Views about “self” today are confusing at least. The world has a number of them. All teach the importance of one’s having a positive regard for one’s self. The Bible, on the other hand, has nothing good to say about self. Nevertheless, the church, particularly in the last one hundred years, has increasingly reflected what the world preaches rather than what the Scriptures teach. As Dave Hunt reminds us, “Although we cannot define self any more than we can define soul or being or beauty, we can clearly see where self was first manifested, how it happened, and the eternal result. We can also see that self not only defines one person as distinct from all others, but it also defines man as distinct from God. What the Bible seems to mean by self is man cut off from God, acting and possessing independently” (Hunt, Beyond Seduction [Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers] 153).
The Word of God reveals that self first reared its ugly head in Heaven. Lucifer was an anointed angel who became God’s adversary (Satan) by exalting himself: “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (Isaiah:14:13-14). Thus Lucifer’s “I will,” that is, his self-will, supplanted submission to God and His will, and the consequences were not good: “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.” “Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” (Ezekiel:28:15; Isaiah:14:15).
Satan brought his rebellious “self” concept to earth and seduced Eve with it. His strategy began with sowing confusing ideas about what God had said (Satan’s principal program) and then feeding Eve self-oriented lies: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis:3:5). That initiated the lie of self-deification and godhood for humanity, in which the Serpent’s deception found fertile ground: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Genesis:3:6). Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience against the single prohibitive command given to them by God set sin and self on their destructive course. Hence all mankind was separated from God and pursued self.
The world’s focus is to highly value self. Why? Because there are only two options regarding any potential hope for humanity: Self or God (meaning the God of the Bible). Self is the choice of the world: man’s will and way as opposed to God’s will and way. Self is the only option left for everyone who rejects the God of the Bible. Although there may seem to be other options, including religious ones, they are all variations of willful “works-salvation” and self-righteousness, with some being more obvious than others.
Islam, for example, teaches works-righteousness. At Judgment Day, Allah weighs one’s good deeds against one’s offenses, and the weight of the former against the latter determines one’s salvation, i.e., whether or not a person may enter paradise.
Catholicism takes a similar approach. Entrance to Heaven is dependent upon one’s good works and adherence to the Sacraments as well as the expiation of one’s sins through temporal sufferings here on earth or in Purgatory. Doing good works in order to achieve salvation is denounced in Scripture: salvation is “not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians:2:9).
All religions, from the most legalistic to the most liberal to the mystical, have self at the core of one’s achieving a positive consequence regarding life after death. Only biblical Christianity teaches that denying self and turning to Jesus alone for one’s salvation is acceptable to God. The Bible indicates that Satan’s lie that humanity can achieve godhood will ultimately manifest itself in the last days through the Antichrist, who “opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, [showing] himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians:2:4). Satan’s lie is not only prevalent in cults such as Mormonism, but the Roman Catholic Church teaches mystical union with God in its official Catechism: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God….The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 460).
Self-deification attained through sacred rites is found throughout the religions of the East. The Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Buddhism teaches initiation rituals to enable one to become a bodhisattva or enlightened deity. Shintoism, which is the primary religion of Japan, involves numerous self-purification ceremonies that open the way for followers to become kami or ancestral gods. Deifying self, as noted in Genesis:3:5, is evident in forms of Hinduism that teach self-realization methods, that is, techniques for achieving godhood. It is taught that the individual self is a god whose goal is to merge with the All, Brahman, the supreme deity of Hinduism. That is what yoga is all about.
Self-realization has its counterpart in humanistic psychology where it is termed “self-actualization.” The connection between Eastern mysticism and psychology has long been recognized by research psychologists, who have documented the fact that Hinduism was brought to the West and made popular through the vehicle of psychology. Although not immediately recognized as self-deification, it is the aim of self-actualization, which is simply defined as reaching toward the ultimate fulfillment of one’s potential. This is the basis for the Human Potential Movement, which is pervasive throughout many of the West’s most prominent corporations and their training programs.
