Giving Self-Indulgence a Rest
Thursday, April 2, 2020
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
- Col 2:20-3:2 (ESV)
What’s so bad about a little cookie?!
How many of you have sworn you’d only eat 1 cookie, but 10 minutes later you had lost count somewhere between 5 and 10?
The reality is the appetites of our flesh are ravenous and relentless in their demands. They want to be satisfied now! In one of my favorite novels, A Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde malevolently quips, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself …”
While Wilde was certainly no advocate of regulations like “do not handle, taste, or touch,” he was keenly aware of the beast within. Whether one chooses to indulge the flesh or live by a strict asceticism, both approaches share in the misguided focus of keeping our sights set too low—on the temptation and appetite that will perish with it. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both (1 Cor 6:13).”
What is to be of use in fighting the desires of the flesh? The war against self-indulgence has everything to do with where we set our minds. Paul says, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Don’t think abstractly about heaven or Christ. Think concretely about His promises. Think concretely about who you are already in Christ and who you are becoming. We don’t fight self-indulgence empty-handed; we triumph over it with a victory song of a better future and better rewarder. Set your minds there and keep them there. We must weigh the gravity and goodness of God’s plan against the shallow and bitter fruit of indulging the flesh. We must love God with our minds in this task. Set your minds.
The danger of self-indulgence for Christians is that it poses a very real threat to our destinies, whether it’s our physical health or eternal salvation. Satan’s lies to us date back to the Garden of Eden when that ancient, indulgent fruit was first proffered, “You will not surely die…” (Gen 3:4). Self-indulgence is a small decision that disengages from a big plan. And in that big plan of reconciling us to Himself in perfect unity without spot or blemish, the journey of sanctification is just as important as the destination of salvation.
What tool has God given us to squelch our appetites and set our minds on things above? Sabbaths.
My family makes a lot of long (12+ hour) road trips. On a road trip, there’s a difference between taking “rest stops” and “other” stops. A bona-fide rest stop is a place where you can rest from the journey and practice self-care. Stretch your legs. Use the restroom. Refill your water bottle. Check your progress on the big state map. God gives us rest stops on the journey of life each week — they’re called Sabbaths. Embracing the gift of Sabbath is perhaps one of the best ways to fight self-indulgence. The mandate to rest and worship each week nourishes our body, mind, and soul--keeping our minds on things above and making us stronger for the journey.
Those “other” stops… are posited as a “rest stop” off the highway of sanctification, but they're not. We make those stops to feed our appetites, not to nourish our bodies. Promising signs and advertisements lure us off the path. They’re often farther from the road than we thought. We’re soon asking, “how did I end up here”? Instead of helping us continue the journey, these “other” stops only make us drowsy and create an appetite for more. These self-indulgent detours are anti-Sabbaths. Instead of getting Sabbath rest, feeding our flesh makes us weaker, worse off, and even threatens our ability to arrive at our destination.
May setting your mind on Christ fully revive your spirit as you practice the Sabbath. The fellowship to come at His banqueting table will make us weep over the cookies of today.
Our Father, lead us not into temptation. I need Your grace daily to put my flesh to death and become who You’ve already declared me to be in Christ. I need Your Sabbath rest weekly to fully set my mind on things above. Our focus is not on the rules, nor on what we “give up”, but in seeking You where we have such great reward. We gladly exchange the pursuit of self-indulgence for a better satisfaction, and in You we are not disappointed. Come, Lord Jesus!
Ministry Director, Christian Union Lux