Should Christians love themselves?

Does the Bible teach us to love ourselves? I have heard some preachers teaching that, but isn’t that dangerous? Doesn’t the Bible talk a lot more about how sinful we are? I think the problem with the world is that we love ourselves too much.

Great question! You are correct in that the Bible often focuses on our sinfulness because that is what we need reminded of most often. We tend to think we are perhaps better than we are, that we no longer need God’s help. At the same time, though, we need to remember that we are created in the image of God and loved by God. We are God’s creation and worthy of love, and so we do need to love ourselves in proper perspective.

What I see happen often is that people come to believe in the truth of Christ and then become spiritually stunted under the weight of their own sin that they now understand fully. And while you are correct in that Scripture says to “love your neighbor as yourself,” that implies that there is love for yourself. If we are not to love ourselves, then we are told to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, then we would have to conclude that we should not love our neighbors. But that is the opposite of the point being made. In fact, we should love our neighbors in the same way that we should properly love ourselves (for example, by tending to the need for food when it arises).

The issue as you rightly point out is that people often love themselves to such a degree that they do not understand that they are sinners in need of forgiveness; however, that does not mean that there isn’t a healthy place for proper self-love. To not love ourselves would be to not love the life we have been gifted by God. It would be to not love the creature that God has loved and died for. God loved us and sent Christ to us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8), and if God deems me worthy of love, then I am inclined to agree with Him. And when we do not love ourselves to some degree, we typically sink in shame, which is not the life we are called to in Christ.

Modern and historical examples abound of excesses on either side of this equation: an unhealthy focus on how wonderful we are (and so we keep on sinning and hurting others) and an unhealthy focus on how utterly wicked we are in our hearts (and so we live in shame and, like Adam and Eve, run and hide from a God who we think hates us). We must, as Martin Luther rightly pointed out, look at ourselves with some nuance: Simul justus et peccator , we are both sinner and justified saint. We still sin and are imperfect, but we are also loved and forgiven by God. I think that this perspective is also helpful in how we view others: we recognize them as sinners and so do not idolize them, and yet we recognize them as worthy of love and so show them Christ’s love and desire for their lives without Pharisaic legalism.