While the word ego does not appear in the Bible, concepts and principles regarding the ego certainly do. The word ego generally refers to an exaggerated sense of self-importance, which usually results is an excessive preoccupation with “self.” But dying to self, the polar opposite of ego, is the biblical model for Christians. The Bible is filled with admonitions against the self because of man’s inherent desire to be worshiped. In fact, all the various forms of modern idolatry have self at their very core. The dark forces of this age have convinced many that contentment is achieved only by satisfying the urges of the self. And we can trace this all the way back to the Garden of Eden where Eve became stirred by Satan’s lie that she could “be like God” (Genesis 3:5).
The opposite of ego is humility, and both the Old and New Testaments are laden with references to living humbly. In the book of Micah we read, “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). King Solomon declared, “Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4). One verse that epitomizes why we are to be humble is Peter’s exhortation in his first epistle: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5, emphasis added).
Indeed, Scripture makes it clear that God hates pride and arrogance (Proverbs 8:13). In fact, it was pride that turned Lucifer into Satan. Isaiah 14:13-14 describes Satan’s astounding focus on self: “I will ascend…I will raise…I will sit… I will ascend…I will make myself like the Most High.” This is a perfect example of pride going before destruction (Proverbs 16:18), for in the next verse in Isaiah we see where Satan’s pride got him: “But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (v.15). Christ reiterated the fate of the proud, warning that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled” (Matthew 23:12). Clearly, an inflated ego and its focus on self are not in keeping with the Christian call for humility. Rather, it is the antithesis of what characterizes true Christians—dependence on God and service to others.
A humble heart has no room for ego or pride or arrogance because it recognizes that all we have and all we are comes from God, as Paul reminded the Corinthians: “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Every gift, every talent, every breath we take—all are from God, as is our most precious gift, salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded…by the law of faith” (Romans 3:27).
Jesus Christ is the perfect example of humility (Mark 10:45; Philippians 2:5-8). “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Indeed, Jesus did not come to earth to be served, but to serve, making “himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). We see an expression of Christ’s selfless attitude in the Garden of Gethsemane when He said to His Father in heaven, “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39), and then on the following day when He humbly endured the tortures of the cross so that we could be reconciled to our Father in heaven.
Paul is another beautiful example of humility in action. Next to Jesus, he was probably the most significant figure of the Christian era. And even though he was perhaps the greatest advocate of Christ there ever was, he still considered himself as the “least of the apostles” and the “worst” of sinners (1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:15). He always encouraged those who followed Christ to emulate His humility, encouraging them, and us, to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves,” adding that we should not simply look to our own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2: 3-4; Romans 12:10). That is the essence of humility and the opposite of ego.
Jesus taught us that the greatest commandments were to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as we love our self (Matthew 22:37, 39). When we strive to keep these commandments, we take the focus off ourselves and place it where it should be—on God and on helping others. In the Christian life devoid of ego, the “I will” becomes a “thy will.”