Comfort—we all crave it, and too often we live for it. I wake up each morning to a fresh brewed pot of Starbucks, preferably Sumatra, but any dark roast will do. Sipping that first strong cup eases me into focus. Nice, right? But this pleasurable morning routine doesn’t hold up away from home, where such an aromatic wakeup is rare. Coffeemakers in hotel rooms are typically in the bathroom (just gross!), and don’t even get me started on powered creamer. So I resort to Diet Coke or to covering my sleep-wrecked self with a coat and a pair of sun glasses to embark on a search for a nearby barista. Over time, my morning pleasure, my comfortable way of easing into the day, has come to own me.
What’s your thing? Maybe it’s that mid-afternoon chocolate bar or nightly cocktail. Maybe it’s something completely unrelated to food and drink. Whatever it is, we can so easily worship the comfort god rather than the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). We worship this idol of comfort by orienting our lives on whatever promises to provide it in the fastest, easiest, most enjoyable way, and the more we indulge, the harder it is to cope without our comfort-providing substances. Our comforts become a prison of our own making.
At some point we become aware that overindulgence has trapped us, so we resolve anew to practice self-control and root out addictive habits. But that’s when we realize we’re stuck. We’ve been indulging for so long that we simply don’t know how to do life without our comforts and coping devices.
The good news is that Christ broke the power of enslaving habits on the cross, and all the sin of our self-indulgence was paid for there. Christ has set us free, and by the Spirit his grace is “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). We get stuck at this very point, though, because we so easily pass right over that “training” part. So let’s not miss it—the grace we receive enables us to stop bowing to the comfort god, but grace doesn’t do all the work for us. Renouncing the comfort god usually takes a lot of effort. Some claim that any sort of effort is a denial of grace, but that’s not what we see in Scripture. The fact that we even want to change is grace. That fact that we engage the battle is grace. The fact that we aren’t cast off when we fail is grace. And grace is even there in the discouraging two-steps-forward-one-back pattern, because the outcome is guaranteed for those in Christ.
Walk in the Spirit
Were it not for grace, we’d live out our lives devoted to pleasure, crying, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die!” (see Isa. 22:12–14; 1 Cor. 15:32). In Christ we know there’s something so much better, so we press on in dependence on our Savior, immersing ourselves in Scripture and being gradually transformed by the Holy Spirit. Change is inevitable for those in Christ, but it rarely bypasses a process, often an arduous one, and we are unlikely to go the distance unless we are willing for some discomfort.
So that’s the question: are we willing for a bit of discomfort if it means we can shake off our spiritual sluggishness and grow up in Christ? Even though we have to work at change, we aren’t left to ourselves as we do: “Walk by the Spirit,” Paul instructs, “and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). It’s really that simple—not easy, but simple. The battle for godliness is fought at precisely this point, because those desires of the flesh ache to be gratified. If we walk by the Spirit, if we are willing to forgo what we’ve come to rely on for comfort—and willing, for a time, to experience the discomfort that happens as we let go—our cravings to indulge will diminish. The Spirit leads us out of ourselves so that we are no longer preoccupied with how we feel, what we want, and what we think we need.
As we walk by the Spirit, we become increasingly preoccupied with Christ, and in the process, we come to look more like him. We reflect not the consequences of self-indulgence but the fruit of self-control, along with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness (Gal. 5:22–23). Paul concludes this section of Galatians with a command: “If we live by the Spirit”—and we do, if we’ve put our faith in Christ— “let us keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25). We can’t stuff ourselves with earthly things and simultaneously exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.
In Ephesians Paul sets up a similar contrast and reveals another facet of the Spirit’s fruit—gratitude:
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:18–20)
Sinful self-indulgence springs from an ungrateful heart. If we’re ruled by comfort or pleasure, at some level it’s because we believe that God is not enough for us. We judge him insufficient when he fails to meet our personal expectations of what we want and think we deserve. But as we keep in step with the Spirit, our thinking changes, and the craving to self-indulge grows weaker. Gratitude to God—not just words of thanks but a heart-deep belief—makes self-indulgence meaningless. If we belong to Christ by faith, we’ve been set free—gloriously free—from bondage to sin, Satan, and self.