Self-Love vs. Selfless Love
“When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)
Please take a moment to seriously ponder the words that Jesus spoke in that verse posted above. If you have been “watchful in all things” ( Timothy 4:5), then you may already know that those words in Luke 18:8 do not indicate that there will be a big revival in these last days, in which “men shall be lovers of their own selves… [and] having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:2, 5).
In this article I want to discuss what I believe to be one of the most subtly deceptive teachings to ever enter into the church. I believe that some of the teachers who promote this teaching are sincere, and some of them have some otherwise sound teachings. But nevertheless, this is a very serious issue which needs to be addressed.
There are some very sincere Christian leaders today who have been teaching what they refer to as “healthy self-esteem” or “healthy self-love”. They teach that this is not something selfish, but that it comes from “recognizing who we are in Christ”.
There is certainly nothing wrong with recognizing who we are in Christ, and I don’t have any objection to that...but to imagine that any of us needs to develop a healthy self-love as if we have a deficient self-love is to undermine true repentance. To see what I mean, just consider what God’s people said when they got an accurate view of God and themselves:
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42: 5, 6)….“Woe is me, for I am undone!” (Isaiah 6:5).
The Lord used the apostle Paul to write the majority of the epistles in the New Testament, yet Paul referred to himself as the chief of sinners (See 1 Timothy 1:15), and “less than the least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8). One could not reasonably say that any of these men had a positive self-image. In fact, the self-love and self-esteem teachings of our day have not always been taught in the church, and they did not come from the Bible, but they first entered into the church through psychology. But don’t take my word for it, read the following quote to see for yourself….
Christian psychologist, Bruce Narramore, stated that “...under the influence of humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, many of us Christians have begun to see our need for self-love and self-esteem.” (Bruce Narramore, You’re Someone Special. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978, p. 22)
Some people may not even be concerned that these teachings came from psychology, so I would like to explain the danger of these teachings, and I would like to explain why self-love cannot coexist with selfless love.
In the book of Genesis, we find that Adam and Eve were at perfect peace and harmony with God until they disobeyed Him. In the following verse, it is plain to see that this disobedience was not the result of any deficient self-love, but it was clearly out of selfishness: “So when the women saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).
Since the serpent deceived Eve into disobeying God while believing that she was enriching herself (See Genesis 3:1-6), it is plain to see that this is how selfishness had it’s birth.
Since we all inherited this selfish nature through Adam and Eve, this has to mean that self is the very heart of the problem with all of us. The Bible even goes as far as to say that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). In this case, a deficient self-love can not be the problem with any of us. Our problem is clearly the selfishness that every one of us inherited through Adam and Eve.
There are some who have used Mark 12:31 to teach that we need to love ourselves before we can love our neighbor. But it certainly wouldn’t make any sense for Jesus to command us to love our neighbor as we inadequately love ourselves. So Jesus was obviously pointing out the fact that we already love ourselves, and it’s that kind of attention which we need to give to others for a change. This is the selfless love which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13. In that chapter, verses 4-5 declare that “Love…does not parade itself, is not puffed up… does not seek its own”.
In Dave Hunt’s book titled Occult Invasion, he points out that the new interpretation of Mark 12:31 was given to the church by a godless psychologist named Erich Fromm, who called “belief in God… a childish illusion” (Page 469).
Psychology has lead some to believe that self-hatred is their problem, but if that were the problem with any of us, then it would make no sense for Jesus to say, “just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:31). If self-hatred was our problem then we would want others to treat us bad. When someone hates another person, they rejoice in that person’s calamity…so if self-hatred was our problem, we would then rejoice in our own calamity.
There may be some people who believe that their problem is self-hatred, but what they really hate is the fact that things are not going their way, otherwise they would have no reason to complain or despair about their situation in the first place. Such people may hate feeling inferior or inadequate to others, but if they really hated themselves then they would be glad that they were inferior to others. The very fact that anyone would complain or despair about their situation, and the fact that anyone would want to build up their self-esteem only proves that they already love themselves, exactly as the Bible declares.
