This article is part of Sister Michelle Watson’s deep dive into the concept of “deny yourself” (Mt. 16:24, Mk. 8:34, Lu. 9:23, 3 Ne. 12:30). Today’s sub-theme is self-indulgence.
Ice cream. A manicure. A morning on the fairway. Sleeping in. We each imagine something different when we hear the word “indulgence.” In our society, “indulge” has a positive connotation. There are millions of voices beckoning us to it, enumerating the reasons why we deserve it, inflating its importance to such a degree that we consider it an unalienable right.
Self-indulgence is antithetical to self-denial, so does that make it unequivocally bad? Is it OK to indulge a little?
After studying up on this subject, not surprisingly, I found plenty of hearty warnings against self-indulgence and a bunch of praise for moderation (Alma 38:12) and even privation.
If you want my personal opinion, I think it’s perfectly OK to “indulge” in innocent pleasures: a yearly family vacation, a night out with your spouse, birthday cake, that kind of thing — inherently non-moral things. This isn’t really “indulging” in the classic sense.
I think — and this is just my own personal feeling — it’s not OK to indulge in evil things … even a little bit. For example, getting drunk occasionally, gambling every now and then, watching porn just once. No way!
Have you ever taught a kids’ Sunday school class and tried to convince the students to eat “secret ingredient brownies”? You bake normal brownies but tell the class that you added just a spoonful of toilet water or a little dollop of doogie doo. I’ve never had a kid who touched them — even though I insisted quite persuasively that the tiniest pinch of barf couldn’t really matter that much. (Kids are smart.)
Hopefully that reinforces the point: a little bit of sin isn’t God’s plan for me.
I think God knew that I’d have a harder time controlling my “over much wicked” impulses than my “righteous overmuch” (Ecc. 7:16-18) impulses, and that’s why there are an inordinate number of scriptures with huge, flashing neon signs saying, “Warning! Self-indulgence = Danger!”
When I throw off restraint and discipline and yield to selfish appetites, I may find pleasure, but it’s temporary and hollow. Prov. 14:13 tells me that even when I laugh, my heart will be sad and “the end of that mirth is heaviness.” To me, that’s the great and spacious building filled with so many people today … laughing at late-night TV, clinking glasses at restaurants, and swiping credit cards with a smile, but they’re missing a deep sense of lasting joy and purpose for their lives.
Even though I seek the freedom to do whatever I feel whenever I feel, that’s faux-freedom. 2 Peter 2:19 says, “While they (the ungodly) promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption.”
Besides living a shiftless, frivolous life and becoming a slave to my own belly, are there other consequences to living a self-indulgent life? Oh my, yes. I found tons.
- Poverty and ruin – Prov. 21:17, 23:21-23
- Worldliness – 1 John 2:16, Mosiah 11:2
- Spiritual barrenness and death – Luke 8:14, 1 Tim. 5:6, 1 Peter 2:11
- God’s judgment – Jeremiah 14:10, Helaman 7:21-22
2 Timothy 3:4 says that in the last days “men will be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” Has this come to pass? I say yes. Turn on the TV, and it’s like Isaiah 22:12-13 in living color.
As things get worse in the world, and as Christianity becomes increasingly marginalized, I want to be like Moses as described in Hebrews 11:25. He gave up his status in Pharoah’s house and chose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
I know I can’t do this — resist self-indulgent behavior — in my own strength. The only thing for it? “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13).
And here’s another touchstone: “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). Now, how could any passing pleasure outmatch that?
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.
And the Church said AMEN!!! What wonderful counsel to take to heart.
Thank you I often wonder what world’s pleasures are: confused and disoriented. Basically under lining of what’s most precious and of value. Not to forget the adorned garments of strength. Let the spirit of death pass by and not touch. Delta variant.