When I first entered recovery in 2009, I started to hear a lot of people talk about self-care. My therapist talked about it. The men in recovery meetings talked about it. Authors of books I read talked about it. Self-care seemed pretty important.
That created a bit of a mini-crisis for me. Because self-care went against most everything I’d ever been taught by every spiritual authority figure throughout my entire life. So, yeah, there was a bit of a hurdle to get over.
Here are some of the messages that have indoctrinated me over the course of my life. Maybe you can relate to some of them.
“Anything you do that includes the word ‘self’ is not from God.”
“Self-care is self-ISH.”
“The only thing Scripture says about self is that you’re supposed to die to it!”
“Focusing on yourself keeps you from focusing on others.”
All these points are very compelling, except for one small detail. They’re all wrong. My years in recovery have not just been about recovering from sexual addiction. They’ve also been about recovering from false beliefs that created despair and contributed to my destructive behavior.
So, what does Scripture say about “self?”
In Mark chapter 12:28-31 we read…
One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which command is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other command greater than these.”
If we want to get good advice, maybe taking it straight from the Savior’s mouth is a good strategy. Jesus gave us three distinct directives on who we are to love: God, ourselves, and our neighbors. We are to love God with absolutely everything we are: our emotions (heart), our spiritual selves (soul), our intellect (mind), and through our obedience (strength). And we are to love our neighbors, yes. But not just any general way. How are we to love our neighbors? As we love ourselves. If I don’t love myself, how can I love my neighbor?
And let’s not forget to mention the numerous times in the gospels when Jesus retreated from the crowds and the busyness of Him ministry. Why did He do this? Because Jesus knew that even He needed to care for Himself. He needed times of refreshing, of quiet solitude, times to relax. He was fully God, but He was also fully human, and even Jesus needed to recharge His batteries sometimes.
OK, but what about “dying to self?”
Great question. What about that? Where in Scripture does the concept of “dying to self” show up? I have a confession: it was a lot of years into my life as a Christian and even my years of pastoral ministry before I realized “die to self” never shows up in the Bible. Don’t believe me? Check for yourself.
Well, what about Galatians 2:20, or Galatians 5:24-25, or how about Romans 6:1-5?
OK, let’s take a look at those Scriptures…
Galatians 2:20 (CSB)“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 5:24-25 (CSB) “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Romans 6:1-5 (CSB) “What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life.”
Do you know what I notice in these passages? A lot of talk about death. So, it makes sense why these are some of the many passages cited when promoting the concept of “dying to self.” It’s just that I think we’ve forgotten one very important point when we read these passages.
The flesh is NOT my “self” anymore.
Because of what Jesus has done, and through my trust in Him, I have already died to self completely. Paul tells us beautifully in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (CSB)…
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”
As a believer I’m not called to die to self. I’m called to stop acting like a dead man and to start living as my new self. Warming up to this concept makes ALL the difference in SO many ways!
There’s more to say about healthy self-care, as it pertains to an addiction recovery journey. But I wanted to first establish a biblical baseline that allows us to embrace self-care as not only “not wrong,” but actually something that honors Christ (and that He Himself did). In our next post, we’ll talk about some practical implications of self-care in recovery.
Greg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, discovering his true identity and experiencing God’s grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey founded Awaken as a way to walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders, and to help them experience healing in the midst of sexual brokenness.