"Selfish" seems like too tame a word to describe the reckless condition of the human heart in its fallen state. We are, by nature, more than selfish, we are selfists. Self is our god, selfism is our religion, and we are devout selfists. Even after our conversion, having received a new heart and spirit, we are still tempted and taught to put self before God and others. Most often I believe we are led back into selfism through an over-investment in good things that god has given us. It is easy to begin to trust in our assets, external and internal, as if they were our hope rather than the Giver of such things. Some trust in their beauty, others in their strength. Some find their identity in their intellect, creativity, or success (in a career, or parenting, or... anything). It's when we lose sight of the God who gives us such gifts to use and enjoy in faith that we begin to see them as merely a reflection of ourselves.
The Danger of Selfism
Selfism is dangerous because it denies grace, and catalogs all assets and achievements as the fruit of our own labor or at least something deserved. This kills thankfulness and gratitude and cultivates pride. As a religion selfism isn't opposed to including God as an add-on to our lives, but only so long as he doesn't get in the way of what comes first. Selfism hates or ignores the achievements of others unless they somehow benefit self. It rejects the two greatest commandments for the doctrine of me-first-ology. In the end selfism is dangerous because it always fails, and leads a man to a great fall. You see, selfism can't answer the real questions we are asking, nor provide us with what we most desperately need. Self is an impotent god that cannot save. And when we have built our hopes, security and identity on our assets or achievements, their failure to deliver us will leave us with nothing but despair.
The Defeat of Selfism
Only one thing has been able to defeat selfism. And I'm not thinking about selfism as an idea out there, but as the ongoing temptation within my own heart. Selfism can only be defeated through the cross of Jesus Christ. On the cross the Son of God denied himself and his own life to save us. He emptied himself to save a people full of themselves. Jesus laid down his life to turn selfists into selfless worshippers of the triune God. Selfism is defeated through Christ's perfect atonement for this original sin by which he has freed us from our guilt and condemnation. By delivering us from slavery to false gods and reuniting us to our Maker and Redeemer he has rescued our identity from things small and temporal. Selfism is defeated in us as the Holy Spirit empowers us to follow the selfless example of Jesus who lived sacrificially for the pleasure of the Father and the redemption of humanity.
Let all selfists and those tempted toward selfism repent by turning their eyes outward and upward, away from self to the self-existent and self-emptying God who is enthroned in heaven.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4 ESV)