Jesus gave us two commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself; with the idea that we love as God loves us. But built into those things is a third commandment: that we must love ourselves as God loves us.
There’s a line in the bible which always annoyed me, it says “no man ever hated his body,” or something along those lines. But in this day and age that isn’t true. I know it certainly hasn’t been true in my own life. Stepping into the fullness of God’s promises must first start with an understanding of how God loves us, each individually, not just en masse. To do that we can look at two things: our unique creation, and Christ.
When I think of God’s love for me, I recall how I felt towards my babies while they were still in the womb, as they grew inside me. I didn’t know what they would be like, I didn’t know what they would look like, what their personality or natural talents would be, I didn’t know who or what they would grow up to become, I didn’t even know their sex and whether people would insist on giving us blue or pink gifts.
But I didn’t even care about any of that, none of that mattered because I was already in love, and nothing was going to change that love. Whoever I birthed, to me they were already beautiful and marvelous and absolutely fascinating, and I already wanted the best for them, whatever that looked like.
God has that kind of love for us, and yet more and deeper. And God’s love is not clouded by the mystery of who and what we are, because God is the one who formed us, shaping nose and limb, adding quirk to personality, seeding abilities and dreams. God knew exactly what She was doing as She put you together in your mother’s womb, knew which sperm to use and which egg, knew how to draw forth different traits from your DNA. She knew the best time and place for you to be alive. None of this is a mystery to God. Our God is the Master Creator, and She delights in our creation. To see our uniqueness is a joy to God.
But it doesn’t stop there.
God’s love for us can also be seen through Christ.
In Christ, God has set aside His fullness, becoming limited in human flesh. God was willing to set aside his God-ness for a while, and participate in this world like one of the created. And God did this for us, each of us.
Jesus, although being fully God, was wholly reliant on frail humanity, just as any baby, any child is. God entrusted himself into the hands of humanity. What a risk! And what a glorious victory, to use humanity in the process of destroying sin and death!
Jesus came, in the first place, because of love for me, for you, for us. He lived, wrestling with the ways life was lived in that time and place, trying to show a better way, trying to show a life in unison with God, trying to show a way of love and freedom.
Our God lived in obscurity for decades, waiting for the right time to bring His kingdom forth. Yet it was always there, underlying everything. Prophets spoke of it long before his birth, Anna the prophetess spoke of it when he was a naught but a newborn babe. How could she see the glory radiating from this baby?! But she knew. Here, in this child, God breathes, God is waiting to pour forth.
And the power of sin and death was broken in his death and resurrection. Our freedom from their burden was secured. And not just freedom from our sin and the consequences of it, but the shackles of our sin-nature were broken. The habits of our sin-nature no longer bind us, for we are set free in Christ.
This is love in action. Bearing our burdens so we don’t have to, bearing hardship so we might live in freedom.
Like a parent who says they weren’t really hungry on discovery of the food not being quite enough to go around. Like a parent carrying both their child’s backpack and their child on the way home from school when they are both so very tired. Like a sister who gives her favourites because they she knows they are her sibling’s favourites too. Like a stranger sharing their lunch because they meet someone who has none, even though it means neither of them get a full meal.
This is sacrificial love. This is the love of Christ for us.
We are called to love like Christ, but how can we be sacrificial to ourselves? How can we seek our own good over ourselves? Perhaps it comes down to seeking our good, our godly purpose, over our own wants and desires. Perhaps it is seeking God’s ways in our lives, even when our own being clamors for its desires to be met. It is easy to get caught in seeking our own short-term good, finding comfort here, a shortcut there, but that doesn’t always lead us towards the long-term good, it often doesn’t bring us to our personal goals, or those God has for us.
To seek our own good is to seek the self God desires us to be, to learn how to live in that fullness. It is to place our trust in who God says we are, not the world or our own minds. It is to live grounded in God, planting our feet in the River of Life, and letting it shape our very being, our ways of being, our habits, our moment-to-moment choices.
When we love God, we trust what God says – to us and about us.
To live a life loving as God loves means we are to love ourselves as God loves us, to stand in wonder and awe at how we have been made, to cherish the parts of ourselves we deem less desirable, to welcome every part of our being and to strive to conform to Christ. We cannot hate ourselves into being better, we can only do that through love. And when we are planted in the Love which is Life, when we live by the Spirit, freedom wells up and better begins to flow naturally.
When we experience love, we want to be better, to do better. When we love ourselves as God loves us, the fruit of the Spirit form as natural outworkings of our life, the steps to maturity Peter outlines become a natural progression. The path becomes level, the way straight. The yoke is light on our shoulders, and the confidence comes with easy peace.
Words from a song echo in my head, burrowing into my bones:
So go ahead and live like you’re loved
It’s okay to act like you’ve been set free
His love has made you more than enough
So go ahead and be who he made you to be.
Go, be, love yourself as God first loved you, and LIVE in fullness.