Our current sermon series, 4D Love, looks at how we are supposed to be channeling God’s love in four directions: Love of God, love of others, love of self, and love of the Earth and animal kingdom.
This week we are looking at the love-of-self part of this equation. The idea of loving yourself is frowned upon in many Christian circles because it seems like narcissism or pride. But the key to this is knowing which self it is that you are loving. Your old, worldly self; or your new, kingdom self.
To illustrate this, Greg shared with us a movie clip from the (new) Lion King, where Simba was feeling low and lacking confidence in his identity, when the spirit of his dad appears in the sky and tells him, “Remember who you are: The one true king.”
Similar to this was a story Greg heard from a missionary who worked in Africa. There was a village boy who was caught stealing. Rather than shaming him, the elder sat him down and told him all about his family lineage and his true honorable identity. He reminded him of who his family is, and the honorable identity which he has inherited. He said, “You are not a thief. You are the son of [his family name].” The elder called out the best in the boy, the truth of who he is.
This is just like our true identity in Christ that we need to remember, and this is the new “us” that we are to love.
But, before we look at this new, kingdom self, we should first have an accurate understanding of our old self. This is not the self to love because it is broken and false, a product of the world. It is, quite simply, fallen to sin.
To get a sense of this old self, we are not to simply remember our lives and see how we feel about them, because your feelings are not an accurate representation of how you are doing. For example, Greg shared the story of his guitar player for his band, Jimmy, who was a really big guy, over 400lbs. He played with them for around nine months, and at one point Greg noticed that he was looking really good, like he had lost weight. So he asked him about it and Jimmy said, “Yeah I feel great!” Greg asked him how he did it, and Jimmy explained he got the flu a few months ago and lost his appetite, and just never got it back. Greg thought that was odd, but did not think much else about it. A month later, Jimmy went to the doctor for a pain in his leg, and that is when he discovered that he had cancer in not only his leg, but all over his body. There was nothing to be done. He died three months later. You can’t always trust how you feel about how you’re actually doing.
But we have the Bible as an authority that can show us how we were doing before. You know how severe a sickness is by how extreme the cure is. And God could not have gone further to save us from our sin. The radical nature of his cure indicates that we had the worst of all diseases. A few verses that demonstrate this:
- Dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1)
- There are none that are righteous (Romans 3:20)
- All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
- Slaves to sin (John 8:34)
- Blinded by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4)
- Destined for destruction (Ephesians 2:3)
Your self-esteem is not an accurate picture of yourself. In fact ironically, often times, feeling great about ourselves is part of the sickness. After all, the Nazi youth were taught to have high self-esteem, because they were taught they were better than other races. And the Pharisees — they thought pretty highly of themselves, too, but Jesus said they were the farthest from the ideals of the kingdom, even compared to prostitutes and tax collectors.
So if we were to stand before God on our own, we all fall short because of sin. Even if you have lived a relatively clean life, it can’t be helped because Jesus said even just our thoughts are a form of sin. If we have lusted, we have committed adultery in our mind. If we have been hateful, we have committed murder in our mind. In sin, we are all equally broken. We are, apart from Christ, a lost cause.
As an aside, for all those that use sin as a weapon against others, Greg points out that since we are all fallen, this levels the playing field, and makes it absurd to try and point out another’s sin. It’s like everyone being covered from head to toe in sewage, arguing about who smells worse! Judging others is the absolute last thing we are to do. We have one job, and that is to agree with God that they, too, are worth Jesus dying for.
Now in case you are feeling a bit down about what a pathetic lost cause we all are in sin, this is the part of the movie clip where Rafiki tells Simba to gaze at his reflection in the pond and “look closer [harder].”
Jesus on the cross is our “pond,” our mirror. It tells us everything we need to know about ourselves. What you see in faith is not just a sinner, but a sinner who is loved with a passionate, radical, unsurpassable love. And if he says you are worth dying for, YOU ARE worth dying for. Even while you were knee-deep in sin! Your sin has no bearing on how lovable you are.
God’s love is not like human love. It is a reckless, scandalous love that is freely given, yours for the taking. If you are not motivated and moved by this, you are not seeing it clearly enough. One thing and one thing alone should motivate us to get out of our crap — the love of Jesus Christ on the cross. However great your sin was or is, it is NO MATCH to the love of God!
The sufferings of this present age can’t be compared to the unimaginable glory of God. All the weight of the pain of this world doesn’t even register on the scale compared to the glory of the kingdom. Your past sin is no match against the love of God. It is a tiny speck of spittle against a hurricane.
God is not in love with cleanliness or perfection. He is in love with his creation. He is in love with YOU. You are the lost coin, the lost sheep. YOU have unsurpassable worth.
With his love, God gives us our identity up front. Here is just a small sampling of what the Bible says about us:
- God’s beloved child
- Christ’s dear friend
- Perfectly righteous/“justified”
- Declared a “saint” (“holy one”)
- Completely forgiven
- Free from all condemnation
- Made perfect forever
- United with Christ in his death and resurrection
- Made complete in Christ
- Filled with the fullness of God
- Bought with an infinite price
- Bathed with wisdom and understanding
- Inseparable from Christ’s love
- One whose heavenly Father (and Mother) will NEVER forget or forsake
- One who makes God dance for joy and throw a magnificent party
- One who ravishes the heart of God
- Sealed in Christ in the heavenly realms, far above all powers
- A recipient of God’s own eternal joy and peace
- Indwelt by God’s own Spirit
- Given direct access to the Father by the Spirit
- One who can do all things through Christ
- Made a citizen of heaven
- A member of Christ’s body (the Church)
- Predestined to be perfectly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ
- An ambassador of the Kingdom of God and minister of reconciliation
This is a done deal. It is your new reality. But the one thing God does not do for us is change our minds. He wants a bride who has genuine authority. One who participates, and can reign with him. He won’t change your mind for you. It is why Paul tells us to take our thoughts captive. This is something we can and must do. But the good news is that this means you are capable of doing it.
It takes practice and work, sometimes a lifetime of working at it. Our inherited self is habitual, it is so easy to keep defaulting to it. The only way to break out of it is to die to it. This is our first sacrifice.
Romans 12:2 –
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
So within the context of the four directions of love, to love yourself is to love the self that God created you to be. Someone who is lovable and deserves love. You must Velcro yourself to this truth and don’t let it go.
Philippians 4:8 –
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
So mind your thoughts. If it’s true, keep it; if it’s false, get rid of it. If it lifts you or others up, keep it; if it tears you or another down, get rid of it.
Remember where you came from. Never take it for granted, how far gone you were and how far you have been lifted up. This is what we are celebrating with this covenantal symbol of communion. Thank you, God!
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