Sometimes we do the things we hate. And sometimes we get confused and begin to hate ourselves for the things we’ve done.
There is a world of difference between ‘walking in the light’ while confessing our sins (1 John 1.7-10) and letting our sins define our identity. While it is appropriate to mourn our sin (Matthew 5.4), it is not appropriate to hate ourselves.
In the heat of the moment of regret and shame, we can almost think that self-loathing is good and right and biblical (after all, we have offended a Holy God and become unclean!). But in truth, God never calls us to hate ourselves.
The truth is that God loves us (John 3.16, 1 John 4.10). And the only one who loves our self-loathing is Satan.
1. Because when I loathe myself I loathe someone created in the image of God
Proverbs 17.5 says ‘whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker.’ James writes that the tongue ‘is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so’ (James 3.8-10).
What I say about people, I say about God. This is true whether I am demeaning other humans or myself. Even inward, self-loathing insults my Maker, in whose image I was created.
2. Because it diminishes my joy
Even in the middle of theological controversy, you can almost hear the joy in Paul’s voice when he reminds himself of the gospel: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2.20).
If I forget that the heart of the gospel is ‘the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me’ only to remember that I am worthy of being hated rather than loved, I will lose the joy of the gospel itself.
3. Because it diminishes the work of grace that God has done in my life
Making myself an object of contempt makes more of the sin that once defined me than the grace of God which has re-created me.
Paul writes of sinners who are defined by their sin outside of grace, and then adds: ‘And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God’ (1 Corinthians 6.11).
What I was once, I am not now. My sins do not define me; my reconciliation with God does. Hating myself makes little of that and gives Satan joy.
4. Because it discourages those who see grace in me
In 1 Corinthians 1.4-9 Paul describes a seriously messed-up church in a seriously surprising way: he tells them how he sees God’s grace active in them! He doesn’t deny their sin–he will deal with it strongly later in the letter–but he also doesn’t hate them for it. On the contrary, because he has seen grace in them he is encouraged by them, loves them, and longs to see them grow.
The reality is that no matter how badly I’m doing, there are those around who love me, see God’s grace in me, and are encouraged by me. If I continually dwell (and make them to dwell) on the sin in me, I will only discourage them and deprive them of the chance to give thanks to God for what he has done in my life. And Satan is pleased when we discourage one another.
5. Because it hinders true relationship when I withdraw
From the very first sin, we see that Satan’s tactics result in us withdrawing from good and godly relationships. Genesis 3.7-8: ‘Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths’ (they withdrew from each other). ‘And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden’ (they withdrew from God).
When I self-loathe, I am giving influence to shame. Shame isolates, and in isolation, further sin thrives, which gives pleasure to our enemy.
6. Because it distracts me from true humility
True humility (Philippians 2.1-11) is entirely grounded in an ‘others-oriented’ worldview. Self-loathing, ironically, makes much of me. How I feel about myself becomes the central, all-determining point of reality.
God gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud. It is no wonder Satan loves self-loathing: self-loathing is the opposite of godly humility.
7. Because it makes me think that the answer is to love myself more
Loving myself more might seem like the answer to hating myself (and in many churches that is exactly what is preached). But that’s hogwash.
The answer is not to make little of my sin, but to make much of it: to see that it is my sin that caused Jesus to suffer and die. But don’t stop there. The answer doesn’t end with a Saviour who suffers, but with a Saviour who declares ‘It is finished!’ as he dies, then proves it when he rises. It ends with us meditating on the truth that ‘greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’
He has called us friends. He died for us. I don’t need to convince myself to love me; I just need to remember that because God so loved, he gave his Son.
I am loved.
And no matter how much Satan hates that truth, it is where I am called to live.