30 Jan Guilty Of Self Idolatry?
Among the rivals competing with God for power is the “self”. We love ourselves so much and we love to have control over our own lives, rather than surrendering our sovereignty to God. The dictionary definition of “self-love” is: the instinct by which one’s actions are directed to the promotion of one’s own welfare or well-being, especially an excessive regard for one’s own advantage. Increasingly, we hear advice that we need to be kind to ourselves and take care of ourselves. These are not exactly wrong, but we need to align such advice with the word and heart of God. <2 Timothy 3:2-4> warns us that during the last days, people will be “lovers of themselves…rather than lovers of God”. It correctly points out our tendency to love ourselves above God.
Even among churchgoers today, we notice a subtle trend of self-worship taking a form of “Christian consumerism”, where Christians think that church exists to serve them, rather than God and His mission. Therefore, like consumers, believers pick and choose the churches to attend and sermons to listen. The choice is based on their own preferences and how best they think the church is serving their needs, rather than based on sound doctrine and good discipleship. Instead of wanting to be transformed to be aligned to God and be more Christ-like, they want a god and church who can bend to suit their hearts and needs. Instead of asking “Is God pleased with me?” or “How can I live for God?”, people are more concerned with “What can God give me?” Driven by such Christian consumerism, churches are also drawn into a competition to woo members with all kinds of attractive programs and man-pleasing teachings.
Now, while we should love ourselves, we need to note that our love of self can become destructive, if we consider the “self” as more important than God. For anyone or anything that is considered as more important and trustworthy than God is an idol.
Are we guilty of worshipping our “self”?
How can we tell? What are some characteristics of self-idolaters?
They are only concerned about satisfying their own needs. They may even gratify themselves at the expense of others’ interests and needs. In fact, at the core of self-worship is what <1 Jn 2:16> mentioned: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. These three things made man considers his own opinions, needs, feelings, circumstances, interests, etc, as more important than anything else. In the beginning, these were the exact things the devil used to deceived Eve, to make her lust for what her eyes saw and trigger her pride to want to be like God, placing her own wants and glory above God. Today, many people are stumbled by the same lie. In fact, “prosperity gospel” is so popular because it feeds humans’ self-worship tendency.
2) Trust themselves more than God.
Those who have no regard for God often use their own wisdom or conscience to set morals standards, or definitions of what is right and wrong, good or bad. Even for Christians who claimed that they believe in the Bible, when God’s word does not make sense to them, or seems impractical, or hard to obey, then they will choose to trust their own judgment and ways, instead of trusting fully in God. Such people trust their own wisdom and analysis, and think that they themselves know better than God about what is best for them. Such people are truly proud.
3) Concerned about their own honor rather than God’s glory.
They care more about how people look at them, rather than what people think of God. If they care about the latter, they would be like Paul, and gladly share about their weaknesses so that God’s power and glory can be all the more manifested. However, self-idolaters are not like that, they are more concerned about their own honor than God’s glory.
We need to break free from “self-worship”.
(1) We will never be satisfied by the “self”.
We are not created to be worshipped but to worship (our God). In fact, by the principle of God’s creation, whenever we are only focused on ourselves, we will not be completely joyful and contented. For the state of our spirit depends on what fills our hearts and minds. If we are only absorbed by our “self”, we certainly cannot have peace, for we will not be able to find in ourselves what only Jesus can provide – the kind of assurance, love, transcending peace, power, wisdom, forgiveness of sins, etc. Thus, looking to the “self” for direction and delight will only bring disappointments.
(2) The “self” can enslave us when we idolise it.
We can become our own slaves, when we are controlled by our own desires, emotions, ambitions, beliefs, etc. And we know that all of these are fallen and corrupted. Our hearts are deceitful, our desires are often sinful, our emotions are unreliable, our beliefs are easily misled. When we let our fallen and imperfect “self” dominate us, it will only lead us to foolish decisions, sinful acts and a regrettable end.
(3) The “self” can never match up to God.
The “self” is not worship-worthy, only God is. How can humans ever become God? We do not even know our tomorrow, so how can we discern and control all things like God? <Prov 14:12> (ESV) reads: There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Thus, the “self” is not trustworthy.
Besides, humans are vulnerable, the moment we are hit by certain sudden crisis or bad news, like this pandemic, we are helpless. Thus, man cannot be his own god, he cannot worship himself. He needs a Saviour who can save, guide and empower him. God tells us,
“You shall have no other gods before me.” <Ex 20:3>
2) How can we break free from “self-worship”?
Certainly, this is not easy. Although we tend to hold our “self” in higher regard than God and others, yet when the Holy Spirit helps us, we can surprisingly deny ourselves, by emulating the sacrificial example of Christ. Indeed, if we do not want to be stuck in the trap of “self-worship”, we must turn our attention away from the “self” and to God and others. Thus, <Php 2> tells us: 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.
Indeed, when we pursue having the same mindset as Christ and look also to the interests of others, we will not be so absorbed into ourselves. That’s why Jesus said the sum of the law is to love God and love others as yourself <Mk 12:30-31>. In fact, Christians are not called to worship self but deny self <Mk 8:34>.
Brothers and sisters, we need to be mindful that the “self” is always trying to usurp the place of God in our hearts. Thus, we need to pray that our “self” will not become our stumbling block to hinder God’s work and blessings in us and through us. God is happy to help us, but may we also be willing to trust Him more than ourselves!