8. Self Can Be A Four-Letter Word
"Disobedience to moral law cannot consist in self-love. Self-love is simply the constitutional desire of happiness,...an involuntary state. It has, as a desire, no moral character any more than has the desire of food. It is no more sinful to desire happiness and properly to seek it than...to desire food and properly to seek that." 56
But when we put ourselves first, we sin. That is selfishness. That is when self becomes a "four-letter."
Love is so beautiful, so pleasant to talk about. But there is an opposite of love, and that is selfishness. In fact, selfishness is the only alternative to love.
Selfishness is not a vacuum. It is not just the absence of love. It is a deliberate choice to place self first. As such, it is the antagonist of love, the mortal enemy of the well-being of God and man.
"Disobedience to God's law must consist in the choice of self-gratification as...the supreme and ultimate end of life. This is selfishness. This is sin and the whole of sin viewed in its germinating principles....
"This...choice is the 'carnal mind,' or the minding of the flesh, which the apostle affirms to be 'enmity against God' [Rom. 8:7]." 57
As we explore the charateristic of selfishness, we shall see that every sin is an expression of selfishness, just as every virtue is an expression of love.
Selfishness is sin, not just the cause of sin. Selfishness is sin, and the cause of sins.
Selfishness is voluntary.
It is a free choice, made in the full knowledge that the opposite choice (love) is always possible. It is an intelligent choice in the sense that the heart knows what it is choosing, why it is choosing, and that the choice is unreasonable and not pleasing to God. It knows that what it is choosing supremely is not supremely valuable. It knows that God's interests are more valuable than its own, and that the interest of others are just as valuable as its own, but it chooses self supremely in spite of that fact. It knows that it is the wrong choice, a guilty choice.
Selfishness is unreasonable.
This has nothing to do with IQ. Many sinners have high intelligence and excellent education. But, every sinner lives in opposition to truth and reason.
No one can defend logically the proposition that the happiness of self is more valuable than the happiness of God and of others. The proposition is contrary to fact and therefore totally unreasonable. Yet it is the proposition that every sinner lives by.
"Shame on selfishness! It dethrones human reason and would dethrone the divine, and place mere blind lust upon the throne of the universe.
"Sinners, while they continue such, never say or do one thing that is in accordance with right reason. They have made an unreasonable choice of an end, and all their choices of means...are put forth to secure an end contrary to reason. The very first time that a sinner acts or wills reasonably is when he turns to God...." 58
Selfishness is ultimately interested only in self. This sounds redundant, but just think about it for a moment--
"Nothing is practically regarded as worthy of choice, except as...a means of self-gratification.
"Whatever propensity [craving] is most indulged will gain the greatest development. It may be the love of reputation; and then there will be at least a public decent exterior.... Where the love of knowledge prevails, we have the scholar, the philosopher, the man of learning. This is one of the most decent and respectable forms of selfishness.... When compassion as a feeling prevails, we have as a result the philanthropist and often the reformer; not the reformer in a virtuous sense, but the selfish reformer. Where love of kindred prevails, we often have the kind husband, the affectionate father, mother, brother, sister, and so on. When the love of country prevails, we have the patriot, the statesman, and the soldier." 59
Now, the truly virtuous will do these things reasonably and out of regard for the good to be secured. And they will usually experience normal feelings about them, too. But the sinner does these things because they are what his feelings demand. He does them only because he has a strong desire to do them. If the desire were not there in strong enough measure, he would not do them, even though reason demanded that they be done.
Ah, but selfishness is tricky! The selfish heart is deceitful.... Many sinners do "good" even when they do not feel like it. And so, they believe that they have done "right," having performed their "duty."
But even this is selfish, because it was done to gratify the desire to do "right," or the "sense of duty." It is little Jack Horner's "what-a-good-boy-am-I" feeling of self-satisfaction. This by itself is no virtue.
Selfishness is partial.
"I am under obligation to give the practical preference to the interests of my own family, not because...their interests sustain such a relation to my own, but beacuse I can more readily secure their interests....
"But selfishness is always partial. It always...lays the greatest stress upon...those interests the promotion of which will gratify self.
