Self Control in a Culture of Self Indulgence
“I don’t want you in my life anymore. I don’t need you. I thought you would make me happy, but all you’ve done is cause me pain. It’s over!”
I spoke these words to a package of chocolate chip cookies at 10:00 one night after the kids were all in bed. It’s a good thing that God saw fit to make me tall because in a matter of 2.5 years, I had managed to put on 30 pounds. But even my 5’ 9” frame couldn’t hide the extra lbs. any longer.
And what was even worse than my clothes fitting tighter was the fact that my health was starting to go down. I already dealt with the pain of a bad back with a curved spine and the extra pounds increased the pain that I constantly felt. Plus, the gestational diabetes that I developed while pregnant with our last baby never went away completely, so my love for everything carb ridden made even my pinky fingers swell up.
This wasn’t just an issue of being unhappy with my waistline. I’ve been a Christian long enough and attended enough women’s bible studies to know that “beauty is fleeting” and that “what’s on the inside matters most.” No, this issue was affecting more than my waistline. I knew that if I didn’t put an end to indulging eating habits, then my overall health was going to take a turn for the worse. I was on the brink of over loading my circuit with self-indulgence, and I was paying the price. I had been filling on up food instead of Christ. My threshold had reached its limit and I knew that something had to be done. Otherwise, it was going to be more than just the buttons on my pants that were going to blow! This indulgence of mine was negatively affecting me in everyway, which is what always happens when we turn to other things besides God to fill us up.
I knew that if I were going to be successful in doing this, it would have to be a lifestyle change. I already had the knowledge and even experience in eating the right way for my body. Developing gestational diabetes with my third pregnancy ended up being a blessing in disguise because I had to learn how to eat healthy. With my two previous pregnancies, I gained over forty pounds. When I was diagnosed during my third pregnancy, I started eating correctly and only gained 20 pounds. After delivering an almost ten pound baby, most of the weight was gone.
But over the course of 2.5 years, my eating habit slowly shifted back to what I knew wasn’t good for me. I had the knowledge, why couldn’t I just do it? Where was my self-control?
I began to think really hard about it. Why is it so hard to deny myself the indulgence of something like food? After thinking on it, I quickly realized that while it is a sin nature thing, it is also a cultural thing. Here in America, our motto seems to be: “if it feels good to your body, why deny yourself?” This is called Physical Hedonism. It means that physical pleasures are desired more strongly than spiritual joy.
When I don’t guard my heart against the indulgence of physical pleasures, my desires shift from God to myself. And when I become self-absorbed and focused on appeasing my own desires, I become full of myself and my awareness of God’s Sprit within me diminishes. I begin filling up on things that God never intended me to fill up on.
So I broke up with the cookies and determined in my mind to treat my body as I should rightly treat the temple of God. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 became my mantra:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (ESV)
Maybe, your issue isn’t with food. Perhaps you have awesome self-control in that area. (If so, we need to talk). In what area do you struggle with self-indulgence? Shopping? Lust? Laziness? A combination of these things?
Whatever area it may be, this truth will apply: The way you use your body and the way you take care of your body should communicate that the glory of Christ is all-satisfying.
As Christians we should strive to free ourselves from all enslavements, whether to food or drink or lust or laziness or work. Filling up on things that leave us empty in the end, is so dangerous. The persistent refusal to say no to an enslaving habit runs the risk of hardening our conscience so that we no longer feel guilty for that enslavement. And then others become easier to justify and before we know it, the whole biblical concept of spiritual warfare, vigilance, self-denial and self-control drops out of our life.
When I am struggling to exercise self control in an area of my life, this quote that my father-in-law once used in a sermon comes to mind: “Sin takes you further than you ever wanted to go, keeps you longer than you ever wanted to stay, and takes more than you ever wanted to give.”
When I first started to over-indulge with food, it’s not something that happened over night. I was in a vulnerable state with three small kids, we lived in a secluded area where ministry was really hard, and I didn’t have any close friends or family nearby. I was close to depression and my lack of sleep at night from an infant, a toddler, and a child on the autism spectrum left it extremely hard to have a daily quiet time. I’m sure the devil saw it as open season on my soul. I was in the perfect, weakened place ready to indulge in whatever would fill me up momentarily. I didn’t have to search very far. All I had to do was walk a few steps to the kitchen pantry. Fortunately, I’ve always enjoyed exercising so that helped cover up my over-indulgence for a little while but there’s only so much exercise that a girl can do before that nightly pint of ice cream starts showing up in the hips!
So there I was, 2.5 years later and 30 lbs. heavier. My sin had definitely taken me further than I ever wanted to go. How did I develop self-control in this area?
Take Every Thought Captive
I am not a psychologist. Let me just throw that out there. However, I’ve had to deal with enough of my own craziness to recognize this: Thoughts influence feelings and feelings lead to action.
