SUNDAY STUDY: The Deception of Self

By T.A. McMahon, The Berean Call

Views about “self” today are confusing at least. The world has a number of them. All teach the importance of one’s having a positive regard for one’s self. The Bible, on the other hand, has nothing good to say about self. Nevertheless, the church, particularly in the last one hundred years, has increasingly reflected what the world preaches rather than what the Scriptures teach.

Although we cannot define self any more than we can define soul or being or beauty, we can clearly see where self was first manifested, how it happened, and the eternal result. We can also see that self not only defines one person as distinct from all others, but it also defines man as distinct from God. What the Bible seems to mean by self is man cut off from God, acting and possessing independently.

The Word of God reveals that self first reared its ugly head in Heaven. Lucifer was an anointed angel who became God’s adversary (Satan) by exalting himself:

“For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:13-14).

Thus Lucifer’s “I will,” that is, his self-will, supplanted submission to God and His will, and the consequences were not good: “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.” “Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” (Ezekiel 28:15; Isaiah 14:15).

Satan brought his rebellious “self” concept to earth and seduced Eve with it. His strategy began with sowing confusing ideas about what God had said (Satan’s principal program) and then feeding Eve self-oriented lies: “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” (Genesis 3:5). That initiated the lie of self-deification and godhood for humanity, in which the Serpent’s deception found fertile ground: “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” (Genesis 3:6).

Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience against the single prohibitive command given to them by God set sin and self on their destructive course. Hence all mankind was separated from God and pursued self.

The world’s focus is to highly value self. Why? Because there are only two options regarding any potential hope for humanity: Self or God (meaning the God of the Bible).

Self is the choice of the world: man’s will and way as opposed to God’s will and way. Self is the only option left for everyone who rejects the God of the Bible. Although there may seem to be other options, including religious ones, they are all variations of willful “works-salvation” and self-righteousness, with some being more obvious than others.

Only biblical Christianity teaches that denying self and turning to Jesus alone for one’s salvation is acceptable to God. The Bible indicates that Satan’s lie that humanity can achieve godhood will ultimately manifest itself in the last days through the Antichrist, who “opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, [showing] himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Satan’s lie is not only prevalent in cults such as Mormonism, but the Roman Catholic Church also teaches mystical union with God in its official Catechism.

Self-deification attained through sacred rites is found throughout the religions of the East… Deifying self, as noted in Genesis 3:5, is evident in forms of Hinduism that teach self-realization methods, that is, techniques for achieving godhood. It is taught that the individual self is a god whose goal is to merge with the All, Brahman, the supreme deity of Hinduism. That is what yoga is all about.

Self-realization has its counterpart in humanistic psychology where it is termed “self-actualization.” Hinduism was brought to the West and made popular through the vehicle of psychology. Although not immediately recognized as self-deification, it is the aim of self-actualization, which is simply defined as reaching toward the ultimate fulfillment of one’s potential. This is the basis for the Human Potential Movement, which is pervasive throughout many of the West’s most prominent corporations and their training programs.

Self is the cornerstone of all psychological counseling. All of its more than 500 concepts are contrary to the Word of God, and psychotherapy essentially rejects God himself. With God removed by psychology, only self remains, and thus self becomes the only hope for resolving humanity’s problems.

A fundamental teaching of psychological counseling is that man is innately good. Any mental, emotional, or behavioral difficulties he experiences must therefore stem from things external to him, e.g., his environment, his parents, his beliefs, emotional and physical traumas, etc.

If adverse issues in a person’s life are primarily the consequence of a sinful heart, then the psychotherapeutic approach is a delusion.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)


“Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:18-19).

Psychological concepts and practices can never change an individual’s sin nature. Furthermore, the biblical teaching about sin is antithetical as well as offensive to psychological counseling.

All humans (Christ as the sinless God-Man excepted) are born with a sin nature.

Self also involves the will- and therein lies the problem. Man’s will, because of his sin nature, is naturally and continually disposed toward himself. That is the breeding ground of rebellion: not Thy will but my will be done.

It must start with a new birth-a spiritual birth from above.

When one receives the simple gospel by faith alone, he is submitting himself, from the heart, to God and to obeying His teachings found in the Scriptures. Although he is then born again spiritually and has become a new creature in Christ, he still retains his old sin nature, but he has been delivered from its control.

Nevertheless, a spiritual battle follows between doing his will versus God’s will. God has given every believer the Holy Spirit to help him win every battle in favor of God’s will.

Submission to God is paramount: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” That commitment pertains not only to select issues but to one’s whole life: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

Yet He, as part of the Godhead, nevertheless subjected His own will to His Father: “And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:35-36; see also Luke 22:44).