We are faced with an ancient problem. The origin of this problem goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when our common ancestors made the conscious choice to defy the Creator as their God and instead install themselves as their own little gods.
“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 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. 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” (Gen 3:4-6).
Since that day the self has never stopped attempting to usurp God’s rightful place in human lives. Selfishness, self-centredness, conceit—call it by any name, it remains the foremost enemy that robs us of the purpose and meaning of our existence.
We are created by God for a purpose. The wise man puts it in the clearest way possible that anyone of us can understand.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecc 12:13-14).
Like Adam and Eve, we so often choose to listen to and gratify our desires rather than bow in submission to the will of God. Take sexual immorality, for example. Fornication seems to be more rampant today with Hollywood and the media touting it as ‘normal’ behaviour.
It is impossible to count the number of people engaging in pre-marital sexual behaviour. Does God ever mean for men and women never to enjoy sexual pleasure? Certainly not. But He never means for creatures created in His image to indulge in what He has confined to marriage.
Like some of the children in the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment, so many people are unwilling to delay gratifying their desires till marriage, and choose to place self before God.
A look back at history will reveal that this ancient problem is still very much active today; it does not go extinct with time and improvements in standards of living. In fact, it seems to have become more creative with time in marketing.
Humanism celebrates mankind and places him at the highest places of honour. Countless interviews are being conducted with celebrities (or anyone who fancies himself/herself as one) where they are given almost free rein to talk about themselves.
Books with titles such as Looking Out for Number One (Robert J. Ringer), Awaken the Giant Within (Anthony Robbins), Good to Great (Jim Collins), See You at the Top (Zig Ziglar) and Feeling Good (David D. Burns), The 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene) etc. are bestsellers.
Social media platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, are used as avenues to promote the self. The English language has churned out terms such as ‘self-fulfillment’, ‘self-enhancement’, and ‘self-expression’, etc.
These are signs that the great usurper, Self, is alive and well and active. We live in a world where men and women are preoccupied with the self. Stripped bare of its eye-pleasing marketing, it is no more than narcissism—an inordinate fascination with oneself; vanity.
We may argue that things are not as bleak as painted above; most of us are not at the point where we are so absorbed with self that we become blind to everything and everyone else around us.
We may also argue that paying attention to self is not all that bad. After all, aren’t we to pursue improvements? Besides, it’s not as if we have forgotten or neglected God. We still read the Bible and attend worship every first day of the week. So what seems to be the problem?
Well, what is the essence of idolatry? In other words, what is at the root of idolatry?
Paul says, “Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5).
Idolatry is anything which seeks to usurp the place of God in our lives. ‘Anything’ means not only what we generally agree as evil, but even good things can become idolatrous if we are not careful.
With that understanding, let’s ask the question: What is the biggest idol of them all? It is the self. When we regard the self higher than it deserves, it becomes an obstacle between God and us.
We are disciples of Jesus when we follow Him and His word. What does He say to us?
“And he said unto all, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit his own self” (Luke 9:23-25)?
Deny self. Take up the cross daily. Follow Him. Remove self from the throne. Die to self and sin every day. Obey the Master. This is the true description of a disciple.