I Can’t Resist
The use of humor and sentimentality in advertising makes this deadly message of self-indulgence seem less harmful than it is—even funny or cute. Self-indulgence grows when we give in to excess, often by spending money or eating certain foods. We repeatedly give in until that activity becomes a settled behavior and we’re unable to resist gratifying even the smallest whim. It becomes an addiction. Giving in to small, seemingly benign, culturally acceptable temptations leads to enslavement. People of faith are not exempt; those in whom the Word of God has been sown may find that the “care of this world . . . and deceitfulness of riches” choke out the life of God in them (Mt 13:22 kjv).
For example, I’ve always wondered how King David could commit adultery with Bathsheba and murder her husband when he lived such a faithful life overall; he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14). But while reading his whole story again recently, I saw that this evil didn’t come out of nowhere. For David’s entire adult life he practiced polygamy over and over in violation of God’s law, marrying six wives and keeping numerous concubines (2 Sam 5:13; 1 Chron 3:1). Every time he took a wife or concubine he gave into the enslavement of that inner voice: I must have her! Committing adultery (and having to cover it up) was the next logical step.
Self-indulgence is self-destructive.
It destroys integrity one good intention at a time and eats away at the capacity to think about loving God and others. Self-indulgence invites us to be not only in the world, as Jesus was, but also of the world, with character and habits that look just like everybody else’s (Jn 1:10; 9:5; 17:11; 1 Jn 2:15-16). Disciplines of simplicity are powerful because they move us away from self-indulgence just for today: don’t buy this one thing; don’t sign up for one more activity; don’t mention this last accomplishment to anyone. Even when we practice these restraints only temporarily, they still train us not to grab what we want now.
In the midst of our discomfort during these little experiments, something beautiful happens within us: the enormous river barge of our life that’s flowing toward self-indulgence is turned around and begins to move upstream toward self-giving Christlikeness. Simplicity practices chip away at self-indulgence by interrupting our reflexive habit of doing whatever makes us happy. They make us aware of our excesses: driving five miles out of my way to have my favorite hamburger instead of eating whatever is handy; checking phone messages now because I can’t pay attention one more second to this long-winded person talking to me. To set limits by eating simply or checking phone messages only twice a day teaches us to die to self when we automatically reject the urge to insist on getting what we want when we want it. Such little decisions toward selflessness are so nurturing that pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James advised us to deny ourselves a little something each day. Then when our will is truly thwarted, we don’t become crabby or manipulative. We respond in faithful, loving ways rather than seeking revenge or simmering with quiet resentment.
Johnson, Jan (2011-04-05). Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace (pp. 27-29). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.