Even if someone has reached the point were they want to commit suicide, the motive can only be selfish pride. That may sound crazy to some, but I think many would agree that suicide is clearly not God’s will. People commit suicide to escape their circumstances. Therefore, those who commit suicide do not really hate themselves, but they really hate their circumstance. You would not want someone to escape their circumstance if you hated them, but you would want them to suffer through it… and it would be the same for the person who truly hated themself.
With this in acknowledgment, suicide, as well as other forms of “low self-esteem” can only be what 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes as “the sorrow of the world [which] produces death” (that is, spiritual death… read my article titled More on Beauty for Ashes for more info).
I was born with a learning disability, and I have been insecure throughout my life until I came to know the Lord. There were even times when I was suicidal. But one of the things we need to understand is that insecurity is not the same thing as self- hatred. Besides that, Paul realized that God’s strength was made perfect in his weakness (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
Some of the teachers who teach “healthy” self-esteem teachings have said that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, but they still don’t seem to understand exactly what that means. I think the classic Christian writer named Andrew Murray (1828-1917) explained it very well:
“There is no truth more generally admitted among earnest Christians than that of their utter weakness. There is no truth more generally misunderstood and abused. Here, as elsewhere, God’s thoughts are heaven-high above man’s thoughts.
Dave Hunt put it this way:
“It is argued that positive “self-esteem” comes from recognizing “who we are in Christ.” All that we are in Christ, however, comes by grace, which is of necessity by inability and unworthiness and thus ought to lower one’s self-esteem rather than raise it.” (Dave Hunt, Beyond Seduction, page 177)
“I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8).
God does not want to keep the glory to Himself out of pride, as if He Himself is selfish… but the point is that He wants to give us the abundance that comes only through His glory. God is essential to our very being, and therefore the abundant life mentioned in John 10:10 can only be received through His essential glory. That said, it is no wonder Proverbs 25:27 says "to seek one’s own glory is not glory”.
Some people who teach “healthy” self-esteem may sincerely believe that they are giving the glory to God, and that may be their intention…but if we are still putting any focus on the performance of “self” rather than “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), then we are only striving in the flesh to give glory to God, and Scripture makes it clear that it cannot work that way: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things you wish” (Galatians 5:16-17). Please understand that this is my concern here!
I’ll put it this way: If we find ourselves getting proud of how “humble” we are, then we can be sure that we have yet to be humbled. The problem with man cannot be both pride and lack of self-love, because that is a complete contradiction. The problem must be one or the other, and the Bible has repeatedly declared that pride is the problem. For example: “the pride of your heart has deceived you” (Obadiah 1:3)… “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10)… “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). There is not one place in the entire Bible in which God condemns a lack of self-love, because we simply don’t have a problem with that…but God repeatedly condemns pride because it is the problem with every one of us.
What was once recognized as pride, or false humility, is now referred to as “low self-esteem”. In concern to a mindset which many people now refer to as “low self-esteem”, a classic Christian writer named Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) stated the following:
“there is a sentimental notion that makes us make ourselves out worse than we think we are, because we have a lurking suspicion that if we make ourselves out amazingly bad, someone will say, “Oh no, you are not as bad as that,” but Jesus says we are worse. Our Lord never trusted any man, “for he knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25); but He was not a cynic for He had the profoundest confidence in what He could do for every man…”
The Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah saying “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of His doings” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). The point of this verse is that our hearts are so deceitful that we don’t even know our own motives…but through that verse we also find that it is God alone who searches the heart and tests the mind. This is why David wrote “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
The reason I shared that last verse is because I want people to understand that pride can be a persistent problem even for the believer. For that reason every one of us, in our prideful nature, needs to be continually humbled while we are on this earth. For example, Paul wrote “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7). In that verse, we find that God knew what was needed to humble Paul, even though he was already a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). If that is the case, then we can be sure that we will need to be continually humbled, even after we have become a new creation.
So I do not intend to look down on anyone. In fact, I believe that there could still be pride in the inner depths of my heart (See Proverbs 20:30) which I do not recognize yet, just as there could be with all of us! It is this understanding that lead Paul to write “I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:4).
