Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest.

According to ethical egoism, I should only do what benefits me. That doesn't mean I must be the only benefactor. Ethical egoism does allow for others also benefiting from my actions, only so long as the act also serves my long-term interests.

The Bible could be seen as advocating a similar view. I must have faith because without it I can't be saved, and being saved is in my long-term interest.

Does the Bible advocate ethical egoism?

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    Just to clarify, would this be equivalent to asking if, say, Ayn Rand's philosophies would fit with the Bible? Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 4:09
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    I think the Wikipedia entry sums it up nicely "ethical egoism (also called egoism)". If your sole goal is to do what is in your own interests, the 'ethical' part is really irrelevant. Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 18:12
  • Wait, are you basically asking whether Christianity advocates doing good because it will get you into heaven?
    – svidgen
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 3:57
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    This is one of those yes or no answers. By faith yes, by faith it is more blessed to give then receive, therefore by faith sacrificing yourself is whats best for your self. Faith knows God's will is best, and one should not hate one's self and not do what is not good. On the other hand if by this we mean selfishness through unbelief, then of course no. I think faith loves God and delights in his will, so in faith our good and our pleasure is God - this is the best life, so yes. You see? There is a holy selfishness (faith and virtue) and un unholy kind, unbelief and the lusts of the flesh.
    – Mike
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 8:45

5 Answers 5


Short Answer, No.

1. The model of Jesus argues against it

In laying down His life for creatures he made, Jesus had absolutely nothing to gain. Being God, he is in no way contingent upon us. Despite this, he willing gave up the perks of being God, humbled himself, and became obedient unto death - even the death of a cross! Now, yes, because of this, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father. (Phillippians 2:5-12) But remember, he was already God, so it wasn't needed. So, from the standpoint of Jesus, the answer would have to be no.

2. Biblical teaching argues against it

When Jesus said, "You must take up your cross, and follow me," he did so knowing there would be no gain. When Jesus said, Blessed are you when men shall persecute you and revile you for My names sake, he was being clear that this was not a path to power, riches, or fame. Even Peter admitted that the disciples had given up houses and family- and Jesus replied that they wouldn't be paid back for any of those things in this life. So, from an instructional point of view, the answer must be no.

In Acts 5, when the first believers came together, they willingly shared all they had in common. From a Randian perspective, for example, this is sheer lunacy. To give up all they had just out of love is completely contradictory. So, from an early practioner's point of view, the answer would have to be no.

Furthermore, James and many others stress humility - that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Using the term doulous (a slave), Christians are regularly told that their duty is to serve one another in Christ, and that "the first shall be last, and the last first - " all the exact opposite of self-interested service of any kind.

3. The definition of Love argues against it

Overall, the major theme of Johanine literature is the idea that people should be able to recognize Christians by their love. Love often involves a cost - As Jesus said, no greater love hath a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Jesus showed his love for us in this - that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Likewise, Paul explicitly defines love as something that "Seeketh not its own" (1 Cor 13). So, from a theological point of view, the answer would be no.

4. Original Sin suggests that grace overrides man's choice anyway

Finally, far more Christians adhere to the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity than its heretical opposite (which I now know to call Pelagianism). Total Depravity says that as a result of original sin, man's will has a fundamental defect that prevents it from seeking God on its own. That man can be saved is an act of grace - unmotivated by selfish interest from a perfect God - and (as Paul says), not through any work, lest any man should boast. In other words - even if man is inherently self-interested in the out come of faith, it isn't really a choice he is even capable of making in the first place. (Here, some Arminians might say that God supernaturally enables man to make a free choice - but even there, the act of grace is required to get man to the place where he can choose in the first place.)


In short, I can't think of a way to make Rand and Jesus go together. So, from a answer standpoint, I'd have to say, no.

  • What about the irony the questioner pointer out? Is it in one's long term self interest to have faith in The Lord?
    – user3334
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 19:18
  • From an objective standpoint, yes. Heaven...Hell...*weighs them in each hand* Yes, Heaven is far better. But, self-interest isn't what motivates a born again Christian to have faith in the Lord. Self-interest, or selfishness, isn't a fruit of the Holy Spirit. A Christian is motivated to have faith in the Lord out of love.
    – user900
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 4:56
  • Thank you @H3br3wHamm3r81! I hope you don't mind that I used your comment to springboard back into who actually does the motivation. Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 14:06

The answer is YES, as a starting point. God understands our hearts, that we are self-seeking and self-centered. He understands that we have all the animal instincts and an inanimate spirit.

