Romans 4:23-25. But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for [Abraham’s] sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Romans 5:8-11. but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
If you’re tracking with this blog everyday (or most days) you know that we’ve been in Romans 8. Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to the “Moms of Grace” group at my church and so today I wanted to pause from Romans 8 and share some of the thoughts I shared with them. They asked me to talk about “self-love.”
Self-love v self-esteem.
The first thing we want to do when talking about self-love is distinguish it from the self-esteem movement. Now that we can see the results of the last 20-30 years of the self-esteem movement, we can tell that it’s done more harm than good. Self-esteem is the idea that you are good enough. That you can reach your full potential. But what the research has shown is that when we have to rely on constant self-approval, or even the approval of others, we actually become more discouraged. Why? Because it creates something that we warn against here all the time – a law.
Self-esteem leaves us having to live up to a “potential” that others are setting for us or that we set for ourselves. It soon becomes rooted in comparison. The gap between where I want to be and where I actually am grows larger and larger. Self-esteem is contingent upon outcomes. If you do well you will feel good. If you don’t do well, then “you can do better.” But can I? Self-esteem actually doesn’t encourage self-love at all, it impedes it.
Self-compassion is better.
A newer movement in psychology today is the self-compassion movement. Dr. Kristin Neff out of the University of Texas is doing a lot of research and writing about self-compassion. “Self-Compassion is not judging ourselves positively, it is relating to ourselves kindly.” It teaches us to be kind to ourselves, to forgive ourselves, to accept that everyone is failing and falling short, so stop comparing. It advocates embracing community and using mindfulness to be in the moment while not letting our successes or failures become our identity.
Self-compassion is way closer to the gospel than self-esteem. It is rooted in the idea of a self-love that is actually honest with yourself. Self-compassion actually begins to remove the fear of failure and thus increases motivation, forgiveness, and responsibility for wrong actions.
The problem is still the “self.”
The big problem with self-compassion and self-love is that it is still something that we must self-create? Do I have the ability to summon self-compassion? What if the thing I need compassion about is my inability to show myself compassion? What if my self-love is rooted in a false version of myself? What if my “self” changes over time?
Our worth, value, and meaning must come from an unchanging outside source. Preferably an honest, true, righteous, loving, supreme outside source. Obviously we are talking about God here.
First, our self-love must be rooted in the reality that we are made in the image of God. We bear his likeness. He made us with purpose and pours grace upon us (even before we are Christians). Of course, our sin destroys this image. We fall short of the glory of God.
Imputation and self-love.
Go back up to the top and read Romans 4:23-25 and 5:8-11.
By faith in Christ, we are counted as righteous. We are counted as lovable. We are counted as reconciled. This is called imputation. God declares over us what actually isn’t true (we’re not righteous, lovable, or reconcilable), and in declaring it, God makes it true.
Do you see it?
Now we have the ability for self-love and self-compassion that no longer is rooted in my own subjective and ever changing mindset alone. Rather it is rooted in the objective reality of the cross and my union with Christ. If God actually loves me, can I love myself? I should. I must. Self-love is required for love of others – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Imputation (ie: the gospel) allows us to live within the dual reality of “I am wicked” and yet “I am loved.” This is “to live is Christ.” This merging of grace and truth is what allows for real self-love. An embracing of ourselves that’s rooted in God’s loving embrace of us, even when we were still sinners.