"To will the good of my neighbor, or of my country, and of God because of the intrinsic value of those interests...is virtue; but to will them to gratify...blind desire is selfishness and sin. If I yield to mere desire in any case, it must be to gratify the desire. Partiality consists in giving one thing the preference of another..., not because the intelligence demands this preference, but because the sensibility demands it." 60
Let it be remembered that we are talking about intelligent choices, that is, choices made in opposition to moral light.
Selfishness is productive, just as love is productive. Only selfishness is productive in the opposite direction.
Selfishness is an active, positive choice of self-gratification as the ultimate end of pursuit. And choice produces action--lots of it.
Even when laziness is the form of self-indulgence preferred above others, selfishness will work as hard as necessary to avoid work!
A selfish end will produce selfish means.
Sin in the heart will produce sin in the life. As long as a person is comitted to self-gratification, that is the way he (or she) is going to live. The only way to stop living like a sinner is to stop being one. Let Christ take control.
"There is no way, therefore, for the sinner to escape from the commision of sin, but to cease to be selfish. The first thing is to change the end, and then the sinner can cease from outward sin. While the selfish end continues, whatever a sinner does is selfish. The end being wrong, all is and must be wrong [Luke 6:43-45]." 61
Selfishness is opposed to love or virtue.
"This resistance to benevolence...is what the Bible calls hardening the heart. It is obstinacy of will under the light...." 62
But we hear the sinner protest: "Not me. I have nothing against God. I believe in religion and the Church. I'm for all the good that's being done."
But is that really true? The sinner has nothing against God--until God gets in his way and frustrates the pursuit of his self-interests. The sinner thinks that religion and the Church are OK--as long as they don't bother him. Christians are fine--as long as they just go to church on Sunday morning and keep their mouths shut.
But what happens if righteousness really gets the upper hand in town?
The sinner hears people singing and taking about Jesus in the stores and on the streets. His wife just "got religion," and now she won't go down to the local tavern with him anymore. In fact, the tavern has been losing so many customers it's about to close up.
Now watch the devil's crowd get mad.
Whenever a person chooses an end, as long as the choice of that end remains, the heart must be opposed to everything that gets in the way of attaining that end.
Let the kingdom of God prosper. At first it will only annoy the sinner. Then, it begins to frustrate him, getting in his way and making him feel uncomfortable. Finally, if the interests of God and His kingdom prosper to the point that the sinner finds the road of selfishness blocked--watch out. Frustrated selfishness is a monster.
Selfishness hates God, the Bible, and real Christians. It is the enemy of all righteousness. It has been said that if half of the people got genuinely converted to Jesus Christ, the other half would get fighting mad.
Selfishness is cruel.
"Selfishness is always and necessarily cruel--cruel to the soul, cruel to the souls of others in neglecting to care and act for their salvation; cruel to God in abusing him in ten thousand ways; cruel to the whole universe.
"Some form of cruelty is practiced by every sinner. The fact that they live in sin, that they set an example of selfishness, that they do nothing for their own souls, nor for the souls of others; these are really most atrocious forms of cruelty." 63
Look at that man who just stands there and shakes his head when you ask him to repent and accept Jesus Christ. He knows the Bible is true. He knows he's a sinner and under condemnation. But will he take care of his own soul? No! His children and his neighbors are unsaved, but will he pray for them and try to lead them to God? No! If they follow his example, they will all go to hell. He's cruel.
And look at that hypocrite who says he believes the gospel, but who hasn't won a soul to Christ in years. He's a member of the church and believes in the hereafter. But out of church he follows the crowd. At work he's just "one of the boys," laughing, joking, getting along fine--but no prayer for their souls, no burden, no effort to speak to anyone about the Savior. He's cruel.
Selfishness is unjust.
"There is the utmost injustice in the end chosen. It is the practical preference of a petty self-interest over infinite interests. This is universal injustice to God and man. No sinner at any time is at all just to any being in the universe." 64
There is not a sinner on earth or in hell who is treating God right. And if we refuse to treat God right, we have no legimate claim that we are treating other people right. A man might walk ten miles to pay another man a dollar he owes him, but if he cares not for the man's soul, he is still being unjust and unfair to him.
The heart of the sinner in unjust!
Selfishness is a lie.
