Okay, admit it - you indulge yourself once in a while, don't you? While on vacation a couple of weeks ago, I found my muscles achy and tired. Our timeshare had a huge whirlpool tub big enough for two people and guess what I did? Yep, I indulged myself in almost an hour's soak in the bubbling warmth of those powerful jets! I think my BFF came looking for me after about an hour just to be sure I had not slipped under the water and drowned! When I stepped out of those waters, my aches were gone and I felt like a new woman. That short period of "indulgence" made all the world of difference in the aches and pains of the day. It may not take much indulgence to actually meet our needs, but when we do indulge we need to make sure it is for the right reasons.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galations 5:13 ERV)
By definition, to indulge is to allow yourself to follow your own will. Herein is the problem - most of the time our "will" isn't very reliable! We give into our own will and find we are traveling down a path we'd just have soon avoided. That hour in the whirlpool was a great indulgence because my body needed to work out the kinks. The candy bar I ate at lunch yesterday - not so much! When we "indulge", we yield to something which demands to be satisfied. In the end, we may be satisfying a much needed thing, but we must weigh our "urges" up front to ensure we are yielding to the RIGHT things.
We are called to live "free" lives - not governed any longer by each and every urge of our old nature. You know the nature I mean - that one which caused you to always demand your own way, doing things which fulfilled all your own desires, but often neglected to see the desires of any higher authority in your life or counted the cost of those desires up front. Maybe this is why we need this frequent reminder to live free, but to not use that freedom to indulge our fleshly desires. There is more to the desires of the "flesh" than to eat candy bars at lunch! In essence any time we respond to the desire to do things independent of Christ's counsel in our lives, we are taking our freedom to an extreme that he never intended.
The rest of the passage goes on to say if we bite and devour each other, we are not using our freedom in the correct manner. I think this may be the one way we use our "freedom" to the extreme - we think we can look down on the actions of another (almost in judgment) because we think we have a better vantage point or something they don't quite have to the same degree. Freedom in Christ is never intended to divide, but unite. Whenever we use our freedom in a manner which sets us out as "elite" or "better than" we are operating in the realm of the flesh and have reverted to acting in a way which is unbecoming a follower of Christ. We don't need to condone sin in our midst, but we also don't need to nit-pick the beliefs of another which may not be as well developed or slightly different from our own.
We must maintain biblical truth - this is paramount to being a follower in Christ. Yet, when we become so focused on the "letter of the law" that we don't see the person struggling to make sense of the law for themselves, we miss the intent of grace in the first place. Maybe this is why churches seek to set out a "seeker friendly" framework by which they operate these days. We have moved away from suit and tie, panty hose and dresses, choir robes and pulpits. It is not such a bad thing! What we have done is opened the doors to those who don't feel comfortable in suits, panty hose, or with pulpit pounding! Not a bad thing, in my book. As long as we never compromise the elemental truths of scripture to become "seeker friendly", we are not violating any principles as Christ would have taught them. In fact, he commends us being able to become all things for all men. Just sayin!