Right from the womb, we, human beings, are naturally predisposed to satisfy ourselves. We know nothing but to be self-centred–observe the behaviour of any tiny baby around you. We basically live to satisfy our own desires, which are primarily evil before we are regenerated (Ephesians 2:1-3). We would be asking for too much if we tried to persuade an unbeliever not to walk according to the longings of the flesh. Romans 8 reminds us that those who live in the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh and that, even if they wanted to, they could not fulfil the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:7-8). Therefore, according to the Bible, we can confirm that we are all born selfish. In summary, we can conclude that self-satisfaction focuses on ‘what I want’.
However, not everything we want for ourselves is necessarily sinful or destructive. Therefore, we need to note that a very thin line exists between habits or things that would be self-satisfying yet okay and those that would be purely selfish and evil. We may want things for ourselves that we may not necessarily need (a ‘want’ is something I can do without, and a need is something I cannot do without), which becomes a slippery slope. Some of the things that would be okay and self-satisfying are food, playing games, exercising your hobby, e.t.c. In order to differentiate between harmless and harmful self-satisfaction, we must note that anything that does not increase our objectivity in terms of involvement outside of ourselves will stunt our pursuits for godliness.
There are many ways that these truths play out in our lives. Think, for instance, how often you want to do the following, not from the point of need but mere gratification.
- Food. The necessity of food is undeniable for all living things. When we lack food, we become susceptible to many health issues because our bodies need food to function properly. Be that as it may, we know that we do not always need to be eating. Our bodies need just enough to perform optimally. But shockingly, the presence of food has now formed the basis for many medical issues. For example, overeating ends in obesity or bulimia nervosa, and undereating ends in anorexia nervosa. There are many other disorders, but these are the most common.
- Rest. Anyone who works must have time for rest so that the body can recuperate and rejuvenate. After creation, God rested (Genesis 2:1-2), and he commands us to take time and rest after our labours (Exodus 20:8, 31:3-17). However, the whole concept of rest must directly relate to the work being done. Nobody needs to rest if they have not worked.
We can add more examples to this list, but at the core, we must consider what the Bible says about the things we desire. This will keep us from turning helpful things into unhelpful objects and instead do all for God’s glory.
Passions of the Flesh
Many passions lurk in our hearts. Scripture is replete with such examples and even warnings. Paul says in Galatians 5:19-21 that the deeds of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. We know that such deeds do not just fade away when we are born again. Our battle with temptations and sin continues because we still live in these sinful bodies on this side of eternity. Being in Christ means that we have been released from the bondage of sin and are freed to do good. Romans 6:11-14 reminds us of our responsibility to ensure that the lusts of the flesh do not take control of us.
- “…consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – The word ‘consider’ means looking at something carefully and with intent. Here, the Bible exhorts us to be careful and intentional not to live as sinners but as those who are alive to God and in Christ. This is a daily fight because dying to sin will undoubtedly result from dying to self first.
- “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” – Again, the word ‘let’ indicates responsibility on our end. Since we are in Christ, we must always remember that we operate from the winning side of our battle with sin. Through the power of the Spirit of God in us, we can resist the passions of these mortal bodies.
- “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” – Presenting our members to sin means living in and cherishing sin. However, if we present ourselves to God, in other words, abide in him, we become instruments of righteousness. Verse 14 of Romans 6 ends with the ultimate victory declaration: “For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under the law but under grace.”
Here, we see that the passions of the flesh are real, and we cannot ignore their power to put us into slavery. However, we must live in light of our ability, by God’s grace and empowerment, to shun sin and pursue a genuinely satisfying life in Christ.
The Sinful Side of It
We need to explain the sinfulness of self-gratification, given its impact on our relationship with our Creator. We begin by defining the word sin to have everything else in perspective. From Genesis 3, the Fall of man, Adam and Eve’s sin is primarily an issue of rebellion and living independently of what God has said. For example, God commanded them not to eat the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden (there is nothing wrong with eating a fruit). The wrong is not in the eating alone, but the defiance thereof; the command was simple, “Do not eat…”.
One may argue that there is no way we can live without a level of satisfaction. But, much as it takes some logic, we need to taper our indulgences to what honours, glorifies and flows with the character of God in scripture. The rule of thumb should always be, “Is it honourable before God? Does it go against scripture? Does it truly reflect the character of God in scripture?” Remember that though everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23).
Everything we do has a consequence, whether good or bad; and ‘good’, in our case, is not based on what we feel after engaging in things but weighed against the perfection of God’s standards and character. The Law of physics, known to many, states that every action has an equal and contrary/ opposite reaction. It is the Law of sowing and reaping. Jesus said in John 8:34 that when we practice sinful things, we become enslaved to sin. Romans 6:16 tells us, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” That is quite straightforward.
Examples in the scriptures include the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), who went away and knocked himself out with whatever he wanted, and things turned out terribly for him later. Or the king David (2 Samuel 11-12:23), who went out of his way to satisfy his sexual desires with another man’s wife. The situation spiralled out of control and led to many bad things in his family. So we can see that the issue may not just be satisfying ourselves. Whether good or bad, there is always that which we shall reap from our indulgences. So we must think forward and not just about the here and now.
1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God provides a way to escape every temptation. It does not matter what it is, there is always a way out. Remember that temptation is an enticement to live independently of God, only to satisfy ourselves. The way out is not some hidden door that opens miraculously somewhere in the air. No! Our escape is provided by the work of the Spirit of God through the Word of God. Paul calls the Word of God the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:12-18). We cannot go to battle without a sword.
As we continually abide in Christ, we can rest assured that we are free to live for the glory of God alone since, in him, we have the power to resist our sinful passions.