Here is the point: As Christians, we are indeed being transformed into the Lords image, from glory to glory (See 2 Corinthians 3:17-18)… but we will not be perfected until He is revealed and we “see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2)… it is only then that “I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
That is why it is very important to be sure that we are not putting any focus on the performance of self, rather than “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). If you will give up all self-esteem and self-love, you will than find God-esteem and God’s love filling your heart…but you cannot have it both ways. The very notion that any of us has a deficient self-love only contradicts the fact that every one of us, in our selfish prideful nature, needs to be continually humbled while we are on this earth. It is no wonder then, that such a notion also contradicts the Lord’s command to deny self (See Matthew 16:24-26). That is the main point of everything that I have been explaining.
Through the Parable which Jesus spoke in Luke 18:9-14, which was spoken “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (verse 9), we find that the Pharisees downfall was not a deficient self-love, but it was just the opposite. Furthermore, this is clearly the same downfall of everyone else whether they want to admit it or not: We can look down on the Pharisees if we want to, but the truth is that we have all inherited the same selfish nature that they inherited. So this self-centered nature can be our only possible downfall. Since that is the case, selfishness can be the only possible motive, even in what we now call “low self-esteem”.
No matter what Psychology may teach us, the plain truth is that there is nowhere in the entire Bible that commands us to love ourselves, but the Bible does command us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… [and to] love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40)… “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).
That said, I would like people to think carefully about this: When Paul said “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you… I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:20, 27), was he forgetting about psychology?
Was Peter wrong when He wrote “His [God’s] divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3)? If not, then why are the churches now turning to “the wisdom of this world [which] is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19)? Either God’s word is sufficient or it’s not…and if it is, then the one’s who mix it with humanistic ideas may be “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5).
Although some people who are reading this may understand that there is an apostasy today, many do not realize the depth of this apostasy. In two of my articles titled Do You Have a Love For the Truth? and Strong Delusion, I have explained that the popularized “Christianity” of our day is actually a glimpse of the coming one-world religion. So I am not trying to cause any trouble here, but I want people to understand that much of what is being called “Christianity” today is further away from the teachings of the Bible than most professing Christians even realize. This following quote will help explain what I am getting at:
“Many Christians living under persecution in Communist countries are confused when they hear how socially acceptable Christianity seems to be in the West. Since Paul’s statement that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12) has proved true for Russian or Polish or Chinese believers, they wonder why the same is not true for Christians in the West. And they pray that God will help us not to compromise under the pressures of popularity and success, just as they have refused to be corrupted by Communism. These believers would find it astonishing that Christians in the West spend months and even years in “therapy” to overcome the damage to their psyches allegedly caused by “rejection.” Those who grow up under totalitarian regimes hostile to the gospel expect to be rejected, despised, ridiculed, and even imprisoned or killed for their faith, and would not understand the importance that Christians in the West place upon self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-fulfillment.
Personally, I find it very troubling that many professing Christians in the West are being encouraged to pity themselves, simply because their pride has been hurt, while Christians in Communist countries are being severely persecuted for their faith! Many of us in America do not even know what it means to really suffer. Many people in America imagine that they have reached the bottom pit of despair, when in fact; many of them probably haven’t even been half way there yet. So I would like to encourage such people to stop thinking of themself so much, and start thinking of others for a change. One of the main reasons I am writing this article is to encourage people to learn to love their neighbor as they already love themselves, just as Jesus so clearly commanded in Mark 12:31.
If you are interested in some more research about the destructive influence that psychology has had on the church, I highly recommend visiting PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries for more info about that. They are offering some free e-books which I recommend checking out. You can also find more info about some of the issues which I have discussed here through some of the links at the bottom of this page. Some of them are links to my articles, and some of them are not, but I hope you will find all of them to be helpful.
I will now leave you with these final words to ponder....
“Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, we will not walk therein”. (Jeremiah 6:16)
“For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you will hear His voice: Do not harden your hearts…” (Psalm 95:7-8)