The natural man is an enemy to God because it seeks to exalt itself; self worship is its principle objective. It subsists on offerings of pleasure and perceived importance. It is offended by anything or anyone else that competes for pre-eminence. Its favorite pastime is the creation and maintenance of elaborate fictions that reinforce that perceived pre-eminence. Those fictions are often referred to in the scriptures as “vain imaginations.”
Who is it you desire to impress? Whose validation do you crave? Who do you want to worship you?
When you try on an article of clothing at a store, monitor your thoughts closely. When you imagine yourself wearing that thing, who is it that you imagine reacting positively to your new acquisition? That is who you are trying to impress.
When you practice sports (think basketball or golf, for example), what is it you imagine in your mind’s eye? Who is it that casts an approving (if not adoring) look in your direction when you imagine yourself being successful? That is who you hope to impress.
When you imagine wearing an expensive piece of jewelry or driving an expensive car or telling a successful joke or earning an advanced degree or owning an impressive house or writing an engaging blog (ouch), who is it that you imagine will think positively about you? That is the person or group you hope to impress. Why do you want that person (or those people) to think fondly of/adore/worship you? Because that’s what the natural man craves.
The natural man does not need truth. Fiction is preferable because it is 100% manageable. I can pretend all day long that those around me think me smart, handsome, funny, talented, spiritual, or anything else I want and nobody can stop me. Simply imagining them adoring me is enough to fuel my natural man indefinitely. Well, almost indefinitely. At some point I will realize that no matter how hard I try I cannot control another’s perception of me. True superiority in any particular aspect of comparison (intelligence, good looks, sense of humor, etc) is more likely to invoke resentment and jealousy than it is praise or worship. The game is up as soon as I realize that all of them–all those people I’ve been working so hard to impress–are all natural men too. They spend their time imagining others worshiping them. They don’t have time to worship me because they are too busy worshipping themselves. Just like me.
As the facade of the natural man crumbles under scrutiny, we are left with two options: retrench and “spend [more] money for that which is of no worth,” and “labor [even harder] for that which cannot satisfy,” or give up and admit our utter hopelessness and helplessness (2 Nephi 9:51). Once I come to myself and recognize that I am a broken down mess of a being, and that the darkness and frustration inherent in worshipping myself can be immediately replaced with real Light and Truth and Love by turning my worship toward the God of light and truth and love, hope streams into my heart and I see light at the end of the tunnel. He–and only He–can save me from myself, worlds without end.
“And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever.” (1 Nephi 12:18)