The Sin of Self-indulgence

One of the great divisions which exist in human society today is that between poverty and plenty-between those who “have” and those who “have not".

We who live in the West have recently been shocked by accounts of starvation in some parts of the world which are so horrific as to be beyond imagination. While some have given, often generously, to help meet the appalling need, it is difficult for us, from our vantage point of comfort and sufficiency, to look with true understanding and sympathy on those who suffer so terribly.

By our encounters with extreme cases of human want, however, our excesses and indulgence are challenged. Our consciences should be troubled as well as our hearts moved. But we so easily forget. After all, we may argue, why should we not enjoy to the full the blessings which God has so obviously given to us?

In the pathway of Christian disci-pleship, it is not easy to distinguish between enjoyment and excess, between legitimate appetites and licentiousness, between satisfying our needs and pandering to our desires. It is quite possible for us to consume more food in one celebratory meal than our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia will get in a month. Our consciences arc cushioned because we live in a world which, by and large, has for its motto the words, “Let us eat and drink-tomorrow we die”. It is significant that one of the signs of the coming in glory of the Son of man will be that people, as in the days of Noah, will be “eating and drinking” when the judgment falls.

The Christian must learn how to behave wisely and worthily in a world of permissiveness, promiscuity and self-indulgence. Young people especially are exposed to temptations and pressures of various kinds which are aimed at driving them in the ways of moral corruption so common today.

Does the Word of God have any clear guide-lines to offer for living in the face of such conditions? Most certainly it docs and, in so doing, furnishes further evidence of the changeless relevance of the Scriptures for every age.

Note in particular the challenge presented by the apostle Peter. “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul”, 1 Pet. 2. II. These words clearly indicate the conflict and tension which exist between those attractions which are sensual and the soul, the inner being, of the believer.

If such a conflict does exist and if such abstinence is demanded, what is to be the Christian’s defence in the face of temptations of the kind mentioned? Let us consider this matter from three standpoints.

1. The Meaning of Self-denial. The Lord Jesus said plainly, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”, Mark 8. 34. In these striking words, the Lord Jesus makes plain that all would-be followers of His must deny to themselves those values and pursuits which militate against true discipleship.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of those ways of life which mark the walk of the Gentiles, 4. 17-20. By “Gentiles”, he means the godless world around. In the futility and emptiness of their darkened minds, they give themselves over to licentiousness and to impure, unclean living. They set out to satisfy their sensual desires.

To his Ephesian converts, Paul says, “Ye have not so learned Christ”. For the Christian there must be a deliberate “putting off of the old sensual life, as if it were a worthless garment, and a definite “putting on” by a decisive act of choice, the new life in Christ.

As Christians, we should have a correct sense of perspective: the things of the new man must come first. We must choose those things which promote true discipleship.

2. The Meaning of Self-discipline.

Through our bodies we give expression to the ambitions and desires of our hearts. It is interesting that, in 1 Corinthians, Paul has two important things to say about the Christian and his body.

Remember that the city of Corinth was noted for its sensuality and moral corruption. Corinth was a by-word for all that was debased and defiled. In Corinth, self-indulgence was a way of life. Yet, firstly, to the believers at Corinth, the great apostle says, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”, 1 Cor. 6. 19. What a staggering thought! In Corinth, with all its abandonment to corruption, there were people indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Surely this would settle all sensual problems for them, preparing the way for purity of life.

Notice, secondly, what Paul says of himself, “So fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway”, {lit., one disapproved, disqualified), 1 Cor. 9. 26-27. One translator has vividly rendered the opening words, “I am no shadow-boxer, I really fight. I am my body’s sternest master”. What then is Paul saying? That to engage with success in the Christian life, discipline is needed to deal with one’s natural appetites. To be spiritually healthy, Paul indicates that he took the most severe measures in dealing ruthlessly with all those influences which would disqualify him from receiving the prize.

The priority of his life lay in gaining the prize. Too often, by laziness and greed, by time-wasting and frivolity, the wonderful qualities of spiritual wellbeing are allowed to slip away, often never to be regained.

Young Christian, beware of indulging in pastimes and in encouraging desires which hinder your spiritual growth!

3. The Meaning of Self-control. In the light of what has been said, the young believer may be forgiven for asking, “Where should I draw the line between those things which do and do not matter in life?”. Very often our choices do not lie so much between that which is good and that which is evil as between that which is good and that which is better-or best.

Take time to read I Peter 4. 1-3. The apostle is speaking of the active lusts or desires of the flesh-the urge to indulge bodily appetites.

Peter reminds us that Christ suffered in the flesh! He is saying that, humanly speaking, the Lord Jesus knew what it was to pay the price of the complete surrender of His body and all its desires to one purpose alone; namely, to do His Father’s will. Here we learn what self-control really means. In the Lord’s case, everything was surrendered to God’s will. We are to arm ourselves “with the same mind".

As a result of this dedication, involving us often in abstinence from certain kinds of so-called “pleasure”, the world will regard us as crazy. But self-indulgence and excess belong to the old life which has been cancelled out by the cross of Christ. They belong to “the time past”. The will of God is now the controlling factor in the Christian’s purpose. It is to do it that we live!

Young Christian, as we conclude, take courage! Remember that one feature of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world!


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