Mankind’s Basic Problem: Self-Centeredness

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“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

Since the Fall, all humans, apart from Jesus, are born in a sinful state and condition which some theologians call “original sin.” They use this term be cause this sinful state and condition

  1. is derived from the progenitor of the human race, Adam;
  2. is present in the life of every individual from conception, and cannot therefore be regarded as the result of choice; and
  3. is the inward root of all the actual sins that defile the life of each human. [1]

There are other terms used to describe this sinful state and condition: “inbred sin,” “inherited depravity,” or “carnal nature.” Isaiah indicates that mankind’s basic problem is “self-centeredness.” He says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.”

According to Isaiah, the reason mankind goes astray committing acts of sin is because of an in born sinful state and condition of self-centeredness—we want our own way!

Before the Fall: Humans in the Image of God

What were humans like before the tragic Fall? Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in His own image.” Deuteronomy 6:4 provides a clear starting point for understanding the image of God: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one” (see also Isa. 44:6).

The God in whose image mankind was made is one God, and there is no other. Yet, in the unity of His being, the one God reveals Himself to us as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Further, God reveals that within the Triune Godhead, each Divine Person is holy and relates to the other Divine Persons in love (Lev. 11:44; 1 John 4:8). The early Church spoke of the triune relationship of our one God as a holy relationship of mutual indwelling, mutual self-giving, and others-oriented love.

In other words, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit relate to each other in mutual self-giving, others oriented, holy love. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit, the Son loves the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit loves the Father and the Son.

There is no competition between the three Persons, but only a holy, harmonious, mutual indwelling and self-giving. This is the God who made mankind in His image.

It seems reasonable to assume that since Adam and Eve were made in the image of God, they instinctively knew how to reflect the relationship enjoyed by the three Persons of the Triune Godhead.

They instinctively loved God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and each other with a holy, self-giving, others-oriented focus that seeks only the other person’s highest good.

Like Jesus Christ, who best reflects the image of God in mankind (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15), Adam and Eve’s pre-Fall relationship with God was characterized by a joyful, total submission, for their lives were fully yielded to His control.

As they walked with God and learned of Him, their conduct was completely righteous. Their crowning privilege and supreme joy was intimate fellowship with Him. And because Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God (John 17:3), they had eternal life.

Further, their relationship with God brought with it an enlightened understanding of spiritual things. Their emotions were enkindled with love and appreciation for God, and their wills were wholly inclined to do His will. They intuitively and intellectually knew truth and perceived the inherent rightness of the arrangement.

Without a doubt, Adam and Eve felt loved, accepted, and secure in God’s love. Their worldview was God-centered, and they were emotionally balanced because they lived with no guilt.

They were of the same mind, of the same love, united in spirit, and intent on one purpose: loving God supremely and each other with a holy, self-giving love. They did nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.

With humility of mind each regarded the other as more important than himself (Phil. 2:2-3).

After the Fall: the Image of God Marred

As a result of Adam’s deliberate disobedience to God, the image of God in mankind was severely damaged and their relationship with God was severed. Choosing to reject God’s lordship over their lives, self-centered desires usurped His place. Their rebellion against God resulted in ungodly character and unrighteous behavior (Rom. 1:18).

Adam and Eve discovered, because of their broken relationship with God, that the supreme source of joy and satisfaction was missing from their life. They now no longer loved God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. They had forfeited eternal life and were spiritually dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1).

The absence of God’s sanctifying presence in their lives resulted in the darkening of their understanding, the deadening of their emotions, and the degrading of their wills (Eph. 4:17-18). Mankind no longer intuitively and intellectually knew truth. Thinking themselves to be wise they became fools (Rom. 1:21-22).

Further, they no longer felt loved, accepted, and secure in God’s love. Making self the supreme source of reference, Adam and Eve felt self-conscious, unaccepted, and insecure. Guilt and fear caused them to hide from the presence of God and expressed itself in self-defensiveness (Gen. 3:8-10).

Tragically, they no longer had “the mind of Christ.” No longer reflecting the true image of God, Adam became a self-loving, self-defensive, self-protecting leader. Eve likewise became a self-loving, self defensive companion who now desired to rule over her husband. [2]  Competition, self-centeredness, and pride now ruled in their hearts.

Transmission and Consequences of Self-centeredness

The impact of Adam’s tragic Fall on the human race resulted in our frantic but futile search to find meaning and lasting satisfaction through personal achievement, self-gratification, fame, money, music, sex, power—not realizing that meaning and lasting satisfaction can be found only in a personal relationship with the Creator, and in that relationship the image of God can be restored in our lives (Ecc. 12:1).

Because of Adam’s sin, all humans are born spiritually dead and are by nature the children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). We have neither the saving presence of God in our lives, nor the knowledge of His ways. As a result of our self-centeredness, we reject the One whose face we are supposed to seek and in whose light we are supposed to live.

Martin Luther expressed the depraved condition of mankind very graphically when he defined it as “the heart turned in upon itself.” We turn to ourselves in an effort to find what we need. Turning away from the Source of all that is good, we turn inward and try to live life out of our own resources and for ourselves.

As a result, all types of evil become possible. Jesus said that from such a self-centered heart proceeds “evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23).

Because of the Fall, all of the natural propensities, needs, and potentialities of mankind are twisted in an egocentric and sinful direction.

Paul frequently refers to this condition of self-centeredness as living “in the flesh.” In contrast, Christians live “in the Spirit.” He writes, “The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another” (Gal. 5:17).

They are in opposition because the Holy Spirit, like Jesus, will not operate independently of our heavenly Father, whereas the chief characteristic of the “flesh” is self-centered independence from God. Paul further says that the person who has his mind set on the flesh cannot please God, is hostile toward God, and will experience spiritual death (Rom. 8:6-8).

Paul further says that the person who has his mind set on the flesh cannot please God, is hostile toward God, and will experience spiritual death (Rom. 8:6-8).

Jeremiah, using a slightly different metaphor, says that the very center of man’s depraved being, the heart, is “more deceitful than all else” and “desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). Apart from the grace of God, fallen humanity has no other choice than to find their identity in their self-centered existence.

God’s Twofold Cure for Sin’s Twofold Problem

Paul tells us that at the moment of the new birth, we put off the “old man” and put on the “new man” which is “created in righteousness and true holiness.”

Subsequently, we are being “renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created” us (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). The restoration of the image of God in us has begun. As we walk with God, however, we begin to discover competing loyalties vying for our affections.

To our dismay, we discover there are times when we want our own way more than we want God’s way. If we yield to these self-centered desires, we grieve God and sin.

We know that God has all the grace necessary to enable us to make the right choices, but we also desire to be delivered from our predisposition to self-centeredness.

We cry out to God and ask Him if He has a cure for what the Apostle James calls “double-mindedness” (James 4:8). To our delight, we discover that He does! It involves another step in restoring in us the image of God that occurs after the new birth.

 


 

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

  1. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014, p.244.
  2. See the term “desire” in Gen. 3:16 and compare it to the same term in Gen. 4:7. “Desire” in these two contexts means “the desire to rule over” or to “exercise mastery over.”
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.