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Thursday, April 21, 2016


It seems like every day of being out in public is a constant and even growing confirmation that people are, in general, self-centered. Drivers who don't care how close you came to hitting them when they cut you off, shoppers who don't care if you can't get by because they're blocking the aisle while they browse, coworkers that appear to believe their mothers must work there because they make no effort to clean up after themselves ... lots and lots of illustrations.

The truth is people "in general" are not self-centered. All people are self-centered. It is the basic problem of the sin nature. "I will be like the Most High." Sure, most people learn, as they mature, that it's better not to appear too self-centered, but this is what is called by philosophers "enlightened self-interest". In this "highest morality" a wise person learns that assisting others to obtain their interests will serve to satisfy his own self-interest. In the end, of course, it is self-interest. Most consider altruism, regard for others without regard for yourself, a high moral value, but most will admit that in general this boils down to "I do it because it makes me feel good." Maybe it's neurological, where the act affects the pleasure centers of the brain. Maybe it's biological, where the act is an unconscious desire to protect the genetic line. Maybe it's a social expectation, where "If I help you in your time of need, you might help me later." Whatever the case, underlying the selflessness ... is selfishness. It's a human condition. It's just the way it is.

There is, as it turns out, only one means by which this can be changed. That is found in Jesus. Oh, sure, that sounds trite. And, to be sure, lots of Christians are not free of self-centeredness. (Hey, let's be honest ... not one of us is completely free of it.) But the means is available in Christ.

Obstacle 1: Sin Nature

The first problem to overcome to arrive at selflessness over selfishness is human nature. Specifically, the sin nature. In the flesh, that doesn't happen. In this life, it won't be ultimately achieved. But the Christian life consists of the process of making that happen. Of course, for the non-believer, that doesn't even start, because it can only begin if you have died with Christ (Rom 6:8). "With Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world." (Col 2:20) "You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Col 3:3) Then, "You who were dead in your trespasses ... God made alive together with Him." (Col 2:13) A new life. If the first obstacle is the sin nature, the solution is dying and rising to new life with Christ. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Cor 5:17)

Obstacle 2: Motive Force

Dying to self and alive with Christ, we still have a sin nature. So now we have to move, to change, to be transformed. How does that work? We have that sin nature, but we also have the Holy Spirit in us. "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) We have God working in us to "be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29), the process known as sanctification.

Obstacle 3: Needs

So, in Christ we are new. We are capable of no longer serving just self. Further, we have the power to do so, the power of God Himself at work in us, giving us both the will and ability. Nothing more is needed to change from selfish to selfless. Nothing ... but the problem of needs. Because, look, we all have needs, right? We have physical and emotional and social and economic and ... lots of needs. We have to look out for those, don't we? And here we are, as denizens of these bodies on this planet, self-centered again. We have to meet our needs. But is that true? Jesus said, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." (Matt 6:8) Jesus told His disciples, "All the nations of the world seek after these things [food, shelter, clothing, etc.], and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:30-32) Interestingly this is one of those places that Jesus tells His disciples to "Sell your possession" (Luke 12:33) because, you see, the Father will be supplying your needs.


We all suffer from self-centeredness. It's a human, sin problem. And on our own there is no solution. Indeed, the Natural Man wouldn't even call it a problem. "Hey," they will tell you, "you have to look out for #1." In Christ, however, there is an answer. We can die to self and have our life in Christ. We can be activated by God at work in us to change our natural inclinations (self-centeredness) to selflessness. We can operate without fear in this mode because we have the confidence that our Father has the ability and desire to meet our needs. That is, with all my needs met, I don't have to concern myself with my needs and can simply focus on God and those around me. Because, as Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:34) The better we understand and incorporate that, the less self-centered we will be.


Craig said...

I would add to your obstacle #1 that the first step is admitting that sin exists. Which implies that there is an actual objective moral standard, which implies an actual being with enough righteousness to establish an objective moral standard. And it could go on from there.

But your underlying point that virtually everything traces back to an exultation of self is spot on.

As you note, this is nothing shocking when non believers do it. It's the natural course of things. But when folks who claim Christ exalt themselves (or their Reason or knowledge or whatever) as some sort of final arbiter of what makes sense or is reasonable it is disconcerting to say the least.

Then you realize that this behavior is as old as "Did God really say..."

Bob said...

in one sense; we are always the center of our experience, and as long as we are self aware, this is not a bad thing. the problem occurs when we grow dissatisfied with our experience. the sense of needing to satiate the longing, then becomes the driving motivation behind our efforts. we need to be loved, we need security, and we need to know that we are significant.
these core needs. but when we don't have these needs met, we seek out some other means of filling the void. it is not always merely selfishness, that leads us astray. sometimes people are neglected and miss out on the most basic emotional needs.

Stan said...


I figured everyone would admit that there is selfishness in this world and that, at least in some applications, that's not optimum. But, you're right in that most have little notion of how bad it is.

Stan said...


I'm picturing a GoPro, a camera attached to your head. It views your life through its lens. In that sense, the camera is, indeed, the center of its universe. The problem arises when that camera places its ultimate sense of values on that center. We are, by definition, the "center", because we are the only point at which we experience our universe, but when we become the only point that matters, that is truly worthwhile, that is of ultimate importance, then it's another thing entirely.

I believe it is possible to satisfy core needs (food, clothing, sleep, etc.) without operating from a self-centered basis. If a person, for instance, considers God as of primary importance and longs to be His useful tool, the person would need to satisfy core needs not for self, but to properly be useful to God. I think that people miss out on their emotional needs because they do not grasp God's willingness and ability to meet them, not because they failed to be selfish enough.

Craig said...

I think you are probably right in thinking that most people would admit that there are some (other) people in the world who are selfish but that they don't have a problem with being selfish. They support all kinds of unselfish things (taxing the rich). Where I think you would get more disagreement is in moving to selfishness specifically as a sin and the concept of sin in general. I appreciate your thought process but I'm maybe a little more negative about people than you are.

Stan said...

Well, since it is the Holy Spirit that convicts the world of sin (John 16:8), I'd suggest that they do know. They just don't admit to it. (And I had to laugh that someone would suggest that they are more negative about people than I am.)

Stan said...

Remember, the problem is not the truth, but the suppression of the truth (Rom 1:18).