"The selfish man has practically proclaimed that his good is the supreme good,...that all interests are to yield to his. His choice affirms that God has no rights, that he ought not to be loved and obeyed,...but that God and all beings ought to obey and serve the sinner. Can there be a greater, a more shameless falsehood than this?" 65
Every unconverted person is living the worst possible lie. By his example he is saying to everyone he influences that God is to be ignored, that eternal values are not important, that we ought to live to please ourselves.
By refusing to live according to the truth, the sinner is living in falsehood. He is lying every moment he lives.
Selfishness is proud.
"Pride is a disposition to exalt self above others, to get out of one's proper place in the scale of being,...to exalt not merely one's own interests, but one's person, above others and above God.... A proud being supremely regards himself." 66
Pride is simply putting self on the throne of the heart. The sinner refuses to surrender first place to God. He refuses to acknowledge in heart and in practice that God is the Supreme Being. In effect, he says, "I am more important than God." This is the sin of Lucifer. It is the character of every sinner.
The claims of Christ are a threat to the sinner's self-supremacy, an intrusion into his little self-ruled world. For that reason he attempts to live as though either God does not exist as a real Person, or He has no authority, rights and business in his life.
"Selfishness is opposition to God's existence. Opposition to a government is opposition to the will of the governor. It is opposition to his existence in that capacity. Selfishness will brook no restraint in respect to securing its end. But God is the uncompromising enemy of selfishness. He is more in the way of selfishness than all other beings.
"Selfishness offers all manner and every possible degree of resistance to God. It disregards God's commands. It contemns his authority. It spurns his mercy. It outrages his feelings. It provokes his forebearance." 67
Selfishness is intemperate.
"Selfishness is self-indulgence not sanctioned by the reason." 68
Sin is knowingly allowing one's desires to take control and to rule the life. Now, this does not mean that all of the desires can rule at once. Some have to be denied in order to gratify others. But identify the ruling desires and you have found the pet sins. These take priority in the sinner's heart. They have the right-of-way to full development and gratification as the sinner has opportunity. He seeks to fulfill them and finds in them his purpose for living.
"But it may be asked, are we to have no regard whatever to our tastes, appetites and propensities [cravings]?
"We are to have no such regard for them as to make their gratification the end for which we live, even for a moment. God has not given us propensities to be our masters and to rule us, but to be our servants and to minister to our enjoyment when we obey the biddings of reason and of God. The propensities are not, therefore, to be despised, nor is their annihilation to be desired." 69
Christians are not cold stoics or unfeeling ascetics. We have real feelings and we enjoy life. But we enjoy life more because we are not living just for the enjoyment. This is the beauty of God's economy.
Live for happiness, and you will never find it; live for Jesus Christ, and you will discover happiness!
Now, one of the real problems with self-indulgence is that the price keeps going up. Indulgences have a way of losing their "kick." Thrill-seekers get tired of their toys. Pleasures become commonplace, and a stonger "dose" of the pleasure-producer is required to get the same effect as before.
But lusts are never satisfied. They always demand "more." The multimillionaire eagerly pursues a few more dollars. His passion for money is never satisfied, no matter how much he has. The same is true of the alcholic, the drug addict, the sex-aholic, and so forth.
Ah, but what about the hardworking man who behaves himself, stays at home and spends his leisure time with his family?
If he refuses to surrender his heart to Christ, he is just as self-indulgent as the man who destroys his job and his home for the sake of drink, sex and gambling. He is merely doing what pleases himself more than anything else does. For the sake of the pleasures of marriage, family life and home, and all that goes with it, he is denying all incompatible indulgences, at least in outward practice.
The desires for domestic pleasures might be so strong that he has never given competing pleasure a change even to develop. Or he might have strong competing and conflicting desires, but denies them for the sake of the stronger desires for a stable job and a pleasant home life.
Maybe someday he will do what many respectable people in public life do when they get tired of behaving in a socially acceptable way--blow it all on a binge and shock everybody.
At any rate, if self-indulgence rules the heart, no matter what kind of self-indulgence it might be, the heart is totally sinful. It is intemperate because it is totally committed to the fulfilling of the demands of indulgence.
