WHEN a baby is born, the center of his life is self. As soon as he can express himself in the most elementary manner he begins to let you know that he must be satisfied, that his desires must be fulfilled, his demands met.
As far as he is concerned he is the center of the universe -and don't you forget it! If what he wants or needs is not given him, he lets you know in no uncertain manner. If his will is frustrated or denied he will often scream in anger. This is the natural reaction, inherited by one who belongs to a fallen race.
This root of self may be manifested in temper tantrums in an older child when self is thwarted. As he becomes an adult he generally becomes more sophisticated and subtle in trying to get his own way. He will, to a greater or lesser degree, make himself polished and courteous because society will demand it of him. He will be cultured rather than crude; civilized rather than savage. But self will still demand satisfaction. Ego will have to be fed, protected, expressed.
In the baby the demands of self are, of course, unconscious. Moreover, such necessary basic drives as self-preservation are tied in with the infant's reactions. So I am not implying that the described actions and attitudes of the baby are sin, which is a willful rebellion against God. But, springing from a fallen human nature, they lead as naturally into sin as the Jordan River leads into the Dead Sea.
Christ tacitly affirmed this during His Sermon on the Mount. At the time He was not talking to a group that was more sinful than the average. In fact, for the most part, those who were gathered around Him were probably people wanting to live good lives. Yet, clearly implying that humanity is sinful at its roots, 'He said, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children ... " (Matt. 7: 11, R.S.V.).
He suggests the same idea in His conversation with Nicodemus. He spoke of "that which is born of the flesh." Then, making it plain that He meant men are by inheritance sinful, He avers, "you must be born anew" (John 3:6, 7, R.S.V.). In other words, you must supernaturally become radically different from the kind of person you are by birth; you must be transformed into a different kind of person.
"By Nature Children of Wrath"
A similar affirmation is made by Paul in Ephesians 2:3, when he writes that the Ephesians, who were no different from other people, "were by nature children of wrath." And well known are his words in Romans 7, where he vividly describes his helplessness to overcome sins because he was sinful by nature.
We recall also the words of David: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. 51:5); and of Job: "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one" (Job 14:4).
Let us use a diagram to illustrate in the simplest manner the condition we have been describing:
We use the heart with the connotation of the desires, feelings, motives, impulses, interests, tendencies, attitudes - those basic qualities and drives that make up the human personality and character.
In this diagram we see the reason why even a baby manifests incipient symptoms of sinfulness. It is because, with self at the center, human nature tends to rebellion against God. Of himself, man has no tendency to do God's will. He wants to do his own. "The outlook of the lower nature [essentially, self] is enmity with God" (Rom. 8:7, N.E.B.).
"I Will Put Enmity"
Any resistance man has to sin is implanted in the heart by God.
God declares, "I will put enmity." This enmity is not naturally entertained. When man transgressed the divine law, his nature became evil, and he was in harmony, and not at variance, with Satan. There exists naturally no enmity between sinful man and the originator of sin. Both became evil through apostasy .... Had not God specially interposed, Satan and man would have entered into an alliance against heaven; and instead of cherishing enmity against Satan, the whole human family would have been united in opposition to God. -The Great Controversy, p. 505.
Enmity against Satan is a gift from God. -ELLEN G. WHITE, in Review and Herald, May 3, 1906.
God's major channel to the human heart and mind is the conscience. 23 It is an inbuilt faculty, given by God as a means by which He can convey to us His concern over our sins and waywardness.
This faculty, which tells man that some things are right and some wrong, and which nags him when he does wrong, needs to be educated. It can be warped and desensitized. But it is the channel through which God speaks to the soul, prompting the most ignorant heathen, as well as the most enlightened Christian.
God, in concerned love, uses this faculty as a means of trying to bring man back to Himself, so that He can become the center of the life, rather than self. For God knows that man can never be happy, he can never gain the victory over sins, he can never be entrusted with heaven and eternal life, while self is in control. Self, with all its tendencies to evil and troublemaking, must be dethroned and totally subdued.
Unfortunately, when God speaks to us through conscience, we frequently do not recognize what it is He is trying to accomplish in us. For example, God, by means of one of His many channels, is able to speak especially clearly to us on some occasions, and our consciences awaken.
We have a classic example of this in an experience of King David. David had brought about the death of Uriah the Hittite, and then taken his wife for himself. This grave sin benumbed his conscience to a great extent. Finally the auspicious time came, and God sent the prophet Nathan to him with the poignant story of the one little lamb (2 Sam. 12: 1-13). And David, condemning himself in the person of a hypothetical rich man, was suddenly brought to recognize himself for what he was. The beautiful penitential Psalm 51 is the result of his awakened conscience.
