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
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.