Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Allow Me to Indulge Myself

Adapted from the message given on Sunday, September 14, 2008 at Titusville Branch Fellowship

A dictionary definition for self-indulgence begins with: "indulging one's own desires, passions, whims, etc." Obviously, many desires are not intrinsically harmful, but indulging in many desires can be damaging – physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

The definition adds this phrase at the end: “especially without restraint.” I would like to add the word “external” immediately before the word “restraint”. We can all exercise restraint; many times we do not want to. To the people who think they cannot control themselves, let’s just change one element of their situation. Let’s add another person. It is amazing how much control they have when another person is present.

Selfish Ambition
I was thinking about some words or phrases in Scripture that connect to self-indulgence. One of them is selfish ambition. James 3:16 says “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” Selfish ambition can be self-promotion, or perhaps the desire for recognition above others. No one likes to listen to people who brag. But how many times does the word “I” or “me” show up in our conversations?

Fleshly Desires
Some other phrases in Scripture relating to self-indulgence come from 1 John 2:16: the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The lust of the flesh can mean many things, but simply it means fleshly desires. Do we master our fleshly desires, or do they master us? Romans 8 says the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God and cannot please him. Cain is told in Genesis 4:7 that “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Here is a fallen man, without any power of a resurrected Christ in his being, being told by God that he could and must master sin. How much more can the believer, who has Christ’s resurrection power in him, overcome sin. The Bible does not afford us much excuse here for helplessness against the flesh. Unfortunately, though, much of our present day doctrine does not allow for this type of victory.

Desires of the Eyes
The lust of the eyes, too, carries many ideas. It can merely mean the desires of the eyes. Do we care how we appear to others? Our culture leaves few of us untainted by this stain. From what we wear to what we drive to what we live in, we are often so self-conscious of how people perceive us. James Dobson says that 80% of people’s self-esteem is based on what they think others think about them. So we parade around acting confident and secure, when secretly we are aiming to look good in others’ eyes, our confidence shattered at the slightest indication of disapproval. John writes that many religious people were not confessing Jesus, “because they loved the approval of man, rather than the approval of God.”

The Pride of Life
Many of us desire position and power. Sometimes we want to be esteemed because of our place or accomplishments. Sometimes we want to keep up with (or be ahead of) the Joneses. For some reason, there is an inflated sense of security and worth that come from having what society says is significant. This shifting sand plays into the hands of corporate merchandisers, and they exploit us because of it. Greed and covetousness is so often spoken against in Scripture. Coveting is breaking one of the ten commandments. It is called idolatry in Colossians 3:5. Jesus himself says, “...be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Let Me First
We often get caught up with a more subtle type of self-indulgence. We think our time runs away from us, when in actuality we are being pulled, leash in hand, by the bulldog of our own busyness. Consequently, Christ’s kingdom comes in second place to our own kingdoms. Two would-be disciples tell Jesus in Luke 9, “let me first...” before they will follow him. Jesus says that such ones are not “fit for the kingdom of God.”

Be On Guard
Jesus warns us to be on guard against self-indulgence in Luke 21:34. Religion, however, does not provide the answer for dealing with self-indulgence. Read what Paul says in Colossians 2:20-23:

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
So what are we to do? True life doesn’t consist of a bunch of rules religiously kept. True life comes from knowing God, knowing Jesus Christ (John 17:3). The real victory over self-indulgence comes through Jesus-indulgence. As we indulge in him, his kingdom, and the lost, self-indulgence is displaced in our lives.


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