Let us illustrate God's efforts to get through to us thus, the arrows symbolizing the various means He uses:
When God succeeds in reaching us, and our consciences become more responsive, we become very much aware of some particular things in our lives that are sinful. These may be sins of the flesh, such as overeating or lust. It may be a dishonest practice. It may be envy, pride, jealousy, gossiping, or a bad temper. Our consciences may begin to accuse us regarding some TV programs we are watching, some books we are reading, or records we are listening to.
"I Must Overcome"
Under these clamorings of conscience, and having a sincere desire to be right with God, we may determine to get rid of these faults. We say to ourselves, "I eat too much. This is sin. I must cut down." Or, "I have been watching 'Everybody Likes Eve' on TV. It is not really a good program for a Christian to view. I am going to cut it out." Or, "I have a temper that is ruining my life. I have got to overcome it."
So we ask God for forgiveness and strength, and set about to correct our faultiness and sins. Consequently, our picture is like this:
As we look at the diagram, we immediately see the defectiveness of what we are trying to do. "There are many who try to reform by correcting this or that bad habit, and they hope in this way to become Christians, but they are beginning in the wrong place. Our first work is with the heart." 24 -Christ's Object Lessons, p. 97. (Italics supplied.) To fit the sentence "Our first work is with the heart" with our diagram, we modify it to read, "Our first work is with the self in the heart." This is consistent with Ellen White's thought.
Ellen White continues, "The heart must be converted and sanctified."
We may make another application of our diagram by referring to what is another seriously faulty aspect of reformation on the part of some; that which Ellen White refers to as a "patchwork religion," 25 Our diagram helps us visualize the situation.
The patchwork religion is not of the least value with God. He requires the whole heart. No part of it is to be reserved for the development of hereditary or cultivated tendencies to evil .... Many have just such an experience daily, but it is a misrepresentation of the character of Christ. -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on 2 Cor. 5:17, p. 1101.
Trying to Obey Is Not Obedience
The man who attempts to keep the commandments of God merely from a sense of obligation-because he is required to do so--will never enter into the joy of obedience. He does not obey.
He does not obey, because he cannot truly obey. He cannot truly obey from a sense of love even though he really desires to, because self is the center of the life. He is trying to obey-in this case to get rid of certain sins in the life- on the basis of self. Self is trying to discipline self. This is spiritually trying to lift himself by his own bootstraps. 26
"Self cannot manage self; it is not sufficient for the work .... God alone can make and keep us loyal." -Our High Calling, p. 215.
We see, then, that when God speaks to us through conscience, He is trying to do far more than lead us to give up particular sins in our lives, important though that is. He wants us to give up self. But, because conscience brings to the fore individual sins, we begin to think in those terms. Right here is where we often miss what God is trying to do, as we observed previously.
Only when selfishness is dead, when strife for supremacy is banished, when gratitude fills the heart, and love makes fragrant the life-it is only then that Christ is abiding in the soul, and we are recognized as laborers together with God. -Christ's Object Lessons, p.402.
If you cling to self, refusing to yield your will to God, you are choosing death. To sin, wherever found, God is a consuming fire. If you choose sin, and refuse to separate from it, the presence of God, which consumes sin, must consume you. -Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 62.
Self is difficult to conquer. Human depravity in every form is not easily brought into subjection to the Spirit of Christ. But all should be impressed with the fact that unless this victory is gained through Christ, there is no hope for them. The victory can be gained; for nothing is impossible with God. By His assisting grace, all evil temper, all human depravity. may be overcome. -Testimonies, vol. 4. p. 349.
Self is so large in many, ever striving for the mastery. There are those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ who have never died to self. They have never fallen on the rock and been broken. Until this shall be, they will live unto self, and if they die as they are, it is forever too late for their wrongs to be righted. -Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 284.
Everyone who enters the pearly gates of the city of God will enter there as a conqueror, and his greatest conquest will have been the conquest of self. -Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 183.
The question now uppermost in our minds is How do we die to self? The answer is By being born again. In a previous chapter we listed ways one may discover whether he is born again. We shall go on to suggest ways in which the new life may be achieved. But before we think of this pivotal subject, and more clearly and forcibly to accentuate its meaning and depth, we shall think of another aspect of experience that many who live the Christian life go through.