It's been my experience that before I can fully conquer any problem, I need to understand the problem as well as possible, especially its origin.
To do that with "self," we must go back, way back, to that ancient scene pictured for us in the second and third chapters of Genesis: the garden of Eden. What a super spot! Beautiful beyond description, a perfect, pollution-free atmosphere, luxurious foliage, fragrant flowers, crystal-clear water—that garden would make Tahiti look like a pigsty by comparison.
And on top of all the physical beauty, there was absolute innocence. No sin. Which means that Adam and Eve had a relationship that was free of hang-ups. The last verse in Genesis 2 verifies that: "And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25).
Naked. Laid bare. Open. Not just physically but emotionally as well. That explains why they were not ashamed. The Hebrew construction suggests they were not ashamed "with one another." There was this remarkable openness, a lack of self-consciousness in each other's presence. Talk about the ideal marriage! Their discussions, their actions, their entire existence were non-defensive, unguarded, and absolutely unselfish.
How could it be? No sin. Therefore, no selfishness. Until . . . You guessed it.
Enter the Devil with his alluring offer, and exit innocence with its pleasurable benefits (Genesis 3:1–6). And the result?
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. (3:7)
Don't miss what that says about their eyes. They were opened. There was a sudden, shocking realization they were naked. Seems amazing to us, doesn't it? You and I couldn't be more aware of those times when we are naked. Just a half-opened zipper makes us blush.
But remember the difference. Suddenly, those two became self-conscious. They'd never known those feelings before. You and I have never known anything else.
What we read here in the Genesis account is the origin of self-awareness, self-concern, and selfishness. And it all started with willful sin.