Question: "What does the Bible say about being self-centered?"
Answer: Self-centeredness is defined as “immoderate concern with one’s own interests and well-being; self-love or egotism.” The Bible tells us “people who are self-centered aren’t able to please God” (Romans 8:8, CEB). Self-centeredness is a sin because it leads to being devoted to self-gratification and overlooking other people’s needs (Romans 2:8; James 3:16). Self-centeredness and self-love are totally antithetical to the teachings of Scripture (1 Corinthians 13:4–7).
Looking out for our own interests is natural. In fact, Jesus uses our innate self-interest as a basis for gauging our love for others: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). In other words, in the same way that you (naturally) love yourself, learn to love others. Our universe should be others-centric, not self-centric. As Paul puts it, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3–4). This command leaves no room for self-centeredness.
“When we were self-centered, the sinful passions aroused through the law were at work in all the parts of our body, so that we bore fruit for death” (Romans 7:5, CEB). The NIV translates “self-centered” as “in the realm of the flesh.” By being self-centered or yielding to our sinful, fleshly natures, we are bearing fruit that results in death. It is ironic that putting oneself first leads to a destruction of oneself (see Luke 17:33).
Being focused on oneself usurps the biblical commands to love and care for our neighbors (John 13:34–35), to not pass judgment on others (Romans 14:13), to bear others’ burdens (Galatians 6:2), and to be kind and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32). Being self-centered is directly opposed to the clear command, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24). There are many other similar commands calling for selfless sacrifice and service to others (Romans 12:10; Ephesians 5:21; Galatians 5:26). Every act of self-love is rebellion against the authority of God. Self-centeredness is rooted in one’s fleshly desire to please self more than God. In essence, it is the act of supplanting God’s authority with one’s own ego.
Jesus strikes at the very heart of the sin of self-centeredness with this unequivocal declaration: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). To deny oneself means letting go the material things used to gratify self. To deny oneself is to let go of selfish desires and earthly security and focus instead on the interests of God (Matthew 6:33). The mindset of “he with the most toys wins!” is seen for the fallacy it is. Denying oneself turns us from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. Self is no longer in charge; God is. Christ rules our hearts.
We all have a tendency toward self-centeredness. But, though we are still in the flesh, believers in Christ have God’s Spirit residing within (1 John 4:13). The question is, which will we allow to have control of our lives—the flesh or the Spirit (Romans 13:14; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 John 2:15-16)?