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How Self-Obsession Became a Virtue

How Self-Obsession Became a Virtue

You deserve it.  You’re worth it.  You’re beautiful.  You’re powerful.  You’re wonderful exactly like you are.  And don’t let anyone tell you anything different.

We’re told by culture that there is no higher goal than being who you are meant to be – as defined by you.  We’re taught that our compassion is best directed at the one person who matters most – ourselves.  Music, movies, magazines and other media portray self-preservation and self-actualization as the greatest of all endeavors.

Selfism takes all the credit for making yourself who you are.  You pulled yourself up from your own bootstraps.  In pride, Selfists give no thanks to the Lord.  Yet it was God who gave them life itself and all of their abilities and possessions.

True to Yourself vs. Truth

In our culture, the mantra is “you be you”.  Any attempts to define an absolute is intolerant.  Whatever is done in pursuit of fulfillment and happiness is not only permitted but applauded.  The only recognized sin is attempting to impose beliefs on someone else.  The epitome of courage is taking a stand to defend self against Christians and other would-be assailants.  In the absence of authentic meaning and value, society ascribes disproportionate importance to each individual’s opinions and perceptions.

In contrast, rather than deifying self the Bible teaches dying to self, self-denial on behalf of others, and emptying self to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Selfist and biblical philosophies are polar opposites.  The truths of scripture are Selfism’s cardinal sins – and vice versa.  The world desperately clings to the right to self-absorption without consequence and to self-expression without criticism.  Meanwhile, the Bible promises consequences and levels criticism at those who reject God’s truth and form their own (version of truth) out of self-interest.

In their unwillingness to acknowledge sin, Selfists implicitly tell the Lord that He overestimated the cost required to reconcile mankind to Himself when He sent His Son to die for us.  Rather than thank God for grace and forgiveness, they deny their need for a Savior.

Who We Are vs. Whose We Are

The fundamental assumption underlying Selfism is that we are our own creation.  Since we are cosmic accidents with no Creator, we control and own our minds and bodies.  We reserve ultimate authority over our lives and our primary objective is to take care of ourselves.

However, we didn’t put ourselves on this earth, nor did we make ourselves who we are.  We don’t own anything, even our own minds and bodies.  Our physical existence and perceived ownership rights are only one car accident or heart attack away from termination.  “Self” could end tomorrow, leaving no hope beyond this life.  But the fact is who we are does not consist solely of our “earth suit”.  We are also eternal souls.  Defining who we are as mind, body AND soul changes everything – there is value for today and hope for tomorrow.

Yet that definition also brings with it an assumption of a Creator and accountability beyond personal agendas.  If we are not our own, then we don’t have the right to choose what we do with our minds and bodies.  We were created by God in His image and therefore should forfeit our right to make decisions that consider only our own interests.  The shell we inhabit is rented to us by our Maker – there is no lease-to-buy or layaway plan.  We are stewards of the capabilities and possessions God has let us borrow for a short time – the Owner will be upset if we don’t use them well.  Because Selfists falsely claim 100% ownership, they often pursue self-serving activities that abuse and devalue what God entrusted to them.  Not recognizing their eternal souls, many search for hope in happiness and temporary escape in habits that work to the detriment of their mental, physical and spiritual health – like drugs, alcohol, overeating and affairs.

Here and Now vs. There and Then

Selfism lives for the here and now, because that’s all we have.  Christians look forward to the “there and then” because this planet is not our home and we don’t claim ownership of anything.  We see everyone as a soul destined to live forever and not just flesh and bones.  We can love everyone regardless of their actions, behaviors, appearance and words because we look past the exterior and see a soul in God’s image longing to return to its proper Owner.

The great heroes of faith recounted in Hebrews 11 all found the courage to sacrifice in this life for Jesus because they had a “there and then” perspective.  We can cling to the “here and now” as hard as we can, but it will elude our grasp.  There is more to the story than what we behold right in front of us.  We see shiny lures all around us vying for our attention – they’re attractive, but they have a hook.  “There and then” subscribers are grounded in God’s word and recognize His ownership interest; far less likely to fall for the bait (of temptation), knowing the hook is hidden and waits to snag us in the “here and now”.

Love of Self vs. Selfless Love

To reach those caught up in popular culture, unaware of their rightful Owner, living in the “here and now” and hooked by sin:

  • Rephrase the Great Commandment, returning it to its biblical origin. As opposed to “love myself” and “love those who don’t criticize me”, show Selfists the power of a higher form of love commanded by Jesus: to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.
  • Adopt an approach to evangelism that exhibits a love which cannot be found in the world’s system. Eros (sexual) and Phileo (brotherly) and far less worthy than Agape (unconditional).  We express Agape by not judging but by demonstrating forgiveness and compassion to those who are self-obsessed, understanding that their actions and words are what you would expect of those who do not know they have a soul and are incapable of loving by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Recognize that Selfists are fiercely individualistic and tend to reject institutional models and teachings. Therefore, equip and empower church members (though discipleship) to BE the embodiment of church between Sundays, in accordance with the biblical definition of “church”.
  • Convince them that they are more beautiful and valuable in the eyes of Christ than they can ever be in their own eyes. Searching for meaning and purpose in self-preservation or through one’s own moral goodness or even spiritual enlightenment is a dead-end road.  “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” was the first lie in the Garden of Eden and is the prevailing lie today.

Yet studies show that most Christians do not even know what the Great Commission is, much less live it out.  Our churches, in their efforts to build institutions, build few disciples.  So cultural Christians miss the Great Commission mandate or they see it as optional, and let their disagreement with society’s politics and morality keep them from sharing the Gospel and making disciples.  Like Jonah, we stay at arms-length and withhold the love and hope they so desperately need.

It’s Your Turn

How can your church play a bigger role in shifting the cultural tide away from Selfism in your community?


One Response

  1. Excellent article. If we are to be effective, we have to learn to speak the language of the culture and gently point others in the right direction. By gently I don’t mean to sound fearful. Instead, I hope to be like Paul in the Areopagus while speaking to the Selfist in Athens. We need to be aware of the fine lines that distinguish Selfism from Selflessness. The master of lies knows just how much truth to twist to change the definition completely — very timely and relevant topic. Thanks!

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