Jesus Christ said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matt. 22:39). What if you hate "thyself" — is it possible to love others?
Mankind is indeed his own worst enemy. More people murder themselves each year (25,000 suicides annually in the United States) than murder others (18,000 homicides per year). A milder, more common, form of self-hatred is the inferiority complex we all secretly harbor. As a result, most of us are tougher on ourselves than we are on others. A best-selling book put this self-deprecating attitude in colloquial terms by labeling most people's lives as "You're OK, but I'm not."
I'm Not "OK"
This "not OK" posture, according to the book's author, psychiatrist Thomas Harris, is instilled early in life, no matter how loving and well meaning parents try to be. "It is the situation of childhood and not the intention of parents that produces the problem." The baby, Harris writes, may reason like this: "I'm two feet tall, I'm helpless, I'm defenseless, I'm dirty, nothing I do is right, I'm clumsy, and I have no words with which to try to make you understand how it feels." But to his parents, he thinks, "You are six feet tall, you are powerful, you are always right, you have the answers, you are smart, you have life or death control over me, and you can hit me and hurt me and you're still OK." By age one, the crawling baby begins to "cruise," and his bottom begins to bruise because of the no-no's he can now reach. Since virtually all his curiosity is punished, his infantile inferiority complex is constantly reinforced: "It's my fault. Again. Always is. Ever will be. World without end. Amen." In school years, various everyday events amplify this self-disrespect. When a boy is chosen last on a baseball team, or a girl is teased for having a shabbier dress or smaller bicycle than the others, the outcast child will pout about this put down, thus reinforcing the self-worthlessness they first learned at home.
"I'm OK, If..."
By constant diligence, a modern Pharisee can obey his own self-imposed standards of behavior, saying, "I'm OK, if...." followed by a list of do's and don'ts which may be more or less than the standard of conduct God requires. Like the Pharisees of old, such men "pray with themselves" like this: "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess" (Luke 18:11-12). Until he breaks this self-imposed code of behavior, the Pharisee is proud of himself "for his works' sake." The "publican," however, realizes the enormity of God's grace — that unique quality of God that says to a repentant man, "you're OK" — no ifs, and's or but's. "The publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted..." (verses 13-14). Seven incomprehensible words — "God be merciful to me a sinner" — make one incomprehensible doctrine: GRACE! An unrepentant person laboring under "you're OK — if..." cannot fathom forgiveness. A religious hobbyist anxiously keeping score between good and bad works cannot justify, to himself, justification by faith. God's mercy is foreign to an unmerciful man. The doctrines of modern "churchianity" demonstrate this human aversion to the concept of grace. Heaven and hell are doctrines which say, "I'm OK — I'm bound for heaven; but you're not OK — you're bound for hell." The doctrine of predestination assumes that people are born "not OK" or "OK," and they are helpless to change that fate. The "rapture" (a word not found in the Bible) is a belief that all "OK" people are silently whisked away before the "bad" people get what's coming to them.
Is Grace Sufficient?
To some professing Christians, "grace" is a loaded word. It is a code word for "license to do evil." To an unrepentant, unchanged, carnal bigot, of course, this may be true. A truly repentant Christian, however, is deeply broken up for every sin he commits. He does not want to make the same blunder again. Grace is God's tool for wiping that man's slate clean. The primary problem for most Christians is not necessarily the sinful state of being. This condition, not just the individual acts, is the stumbling block which causes their chronic self-hatred. As long as they have this "beam" (a lifetime of sins) in their eye, they will continue to see the "mote" (individual sins) in everyone else's eye (Matt. 7:3-5). When a Christian understands God's law, repents of his dead works, and receives God's Spirit, this "beam in the eye" is totally removed. Then he can finally see his neighbors without the "mote" in their eye. Since the new Christian is now pure through Christ's blood, God looks upon His newly begotten son as perfect — without beam or mote. For the rest of that man's life, God's grace will wipe each mote from his eye — as long as he does not willfully, deliberately, and with malice aforethought, continuously disobey God's law (see Hebrews 6:4-6). One major reason people hate themselves is because they have not taken this step in their life to remove the beam from their own eye. They have not repented of breaking God's laws — laws representing a way of life which brings all the happiness and fulfillment they want. Only true repentance, followed by baptism and begettal by the Holy Spirit, will remove the "unhappymakers" that cause each of us to say "I'm not OK."
The Two Commandments
A lawyer asked Christ, "Which is the great commandment in the law?" "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment" (Matt. 22:36-38). This unconditional all-powerful love by man toward God is a prerequisite for what follows: "And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (verses 39-40). One more scripture will make clear that love is in fact a four-step process. John wrote, "We love him [God], because he first loved us" (I John 4:19). (Paul expounded the same principle in Romans 5:6-10.) Before man can express love toward God, God must first express His own limitless love toward that individual. Accordingly, the path of perfect love must grow by stages: God first loves us, individually, by calling us to His truth. Then we love God in return, exemplified by the submissive acts of repentance and baptism. After receiving God's Holy Spirit, we love ourselves, because our source of self-hate (our sins) has been removed. Finally, we are free to work toward loving others as ourselves. The command to "love thyself," therefore, is not an act you can perform in a vacuum. God must be in the picture. He must first work individually with you (which He is doing, or you would not be interested in reading this magazine), then you must love Him in return. Any attempt to love yourself without these prior steps is doomed to become self-love by works, a form of vanity.
"I'm OK — You're OK"
You can start on the road toward perfect love if you follow the outline Jesus gave in Matthew 22:36-40. Only when you love God (because He first loved you) can you respect yourself. And when you "love thyself," you can continue that love toward all mankind. When you understand this master plan of love, combined with the beauty of God's law and the enormity of His grace, you can be among the few Christians on earth who can look at any other human being and say, "I'm OK — You're OK."