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Thursday, June 8, 2017

How To Out-Indulge The World

The human heart has a problem with moderation.  We tend to binge on whatever we enjoy.  This is why there are so many calls to self-control in the Bible – our tendency to over-indulge needs to be reined in (Pro 25:28; Gal 5:22-23; 1 Tim 2; 2 Pet 1:5-7).

We might say that this is due to our idolatrous hearts, but it may be more appropriate to say it is due to our propensity to worship in general.  We have been designed to be enamored…with God.  But due to the Fall, our impulse for fascination chases after the creature to the exclusion the Creator (Rom 1:25).  Certainly, there is nothing wrong with being fascinated with the creation, but only in moderation and only in appreciation for the Creator.  In excess, that fascination crosses over into worship, which should be reserved only for God. 

Our culture pushes this to the extreme by making over-indulgence a virtue.  Christians beset by as-yet-unsanctified flesh can feel frustrated by the constant pull in two directions – the pull by the flesh to enjoy the creation in excess and the pull by the Spirit to live a self-controlled life (Gal 5:17).  Perhaps the key to overcoming this frustration isn’t resigning oneself to a life of deprivation, but rather indulging to the fullest in the one thing that cannot be enjoyed to excess – the love of Christ.

The Puritan John Flavel, in his short treatise, Christ Altogether Lovely, wrote:

“The beauty and holiness of creatures are ensnaring and dangerous.  A man may make an idol out of them, and indulge himself beyond the bounds of moderation with them, but there is no such danger of excess in the love of Christ.  The soul is then in the healthiest frame and temper when it is most overwhelmed by love to Christ.”

When it comes to enjoying the love and fellowship of Jesus, we never reach a roadblock that says, “this far and no more.  You’re going to overdo it.”  Rather, listen to what Paul prayed on behalf of the Ephesian church:

[I pray that you] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:18-19)

Don’t miss that – Paul prays that they would know something that can’t be known!  He prays that they would know the love of Christ…that surpasses knowledge.  And he prays that they would be filled with all the fullness of God – another impossibility.  Finite creatures can’t be filled with an infinite God.  What can this mean other than that Paul’s great desire for the church is for them to keep knowing and keep knowing the love of Christ – an unending journey – AND that they would keep being filled and keep being filled with God – an unending filling? 

The reason that overindulging is a bad thing isn’t because too much joy in itself is a bad thing.  No, overindulging is a bad thing because the object of that joy is bad for you, when enjoyed in excess.  NOT so with Christ.  Your innermost desire to indulge in joy was created for this very thing – to know and love Christ.  Therefore, there is no such thing as OVERindulging in Him.  We might call it super-indulging, but never overindulging.  There is no overdosing on Jesus.  It’s only, only good for you.  That’s fantastic news. 

Our impulse for joy, when focused on the wrong thing, leads to overindulgence, which must be reined in by self-control.  But when it comes to enjoying Christ, all restraint can be laid aside!  For it is in Him that our created desire for joy finds its intended purpose. 

Further, obsession with Christ is the one area in which moderation is not only not called for, but is positively dangerous.  One of the most common causes of spiritual malaise is that believers enjoy things other than Christ to excess, while enjoying Him only in moderation, if at all.  Is it any wonder then that they fall under the weight of anxieties, depressions, besetting sins, and spiritual apathy?  Moderation in enjoyment of Christ will drown the soul! 

It would not be a stretch to say that the lion’s share of sorrow and pain experienced in this life is due to overindulging in created things and underindulging in the love of Jesus.  What a tragedy to be frustrated by the confines of moderation regarding lesser joys, when Christ calls for unrestrained enjoyment of Him.  He came that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

Believers, by focusing on the one thing we were created to enjoy without limitation, can out-indulge and out-enjoy the world.  And in the process, we can point the way to true life and worship in Him through the gospel of Christ. 

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