Friday, October 5, 2012

Self-denial vs. Self-restraint/Self-control

Let me explain why I tend to be so adamant, so repetitive against legalism and the like.  It's dangerous -- and I know this from dieting.

So both my wife and I have been watching what we've been eating, and my wife had been trying a new tact: "Only 3 Deserts a Week".  And it sort of worked, she lost a bit right away... but then it stopped working.  Why?  Well, as she noted, she still had tons of cravings, and while she didn't do desserts and was a good little girl that way -- she ate too much other fatty foods trying to deal with those cravings... and well... plateaued. 

She noted that the attempt taught her the difference between self-denial and self-restraint.  She had the self-denial down - she could say no to desert, but the self-restraint, the self-control wasn't really there.

Here is the danger spiritually of legalism.  Legalism can push one into a state of self-denial, where by the power of will one say no to sin X -- but self-denial on X doesn't change the heart.  It might shape an outward behavior, but morality isn't merely a matter of "don't do X and then you will be good."  There are so many things, so many things required of the Law -- and focusing on a specific leaves so many other ways for one to gorge on other "fatty sins" while feeling so good and justified in avoiding the "desert sins".  What do I mean?  Consider some of the following approaches:

I don't use curse words ( but you will easily cut down and abuse your neighbor instead of building him up).

I am openly opposed to things like homosexuality and divorce (but you deftly ignore the lusts of your own heart).

I give my good tithe (but you ignore the neighbor in his need).

I never tell a lie (but then you don't put the best construction on things either).

There is always a bit of self-righteous denial that the old flesh will cling to -- the holy "tax" it will pay to let it have its way in other areas.  But this is not what righteousness is, this is not that fruit of the Spirit known as self-control. 

And thus we let the log get bigger and bigger, thankful that we have not our neighbor's speck.

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