There are many ways people may let their appetites get out of control. A mother might spend far more time working out at the gym than she needs to keep in shape, neglecting her family responsibilities in the process. A young person might love the adrenaline rush from thrill-seeking activities, such as extreme skiing and class-5 river rafting, to the point that he risks his life. And what about caffeine? Or cigarettes?
As diverse as are the moral weak points of the human race, so diverse are the forms overindulgence may take. Yet all forms of overindulgence have something in common: they are ways of feeding an appetite. People have a type of hunger, real or perceived, and then try to feed it in a way that is inappropriate. Maybe they are greedy for sensation. Or maybe they have an emotional hurt and are trying to mask it with a high or the yumminess of a dessert or a “fun fix.” Either way, they need to understand their real problem and address it in a healthy way. Overindulgence will only make matters worse.
Of course, there is such a thing as Christian freedom. Some would justify indulging their appetites on the basis of that freedom. But the apostle Paul preempted such an argument: “You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is good for you. And even though ‘I am allowed to do anything,’ I must not become a slave to anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
No, we must not become a slave to anything. Not drink. Not drugs. Not food. We must serve God alone. As we do so, He will enable us to make better choices in what we will consume. He will heal us spiritually, enabling us to partake of substances or experiences in moderation (if limited consumption is safe) or keep a distance from whatever substance or experience threatens to destroy us.
Moderation is the proper response when overindulgence often involves substances or experiences that are good in themselves. In itself, food is good; we need it to survive and it provides enjoyment. In themselves, a house and the things we put in it are good; they help us to live our lives in safety and satisfaction. In itself, entertainment is good; it gives us both relaxation and mental stimulation. What’s bad is when we use these good things to the point of excess. Defining what is “excess” is a challenging, personal struggle.
In other cases, however, overindulgence involves substances or experiences that are wrong, period. Shooting heroin, for example, is always illegal and always destructive. The response in a situation like this should be what we might call an extreme form of moderation: abstinence. Here, any indulgence is overindulgence.
Through prayer, you can seek God’s help to know whether moderation or abstinence is right for you in a given instance—and what “moderation” would mean in your case. Moderation is what God wants to see in our lives. As we overindulge in our favorite ways, God grieves because He knows we are not filling ourselves with what we really need, and that is more of Himself. We can never get too much of God.
The preceding article is an extract from Chapter 12 of Soul Prescription by Bill Bright and Henry Brandt. To purchase the entire book or e-book click here.