The Bible calls the false self flesh. But flesh carries a negative connotation that can mislead us as to its real meaning. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife . . .” and a whole bunch of other bad things (5:19-21). Those are true, of course. The flesh does produce those things. But the flesh can produce plenty of things that look perfectly acceptable on the outside, like self-reliance, dependability, self-discipline, etc. The flesh, or the false self, is simply the body and soul operating apart from the Holy Spirit.
The false self is a soul-based self. It is the soul operating independently of its Source. I don’t want to minimize the vital role of the soul in God’s economy. The life of God through us must be expressed through the soul. But His life is expressed through a soul dependent upon its Source, not acting independently of it.
As an unbeliever our spirit was dead to God, so we became dominated by our soul (psuche in Greek). Our soul was turned toward the world, getting its direction and validation from the external environment. We were a natural man, as Paul called it, living a soul-based (psyche in English) life.
Somewhere along the way we got saved and our sins were forgiven. And we wanted to live this thing called the Christian life, but we didn’t how to live out of our new spirit. So we fell back upon our only other resource: the false self. It knew how to get along in the world. We just made a few adjustments to fit the Christian scene. We were sitting ducks for the how-to books, which told us how to manipulate the false self to make it more effective in getting along.
Although having the Holy Spirit in our spirit, we didn’t know about the Holy Spirit living the life of Christ through us. So our mode of operation was the same as for the unbeliever: self-reliance. That’s what the false self is: our attempt to independently operate our own lives. As Christians, the false self even tries to do it for the glory of God.
So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them: "I'm here to introduce you to this God.... He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him!" ~Acts 17