Indulgence Is a Hollow Reward

Ethel Mae woke up in the middle of the night and decided to get a drink of water. But on the way to the refrigerator, she passed the candy dish and grabbed a butterscotch candy. Then on the way to the cupboard for a glass, she opened the snack drawer and grabbed a Hostess Twinkie.

Then she took her glass over to the refrigerator to get some chilled water and stopped off at the cookie jar for some peanut butter cookies. Finally, she picked up the pitcher and poured herself some water. And grabbed the leftover pie on the top shelf before she shut the refrigerator door.

After munching on her treats, she headed back to bed and crawled under the covers. But she accidentally woke up her husband, Harry, who said he felt thirsty.

“I’ll get it!” Ethel Mae said . . . getting up with a big smile.

We’re All Self-Indulgers

I can’t say I’ve had a middle-of-the-night food binge like that, but when I went on a food program to get healthy and lose weight, I soon realized how indulgent I can be.

Jon Bloom at DesiringGod writes, “We are all self-indulgers. The whole lot of us. Let’s just admit it upfront and help each other fight!”

Indulgence is foolish and selfish. And sinful!

Peter the apostle urged believers to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). When we indulge rather than fight or abstain from our fleshly passions, we’re only inviting more problems.

I’m not talking about the planned-for dessert or a well-chosen (and hopefully healthy) occasional “treat.” There’s a difference related to motive.

We know the ugliness of indulgence when we see it. Fleshly indulgence puts a damper on our desire to please the Lord and is contrary to wisely stewarding our bodies.

Fleshly indulgence can be obviously heinous, whether it involves eating or sex or any other activity God created for our good and our pleasure. Our enemy loves to corrupt anything good. And the unrighteous who do not know the Lord gladly indulge in the enemy’s temptations (1 Cor. 6:9–10).

Subtle Idolatry

But for the Christian, indulgence can also come in the form of subtle idolatry.

Idolatry, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “the worship of idols or excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.” It’s anything that replaces the one, true God in our lives, grabbing our affections and controlling our behavior.

I sense the subtlety of idolatry when I can’t stop stuffing my face! Food becomes my god when I am a glutton (Phil. 3:19), when I have “excessive devotion” to food. I know full well how the desires of the flesh can lead us to shame and thoughts focused on earthly things.

It’s true of overeating, indulging in sexual appetites outside of God’s will, excessive shopping, and other willful habits.

But the enemy of our soul can even deceive us into believing indulgence is a good thing—a REWARD!

What? A reward?

Yes, with twisted thinking, some of us might believe indulgence is a reward for obedience. Nothing could be further from the truth.

You Deserve It!

I discovered this trickery while deep into my healthy eating plan. I proudly marked off a week of staying “on program” and said to myself, “You deserve a treat!” So I started with an extra “allowable” food bar—which is really a candy bar dressed up in protein. Then I had a few animal crackers. Then a brownie. Then an ice cream sandwich.

Soon, I was totally out of control. I was living out what my Christian nutritionist described as the disease of “MORE.” It’s a “heart” disease, and escalating indulgence is one of the clues I have it.

We need to be careful when we equate “deserving” with indulging. Indulgence—too much of a good thing—can be a first step on a fresh journey away from self-control.

That’s how crafty this form of idolatry is. The thing we indulge in—in my case, sugar or overly starchy foods—can become a driving master in our lives, and soon we’ll find our indulgence addictive and destructive. Our emotions can trick us.

Jon Bloom says, “At the moment of indulging, it doesn’t feel like an enemy. It feels like a reward that makes us happy. . . . But after indulging, defeat hangs like a heavy yoke around the neck of our souls.”

When I went on my binge, I thought indulgence was my “reward” for obedience and wise choices. But that was a lie—a false promise built on a false premise.

My reward should have been the joy found in pleasing the Lord, in living to the praise of His glory.

Rather than the joy of fulfilling a temporary craving, I should have focused on eternal truths like the one found in Luke 9:23–25: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. . . . For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”

The truth is indulgence should not be part of our lives in any form, including pride, greed, gluttony, or any lust of the flesh.

We should be awake and have control, not be sleepy and indulgent (1 Thess. 5:6). As believers, our bodies are God’s dwelling place, and we are set apart for His glory (1 Cor. 6:19–20; Eph. 1:4–6). Being “set apart” is being sanctified and holy and those words are incongruous with the word “indulgent” (1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Peter 1:16).

The Real Reward

But I have to confess, sometimes it’s just plain hard not to indulge. That’s when I need an eternal focus. I must remember my real reward is the prize awaiting me from the Lord at His return.

As Jesus said in Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense [reward] with me, to repay each one for what he has done.”

And believe me, His reward will be a lot more satisfying than a middle-of-the-night food spree.

Do you struggle with indulging in sinful attitudes and behaviors? What is the lie you are believing or the false promise you have embraced?

About the Author

Dawn Wilson

Dawn Wilson

Dawn Wilson has served in revival ministry and missions for more than 50 years. Dawn assists Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, … read more …

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