The Empty Self

“What psychologists refer to as the empty self has frozen much of our post-modern culture. The empty self is made up of values, motives, and habits of thought, feeling, and behavior that twist and kill the life of the mind and make spiritual maturity difficult” (Smart Faith, Moreland and Matlock, p. 73). The empty self prevents us from realizing our spiritual potential and keeps us locked in a holding pattern around our possessions, status, prestige, appearance, and appetites. And if you feel like life has not amounted to much for you lately, then look no further for an explanation than in your priorities. Putting “self” ahead of others always leads to a sincere lack of fulfillment. “And all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them… Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11). Other scriptures similarly warn us that selfishness is a central spiritual problem:

Philippians 1:17 “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife (selfish ambition)”

Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing from selfishness...”

James 3:14 “…you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart”

James 3:16 “For where bitter jealous and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing”

Consider also what the scripture says, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom” (Proverbs 18:1). Only the fool thinks that self-interest is the ultimate source of fulfillment. And yet, when we step away from the rhetoric (with which even unbelievers would agree), do we not find ourselves being selfish on a daily basis?

An empty self will resist temptation and obey God, but only to avoid punishment, derision, or alienation. “I obey so that I won’t go to Hell.” The full self goes beyond this concern and obeys because he is interested in pleasing God. “Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).

An empty self is interested in status, which actually never impresses God (Galatians 2:6, Acts 12:21-23).

An empty self sees other people as means not ends. “How can I use this person?” “Should I be seen with him?” “What connections does she have?” The full self sees the value of all people, and recognizes that a truly God-like love (John 13:34-35) is only expressed by seeing people as ends not means.