Two Wolves Battling Inside You10/24/2017 | 5 Minute Read | Author: Nate Carden
Self-control is a fruit of the spirit. But what is self-restraint? The definition describes it as holding oneself back, limiting or restricting oneself, keeping oneself under control, depriving oneself of freedom or liberty, to bridle oneself…etc.
But why practice self-restraint? In other words, why should we fast?
As I read the Bible, I try to find clues that will help guide me towards good paths and away from dangerous ones. I have often wondered, in reading through the Old Testament, how Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, was deceived into abandoning his God and ushering in the downfall of Israel. Solomon himself leaves us a clue in Ecclesiastes 2:10 where he said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.” When Solomon became king, he was granted one wish by God; he chose wisdom. God gave Solomon wisdom but did not stop there; God added to wisdom wealth, renown and peace with Israel’s neighbors.
Solomon lived a pretty fun life, at least from the outside looking in. He had the sweetest crib in the Middle East; if he was attracted to a girl, he married her (he had 700 wives and 300 concubines); if he wanted to be catered to, he had servants galore. On top of all this he had God’s favor. For a large part of his life Solomon enjoyed the best of both worlds. I’ll bet you Solomon loved the Lord and would have never intentionally left the good path. I think he just gradually drifted from the path by listening a little too much to his flesh, his earthly nature. When he was first starting down the wrong path, his eyes might not have even desired sin. It could have even started with non-important things like a piece of pie every night after dinner or an extra hour of sleep every morning.
The problem is that the more you give in to your earthly nature, the stronger it gets. Every time you say “yes” to your earthly desires you give your earthly nature more control over your life. My grandfather refers to these two natures that battle within us (the heavenly nature and the earthly nature) as two dogs at war with each other. Maybe he got this analogy from the Indian chief Sitting Bull who is attributed to have said the following:
“Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog, all of the time.” When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied “The one I feed the most.”
Solomon may have reached the point where he said, “well, I already have 699 wives, what is one more going to hurt? And plus, that daughter of Pharaoh is SO fine!” I’ll bet you his heavenly dog (his conscience) probably piped up at some point and whimpered, “God said not to marry women from other countries,” to which his earthly dog just replied, “shut up, boy, I do what I want.” Or something like that..
As Christians, our goal is to glorify God, something we cannot do if we are ruled by our earthly inclinations. So how do we turn the table and make the heavenly dog the stronger one? It is a mix of taking food away from the earthly dog and feeding the heavenly dog. You can starve the earthly dog by doing things you don’t feel like doing (ie. working out, getting up early, doing the dishes..etc) and by denying yourself things your heart desires (ie. checking facebook a hundred times a day, dessert, new shoes..etc). Starving the earthly dog and feeding the heavenly dog is a powerful combination. This is why God highly encourages fasting. An empty stomach leaves room for the spirit to grow!
This is not to say that you are never to enjoy pleasures in this world. On the contrary, I’m all about some brownies and ice cream on occasion. I’m not an ascetic. The key is why we deny ourselves certain pleasures. I do not make my body suffer for the sake of suffering. I make it suffer so it remembers who is boss 🙂 I will not let my sweet tooth own me. I’ve heard an Orthodox priest say before that “hell is always having to do what you want.” That made sense to me at a gut level. If I am a slave to my flesh I am no better off than animals who must obey every inclination they have. On the other hand, the more I can choose not to obey my flesh, the more human I become. Jesus came to make us fully human (Christ is the first human being) and free us from our slavery to sin.
The Apostle Paul says it this way, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27) Our goal is righteousness, and we deny ourselves things, like an athlete on a diet, in order that we might, by the grace of God, finish the race and win the prize.