Sunday, 16 January 2011

Self-indulgence, self-control, and being truly human

In our previous post, we talked about the modern problem of sexual essentialism - that is, making sexual expression essential to being human. So, if I can't have sex, I'm "asexual" and miserable and life is meaningless and I might as well die.

In contrast, we asserted that real humanity comes through being Christian - being forgiven by Christ, by being in relationship with God through him.

Self control is not a-sexuality - it's just controlling those urges, managing them. Self-control is an expression of our humanity - of our dignity and power. We are not slaves to our appetites; we are powerful, intelligent beings, in the image of God himself (Gen 1:26-27).

We know self-control is good and healthy because Jesus did it. Jesus managed his appetites - even when the appetite, in itself, was actually a good one - when he knew that appetite was being used by the devil to try and get him to sin.

In Matthew ch 4, Jesus is combating the devil in the wilderness.
Verse 2: "After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry." That's a perfectly normal human response. It shows Jesus was fully human - he had an appetite for food. Usually, there'd be nothing wrong with satisfying this appetite - with eating.
Verse 3: "The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." The devil tried to use a normal, healthy human appetite to get Jesus to obey him. That's what the devil does - he uses good things to try and trick us, to suck us into following him.
Verse 4: "Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"" Jesus was more interested in obeying God than filling his appetite - even when the appetite was, in itself, good and normal and healthy.

Sex is good. God created it. But he meant it to be used by one man and one woman, for life. Anything else is the devil, using an appetite that is, in itself, good and normal and healthy, trying to trick us into following him, instead of God.

I've applied this reasoning to sex - but it's much broader than sex.

Think about anger. Let's say we're angry with someone because they've spread lies and gossip about us, and have turned some of our friends against us. That's a good and healthy desire for righteousness, for truth.

But what can we do with that desire? Well, we could plot revenge; we could go scream and yell at them and have a punch-up; we could spread gossip and slander about them... or, we could love our enemies, do good to them and pray for them (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35); we could conciously give up on revenge (Rom 12:19); and thus, in our anger, we would not sin (Psalm 4:4; Eph 4:26).

That's difficult. It takes self-control. But, that's what Jesus did. What did Jesus say on the cross? Luke 23:34: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" - he prayed for his enemies. Self-control is an expression of true humanity.

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