You’ve likely heard the platitude: “You have to love yourself before someone else can love you.”
I have dealt with my share of self-loathing. In fact, it’s likely more appropriate to say I deal with self-loathing. It doesn’t happen every day, but once life circumstances complicate or my depression takes hold, it’s like an emotional and mental levee breaks. I begin to see my shortcomings as failures, my comforts as complacencies, and my difficulties as incompetence. Self-hate creeps in before I can even detect it. I trick myself into thinking I need to try harder, as if my salvation depends on me. I try to do anything that will make God happier with me. I begin to wonder if I will ever be worthy of God’s affection again—or if I ever had it in the first place.
It pops into my head: “Can God love me if I hate myself?”
If you’re anything like me, take heart. God designed the gospel for us unworthies.
Sick and Shameful
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” Jesus says in Mark 2:17. In the very beginnings of his public ministry, Jesus begins replacing the world’s platitudes with his: Our sickness is the very thing that makes us savable.
Paul echoes a similar sentiment in his first letter to the church at Corinth:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 1:27-31)
Gospel-needy people are sick, and they are often shameful. The proud and haughty seek to be their own saviors; the sick and shameful, however, know they can do nothing. They know their need to be rescued by someone whose status supersedes their own. They know they need to be fixed because they feel the curse’s pang deep in their bones. If you find yourself feeling sick and shameful, consider that God could be using it to remind you that you are not capable of saving yourself—and you are not responsible for it, either. Instead of being antithetical to God’s salvation, your sickness and shame actually paves the way for it.
The God Who Loves
For many, however, this isn’t enough. A lot of us believe God can save us, but few feel like He loves us in the present, perhaps because we have sinned one too many times or are too stubborn to be loved. This, too, is a misunderstanding about the love of God.
When we hold our deservingness of the gospel against the measuring stick of our own piety, we reduce God to the god of open theism—a god who “gets us in,” but doesn’t grow us or keep us. That doesn’t characterize the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is the God who saves, grows, and keeps. And He saves, grows, and keeps those who were too sick or shameful to have done it on their own.
When you can’t love yourself and wonder where God’s love is, remember the God by Whom you are loved:
You are not worthy of the gospel. You never have been. That’s the point. God’s love is not due to your loveableness. Because of this, He will not leave you, even when you’re unlovable. You are reckoning with a God who came down to take on flesh so that he could replace your unworthiness with His worthiness—a God who loves you even when you don’t love yourself. Reckon with Him every day anew.
Your doubts cannot overpower the unchangeable character of God. Your blood-bought status can never be revoked by even the deepest fears or the darkest doubts. Your sonship in the family of God is the result of Christ’s merits alone, and he is the one who loves even the most unlovable.
Cody Glen Barnhart
Cody Glen Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Maryville, Tennessee, and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written for sites such as Canon & Culture, For the Church, and Gospel Centered Discipleship.