2 Peter 1:5-7 explains the steps of maturity God puts us on. First, he offers us all the benies of answered prayer, gifts of the Holy Spirit and peace. We are trying to answer our fears that hound us. Second step is doing good for others for more benies. Not very far away from ego. Third step is obeying His word for more benies. He is the God of love, so He will get us to do things that express His love. That gets us more in the physical habit of goodness. Ayn Rand would agree with this because this is the extent of what Capitalism offers.

The fourth step is sanctification. We find we CAN'T obey and need to call upon His grace to change our heart to be able to obey. We become accomplices in moving toward love. The fifth step is perseverence. This is where we learn deferred gratification of our benies. There is another place where we can store up benies for the future - Heaven. The sixth step is godliness. We pray for and put on God's (or Christ's) perspective, his attitude. We begin to identify with him and what will be ours in Heaven. The Seventh step is love of the brethren. This is a pressure cooker for love, since we are taught to outdo one another in loving each other. We let down the rest of the guards in this environment. The Eighth step comes out of the seventh - walking in the same unselfish love that God has. It just overflows from the seventh into the eighth.

This evolution from total selfism to total unselfishness takes a lot of time. Mother Teresa walked down this road for 30 years to get where she ended up.

  • So, from an Arminian perspective, I can see this - but how do you account for man's bent nature? Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 14:08

Men should humble themselves before God and men. We came into the world naked and leave in this world naked. Everything belongs to God. Why should we be proud and self-centered when we don't own anything? We are dependent on God--our breath and life here on earth. He created all things for us. Every good gift is from above. The only thing we are proud of --is what He has done for us. If you are His child--receive Him by faith (John 1:12) you are His child and many assurances He promised in the Bible. I am secure, I am accepted and I am protected. All what I have came from Him. I used it for His glory not to glorify myself. We have no reason to be egocentric but to humble ourselves. He is My shepherd and I am His sheep. (Psalm 23)


Most definitely, the Bible is all out a person seeking one's own highest good--but not from a world perspective. Rather, we should seek our own highest good from an eternal perspective. This is what one Christian teacher (I think it was Piper) called "Christian Hedonism". So, let's address some obvious questions:

What will bring me the absolute most pleasure?

The psalmist proclaims that it is God who fills him not with temporal pleasures, but with eternal pleasures. Temporal pleasures are worth infinitely less than eternal pleasures, because anything eternal is infinitely longer than anything finite. Psalm 16:11

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11 ESV

So, if we want the greatest pleasures, we should seek God and let Him give them to us.

What will bring me the greatest joy?

Jesus told His disciples in John 16 that they were about to mourn while the world rejoiced, but He would see them again and they would rejoice--and no one would take away their joy. The implication is that after Jesus saw them again, it would be after the resurrection, after sin had been atoned for, after Satan had been vanquished, after their pardon had been purchased, after their inheritance in heaven was assured. So, living in a relationship with Jesus gives us the same joy that was given to the disciples then.

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. John 16:22 ESV

Thus, the one who seeks the greatest joy for himself will find it in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Riches and Wealth

So, what about riches and wealth? Well, it depends on what types of riches and wealth we are talking about. There are temporal riches and wealth, that are destroyed by moth and rust and are taken away by government (and other thieves). Then there are eternal treasures that moth and rust cannot destroy and that government (and other thieves) cannot take away.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:19-20 ESV

So, if someone wants to obtain the greatest riches possible, he does so by loving and serving God, which will be rewarded by God with eternal treasures in heaven.


So, if someone wants to have the greatest pleasure, possessions, and prominence, he should love God with all his heart, serve God with his life, and abstain completely from sin--since sin is always to our loss.


I think the Catholic answer, as well as the general Christian answer, is yes and no.

So firstly, Yes:
The motivation to do good presented in the Bible is often the attainment of happiness, joy, and heaven. One of the main topics during the sermon on the mount and/or plain is how to be happy by loving people. However, it's also made quite clear, in the course of the whole Bible, in many Christian doctrines, and by the examples of many saints, that this is not the ideal; it's a stepping stone to real love.

So also, No:
Love, in its purest, is not self-interested at all. It acts from a state of joy, not a state seeking joy. It acts from heaven, not a place seeking heaven. It acts from the knowledge and sense that God already loves me, not a sense that God will love me if I do good. Love, in this ideal sense, is fueled by the fact that we're already inexpressibly joyful, per our relationship with God, and that, being able to gain nothing, we desire in a knowingly unquenchable manner to share the joy inherent to that relationship.

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