Can a person be self-sacrificing and still be selfish, and can self-sacrifice be a bad thing?
It can be, but not always. It all depends on the motive.
We all are self-sacrificing for something. Most people don’t sacrifice the 40 hours a week they work for someone else because they are unselfish. They are self-sacrificing of that time to get something in return.
True godly self-sacrificing is when we do something and get nothing; when we know ahead of time that we will get nothing; and when we don’t expect to get anything in return. There’s no expectation of a thank you, no expectation of praise, no reputation building. It is not wrong to receive any of those things, but the point is we can do things that look self-sacrificing when really we were just trading our time, talent, or resources for something else. That something else could be pay, appreciation, or esteem. Again, receiving pay, appreciation, or esteem is not bad; these things are actually good. But if we are doing good things to receive anything, then we aren’t really sacrificing; we are trading our time, talent, resources for something else.
So a person can appear to be sacrificing, but what they are really doing is trying to please the boss to get a raise; this is not wrong, but it is not sacrificing. Rather, it is working hard to get a raise.
Outwardly both self-sacrificing and working hard might look the same. The difference comes down to motive. Only God knows the difference, and those of us who ask Him to reveal our real motives and whether they are selfish or not.
Giving love in return for love is not selfish; it is self-gain, which is not necessarily bad in and of itself. The world would not exist if self-gain was not hardwired into every living creature from plants, to bugs, to humans. While self-gain can look like or feel like self-sacrifice, it is not truly self-sacrifice.
If the motive is for self-gain -- which is not a bad thing; working to get paid is self-gain, but it is not bad -- then it might look like self-sacrificing, but it is not self-sacrificing.
We need to differentiate between self-sacrificing and co-dependency. They look very similar, but one is good and one is not healthy. This is another area that looks like self-sacrifice, but it is really a way of getting our need to be needed met.
True self-sacrifice is Yeshua dying for the sins of the world, including for those who will never accept it.
Can self-sacrifice be a bad thing?
Yes, if it is not what God called us to do at the time. There were attempts to kill Yeshua, but it was not the time. If he would have allowed it at an earlier time, it would not have been in harmony with God’s will; thus it would be self-sacrificing, but it would not be a good thing.