To be a disciple of Jesus Christ one must be willing to deny Self, take up his cross, and follow Jesus. Luke 9:23. Self-denial is the cross we bear. The old man of flesh and sin has to be rendered dead. The laid-down life defines the New Testament concept of agape (love).
When we live according to the flesh, we are living for Self. Conversely, when we are living for Self, we are living according to the flesh. When we live according the Spirit, we will bear the fruit of agape. We have not been called to live unto ourselves. We have been called to surrender our lives to Christ that He might live His life of agape through us. We cannot be the bride of Christ and at the same time live selfishly in this world. We are either the bride or we are living the life of the harlot. Self-centred living is making ourselves out to be god; therefore, it is idolatry.
Idolatrous, fallen man is self-centred by nature. To be any different, we have to be transformed into a new creature. We need a new nature that gives us the desire to surrender Self for a higher good, namely, the life of Christ in us. Only Christ through His Spirit can implant that new nature within us. Paul had already established in Galatians 5:17 that “the flesh lusts [sets its desire] against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” Romans 8:7 attests that “the carnal mind is at enmity [hostile] against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.”
Whatever appeals to Self is not of God. Self is in love with Self. It seeks its own. It is vain, prideful, arrogant, self-exalting, self-indulging, self-absorbed, power-hungry, and lustful. It strives for independence, self-reliance, and self-management. It uses and abuses others, if necessary, to achieve its own ambitions. It lies, steals, cheats, murders, covets, blames, justifies, and does whatever seems necessary to save itself. It goes to any end to protect itself. It is addicted to more. It can never be satisfied.
The flesh nature of Self generally looks to its own inventions–science, government, military, religion, education, sports, and other human institutions and inventions–to save us, feed us, protect us, make us happy, give us our identity, and provide us with a better lifestyle. We create institutions to serve us, and we get angry when they fail us.
The idolatry of Self is seen in our drivenness to accomplish things in our own strength. We see things to do, and we must do them. We are constantly distracted by the busyness we create for ourselves. Busyness is a distraction from intimacy with God. We would rather be doing something for God than spending time with Him. Yet, He did not create us to do for Him, but to be as He is that we might have fellowship with Him and with one another in Him.
We enslave ourselves to the works we require of ourselves. Moreover, we enslave others to our works when others allow us to do so. We adore our accomplishments. Consequently, we have even made idols out of our quiet time, Bible study, intercessory prayer, street witnessing, and other works that seem “good” to us. These are not wrong. They are wonderful when they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. They become idolatrous to us when we use them to make ourselves feel like we have done something for God.
Excerpts from a book by Charles E. Newbold, Jr. titled The Harlot Church System.