When trying to overcome any sin in our life, its imperative that we consider what thoughts have been running rampant through our minds, whether they are feelings of loss, loneliness, jealousy, fear, lust, pride, etc. The transformation of Lucifer the angel to Satan the devil is the perfect example of loss of self control which all started when sinful, violent and prideful thoughts entered his mind. These thoughts turned into rebellious feelings, which he then acted upon. Let’s take a look at Isaiah 14:12-15:
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.”
Most of the time, when I found myself reaching for that pint of ice cream, I wasn’t even hungry. It was always after a long day of juggling three small children and trying to balance that with church ministry. Y’all, mommy guilt is real. There is so much pressure to be “super mom” in today’s culture and I fell victim to this unattainable goal. I constantly fought thoughts ranging from the “I’m not _____” to the “I’m too____”. In my mind I was not enough and too much all at the same time. (still working on this!) When thoughts like these crossed my mind, I began to feel inadequate, worthless, and like a failure. I didn’t deal with these feelings. I pushed them to the side and did the only thing that seemed logical at the time. I ate my sorrows away. Or so I thought. Turns out the sorrows didn’t really go away. They just relocated…to my hips. This is what it looks like in equation form:
“I’m not____”= “I’m worthless”= eat a pint of ice cream to make me feel better
Even though I can look back now with a little light heartedness, I never want to forget how miserable my thought life was making me. I knew that if I were going to overcome my lack of self-control when it came to food, I was going to have to start by taking a good, hard look at my thought life. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians that we are to take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:5) How can we take this command and apply it to our incorrect or sinful thoughts, that we may obey Christ and have joy in Him? We submit everything we think — all of our ideas, all of our worldview, all of our viewpoints to God — and we say, “God, let your Word dismantle me if necessary.” We have to be in the Word and use it to sift out the worldly views that we hold. We also need to ask the Holy Spirit to work, because Paul said we don’t fight with mere human fleshly arguments. Christ in us is power.
Replace Negative Thoughts with Biblical Truths
Not only is it imperative that we take our thought life captive, but we also have to replace the negative thoughts running rampant through our mind with biblical truths. Whatever habitual sin or struggle that you may be dealing with, whether it be over indulgence in food, alcohol, drugs, smoking, shopping, stealing, lust, etc., it’s likely that these things are triggered by something. My over-indulgence of food was triggered by stress from an accumulation of things. When the stress began to overwhelm me, my negative thought life consumed me. Stress is sometimes out of my control, but the way I respond to it is within my control. So when I started feeling down on myself and beating myself up, I began to reach for my bible instead of ice cream. When thoughts of failure crossed my mind, I constantly reminded myself that I am a daughter of Christ. I poured over scripture that reminded me just how precious I am to God….that He chose me…that He died for me…that He knows how many hairs are on my head…He knows my quirks….He knows my flaws and failures and the dark places I try to hide. He knows the regrets I have and the mistakes I have made. He knows my ups and downs. As His daughter, I have a safe place to turn to when life feels overwhelming. He is my security and my sanctuary, even on my worst days. He is strong and dependable and He will never leave me. His love is perfect…more whole and complete than any spouse….more persistent and passionate than can ever be found in any relationship….
………And way better than ice cream!!!!
So where does self-control come in? Everywhere. Self Control ties in with all the other fruits. If we truly desire to live a life full of the Spirit, we need to develop the habit of self-control in all areas:
1. It takes self-control to show true Godly love instead of lust and infatuation—to love others not as the world loves, but as Christ loved us. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2)
2. It takes self-control to have Godly joy when we are facing a difficult situation in life.
3. It takes self-control to get along with others and make peace instead of constantly getting into conflict. “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9).
4. It takes self-control to patiently bear with others rather than quickly condemning them. It’s very hard to be “patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
5. It takes self-control to not automatically look out only for yourself but kindly look out for other people (Philippians 2:4).
6. It takes self-control to do good, to go through the narrow gate toward life rather than the evil, wide gate toward destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).
7. It takes self-control to be faithful and not have our faith shattered by the mocking of scoffers (2 Peter 3:3-4).
8. It takes self-control to be a gentle servant of the Lord (2 Timothy 2:24), showing compassion and mercy with real love as God does with us.
Self-control is really hard because our flesh does not like to be denied anything. However, God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us. Galatians 5:16 says: “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
Whatever fleshly desire we struggle with, we need to pray for wisdom and power to make the right choice when we are tempted. We need power beyond what we can find on our own. We need to be in the Word with the intention of putting into practice what we read. The Holy Spirit will direct us in knowing how to do this if we only ask.
Fill Up on Christ
God created our souls to crave Him. However, we spend so much time, energy and resources trying to fill a void that only He can fill. Filling up on something other than God diminishes our commitment and will make us feel increasingly distant from Him. What area(s) in your own life lack self-control? What worldly things are you filling up on instead of Christ?