A Wrong Love of Self
A self-love that exalts my needs, my desires, and my hopes over God or others is wrong. It’s like a tyrant manipulating others to get what he wants. For instance, Jennifer is single and desperately wants a husband. When she’s brutally honest, her desire for marriage trumps the life God has given her. She flirts and dresses to get men’s attention. Another example: Peter is frustrated because his wife pours herself into the children and neglects him. He cares less about obeying God and loving his wife and more about meeting his needs for sex and attention.
A self-love that makes God secondary to my needs and my wants is common but unacceptable for Christians. Every version of self-love that puts me at the center of my universe (and ignores God) makes me too focused on myself. Jennifer is more concerned about her desire for happiness than about trusting the Lord. Peter wants sex and attention above all else, and he manipulates his wife to get it.
A self-love that blinds me to my mistakes and minimizes my sin is dangerous. I understand myself properly only when God opens my eyes to my sin. A right view of self understands that we’re completely depraved—every part of us: our minds, hearts, and bodies.
A self-love whose main goal is to make me feel better about myself is not OK. The self-esteem movement whispers in our ears, “You’re amazing, so feel good about yourself,” or, “Don’t feel bad. You’re doing great!” As believers, our confidence is rooted not in ourselves, our abilities, or self-inflating self-talk, but in the God who mercifully saves us through His Son.
A Right Love of Self
A right self-love exalts God and makes us secondary (Ex. 20:1–6; Ps. 40:8; Matt. 6:9–10, 33). God arranges our priorities so that we can’t make ourselves king of the universe. A kingly life is dangerous because self-exaltation and self-centered lives easily follow suit. Only God Almighty rightfully sits on the throne. When we submit to His reign, He puts us in our proper place, and our self-love can’t grow out of control. Jennifer’s self-driven pursuit of a husband slows down as she grows in faith, trusting that God’s love for her is better than anything else. The single life is no longer intolerable. A gospel-centered life gives her eyes to see beyond her self-interest.
A right self-love enables us to deny ourselves (Matt. 16:24). Denying ourselves is not self-hatred. Rather, it’s setting aside our needs and reprioritizing our lives according to kingdom values, using the strength God gives us. Peter feels neglected by his wife, but his faith helps him trust that honest conversations with her and a Christlike servant-hearted attitude, putting her first above his needs, will honor God and help their marriage recover.