"Every sinner is chargeable in the sight of God with every species of intemperance, actual and conceivable. His lusts have the reign. If there is any form of self-indulgence that is not actually developed in him, no thanks to him. The providence of God has restrained the outward indulgence, while there has been in him a readiness to perpetrate any and every sin, from which he was not deterred by some overpowering fear of consequences." 70
Selfishness is totally sinful.
Every sinner is sacrificing the higher interests of God and of others to his own chosen desires. What greater guilt than this can there be? What more can the sinner become guilty of? He is sinning against all the light he has; for that reason he is as guilty as he can be with the light he has. What is to prevent him from sinning against more light--all light--if he had it?
As long as the sinner pursues the course of self-gratification, he (or she) will continue to reject all light received and sacrifice all interests that get in the way of the demands of self-gratification.
If the sinner will sacrifice one thing for self, what would keep him from sacrificing everything? What is to keep the sinner from expelling God from Heaven, abolishing His throne, and destroying the whole universe if the fulfillment of his selfish desires demanded it and it were possible? There is nothing in his present course of self-gratification to indicate if and when he would stop the pursuit and development of selfishness, stop the destructive effects of selfishness, and turn his heart to God.
True, he might do so under increased light, but the present course of his heart gives no indication of it. If he continues in selfishness, he has the potential of destroying the whole universe if he had the power to do so.
What sinner is there who really knows what he would do if his desires demanded it and he had the opportunity?
Only God knows how many Adolf Hitlers there are who never get the chance to become one. The fact that only a few sinners have succeeded in fulfilling their selfish desires to such an extent is a marvelous demonstration of the restraining providnce of God.
"Every selfish being is at every moment as wicked and as blameworthy as with his knowledge he can be.
"The selfish man's guilt is just equal to his knowledge of the intrinsic value of those interests that he rejects [Luke 12:47,48].
"Selfishness is the rejection of all obligation. It is the violation of all obligation. The sin of selfishness is then complete; that is, the guilt of selfishness is as great as with its present light it can be." 71
Remember, the character of the end determines the character of the means. if the ultimate end is selfish, the means are selfish no matter how respectable they seem to be.
If the sinner quits drinking and carousing around, yet does not surrender the heart to God, he is merely changing means to the same end. Self-interest demands the change, not regard for God's interests or real regard for the interests of others.
Why does the "respectable" but unconverted businessman refrain from socially unacceptable behavior? Because he loves God supremely and his neighbor as himself? No. He loves himself supremely. His "morality" is plastic, self-serving.
Why does the alcoholic, the adulterer, or the spendthrift mend his ways, yet still reject Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? Out of real love? No. His desires perhaps for the benefits of a disciplined life overpowers his other desires.
Or, perhaps the feeling of pity or remorse over the way he has treated his family becomes his strongest emotion. If this leads him to think, and then make an intelligent surrender to Jesus Christ, well and good. But if he continues to choose to be a slave to his desires, he will let himself be controlled by the feeling of remorse. And as long as this is his ruling, overriding desire, he will follow good resolutions. But self is still in control. He is still in bondage to sin. Romans, chapter seven is his experience. When his desires change, his behavior will change.
We will do what we choose to do. If we choose to love God, we will love Him. If we choose to gratify self instead, we will gratify self. This is exactly what Romans 7:14 through 25 teaches. As long as self-gratification rules, we will do what self-gratification demands, even though we might hate ourselves for it. Self must be dethroned from the heart by the enthronement of Christ before the moral agent can stop sinning in his outward life.
It is important to remember that the sinful choice of self-gratification as an ultimate end is made knowingly, that is, in opposition to light. Christians often do things out of impulse ignorantly and without realizing it. Many true Christians blunder ignorantly because they do what they feel like doing instead of what they would do if they thought and prayed about the matter.
We all need more light. We need to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18).
As Christians, we are living for an infinitely valuable end--the highest well-being of God and man. Let us not pursue that end carelessly. It is too valuable to trifle with. Let us know the means that most effectively secure that end and follow them intelligently. Let us get all the light we can. Learn the Scriptures and follow them. Learn how to please God better. Bring every emotion under discipline to the Lordship of Jesus.
For this we have the all-sufficient grace of God. And we have the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth and is working to perfect in us the beautiful fruit of the Spirit.