Self is the cornerstone of all psychological counseling. All of its more than 500 concepts are contrary to the Word of God, and psychotherapy essentially rejects God himself. With God removed by psychology, only self remains, and thus self becomes the only hope for resolving humanity’s problems. A fundamental teaching of psychological counseling is that man is innately good. Any mental, emotional, or behavioral difficulties he experiences must therefore stem from things external to him, e.g., his environment, his parents, his beliefs, emotional and physical traumas, etc. If, however, adverse issues in a person’s life are primarily the consequence of a sinful heart, then the psychotherapeutic approach is a delusion. Why? Because, according to the Bible, mankind has a sinful nature: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah:17:9), and “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew:15:18-19). Psychological concepts and practices can never change an individual’s sin nature. Furthermore, the biblical teaching about sin is antithetical as well as offensive to psychological counseling.
We know that self is the chief vehicle of sin. What then does the Bible say about how a person is to deal with self? In order to understand that, one needs to understand the biblical perspective regarding self. “Self” is synonymous with sin. All humans (Christ as the sinless God-Man excepted) are born with a sin nature. No part of Scripture makes this more clear than Psalm:51:1-5: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
Self also involves the will—which is autonomous—and therein lies the problem. Man’s will, because of his sin nature, is naturally and continually disposed toward himself. That is the breeding ground of rebellion: not Thy will but my will be done. Self is not given to submission to anyone other than itself. Philippians:2:21 confirms that “all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ’s.” Yet God has the solution for humanity’s self-oriented, self-willed dilemma. It must start with a new birth—a spiritual birth from above.
When one receives the simple gospel by faith alone, he is submitting himself, from the heart, to God and to obeying His teachings found in the Scriptures. Although he is then born again spiritually and has become a new creature in Christ, he still retains his old sin nature, but he has been delivered from its control. Nevertheless, a spiritual battle follows between doing his will versus God’s will. God has given every believer the Holy Spirit to help him win every battle in favor of God’s will. Moreover, He has also supplied born-again Christians with instructions for the spiritual battle of His will versus man’s will and self.
Submission to God is paramount: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” That commitment pertains not only to select issues but to one’s whole life: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke:9:23-24). Jesus gives an illustration of what a believer’s saved life must entail: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John:12:24-25).
The Apostle Paul wrote, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians:15:31) and “For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him” (2 Timothy:2:11). In Colossians:3:3 he declares, “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” What did he mean? In Galatians:2:20 he explains: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” After listing some of his continual tribulations Paul writes, “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians:4:10-11). The “death” is the death of one’s autonomous self-will and the “life” is one that is completely given over to God’s will.
The Word of God exhorts believers to be other directed. Consider the following: “[Christ] died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Corinthians:5:14-15). “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory [selfish ambition, conceit]; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philippians:2:3-4). This is biblical selflessness.
First Corinthians chapters 10 and 13 (the “love” chapter) provide additional exhortation. It boggles the mind when one considers how the insidious and unbiblical doctrines of self-love and self-esteem have been so widely preached and promoted within Christendom. Were it not for Scripture prophesying that this would take place in the last days (2 Timothy:3:1-2), the invasion of selfist-psychology in the church through so-called Christian psychology would seem incredible. But we are living in those days!
Jesus, who is completely God and Man, shows us in His own life perfect selflessness: “Even as the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew:20:28). “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John:15:12-13). Furthermore, He demonstrates for us His own submission to the will of God the Father. As a Man, He is the perfect sinless Self. Yet He, as part of the Godhead, nevertheless subjected His own will to His Father: “And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark:14:35-36; see also Luke:22:44).
What Jesus demonstrated regarding selflessness would be impossible for any believer except for the fact that every true follower of Christ has been sealed with the Holy Spirit, who enables one to live out Christ’s instructions: “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man….Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” (Ephesians:3:16; 6:10).
May the prayer found in Hebrews be our continual cry to the Lord and our encouragement in order to win the battle over self: “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews:13:20-21). And amen. TBC