord had done in creating him? After speaking about God’s handiwork in “knitting him together in his mother’s womb,” David tells the Lord how wonderful His works are! It might make you a little uncomfortable to say the same thing about yourself, but that does not make it any less true. It simply means that you have not learned to love yourself within the grace of God.
As God reveals His amazing love to you, and as you are set free and empowered to love Him in return, ask Him to also free you to love yourself in a way that honors Him and reflects His glory to the world.
Envy: The Enemy of Biblical Self-Love
This seems like a perfect time to address an issue that plagues the Body of Christ and keeps us from fully partnering with God in a way that is most effective to the Kingdom: envy.
If we were honest, most of us would admit that we have at least at some point wished that we had the gifts, talents, personality, looks, relationships, influence, or resources of another brother or sister in Christ. I know that I definitely have, and envy has kept me in bondage and paralyzed me in my partnership with the Lord. Not only that, but it has kept me from fully experiencing the love of God and the freedom that comes with simply being His child (after all, how could God really love me as much as He loves ___________?).
We cannot allow ourselves to secretly (or openly) wish we were someone else, as if God somehow made a mistake in creating us. In fact, to dislike and despise ourselves is actually to call God’s leadership into question. That may not be our intent, but if we truly believe we were created by God, then who are we to question and/or despise what He has made?
When we choose the path of comparison, we open the door to bitterness, believing that we are insignificant to God or that He favors others over us. This bitterness will cause our hearts to shut down toward God, and it will hinder our ability to receive His love and return love to Him. It is only as we take our eyes off of others and off of our own failures, choosing instead to focus on His grace, that we will truly learn to appreciate God’s workmanship and love who He created us to be.
God has declared that you have value! Agree with Him! You are not selfish or self-centered in doing so. He created us with value and purpose. He loves His children and does not want anyone talking badly about them, including themselves. How much sense does it make to continue to argue with Him? Instead, take your eyes off of other people, and off of your own failures, and focus on the reality of what He says. You just might learn to appreciate what you see!
What is holding you back from loving yourself the way God desires? Is it the words that others have spoken over you? Is it an inner voice constantly telling you that you don’t measure up? Or maybe it is an incorrect belief that despising yourself is somehow equated with holiness? Whatever the case, I encourage you to dig into the Word and see what God has to say about you.
Remember, there is a process of growing in holy passion, and the first step is embracing the reality that you are deeply loved by God. You can only love yourself rightly as your heart is grounded in His love for you. My prayer is that you will be able to say, “I am loved by God, and I am a lover of God; therefore, I am successful and my life has meaning!”
Questions or comments? Be sure and drop a comment below or connect with me on social media. I would love to keep the conversation going!
(If you enjoyed this post, go back and read Part 3 or check out Part 5)
One thought on “Biblical Self-Esteem: How to Love Ourselves the Way God Desires”
Kyle, these posts are so excellent! They’re professionally presented and the content is insightful. I like your illustrations, like the diesel pickup with gas. This post is especially full of applicable wisdom. Thanks for taking the time and making the effort necessary to get these out.