Enemies of Moderation
Moderation involves harnessing our appetites and guarding against extremes in everything we do. Moderation requires a consistent assessment of our behaviour. Because moderation requires consistency it is very difficult for the lazy or undisciplined person to practice.
Laziness is itself an act of extremisim. It is over indulging in sleep, relaxation, entertainment etc. The moderate will practice a reasonable bedtime and waking time (Prov 6:9-11). He will discipline himself to do all things with reasonableness, avoiding extremes in every area, including food and rest.
Another enemy of moderation is legalism. The legalist seeks discipline or temperance through the rigid adherence to rules.
The legalist is prone to extreme swings in his spiritual devotion. When he finds himself over-indulging his flesh he will make some new rule or extreme decision to abstain from something that is not necessarily sinful. His lack of moderation leads him to make unneccessary rules. Unlike Paul, the legalist seeks to control himself, not from an inward desire to succeed spiritually, but from the outward pressure of a set of laws.
This is different from the “laying aside” of “every weight” which we saw above, in that the legalist feels that the rules themselves will result in spirituality. He hopes that if he abstains from enough sin he will automatically be on his way to spiritual maturity. What the legalist misses is that Christian maturity is a matter of spiritual transformation on the inside, not outward reformation on the outside. Rules and standards are important, if they are for the purpose of allowing our relationship with Jesus Christ to fluorish. The legalist has a tendency to allow rules to replace relationship.
The legalist is prone to extremism in every area. He can swing from over-indulgence in the flesh to extreme decisions for God and back to his flesh. He is the one who has “rededicated” his life to God countless times, but never seems to stick to it. He has never learned moderation.
One doesn’t have to be a legalist to act like one. Sometimes the lazy, undisciplined, unorganized Christian can get fed up with their inconsistency and as a result make drastic decisions in their life in an effort to get their spiritual life in order. These people decide to get rid of their TVs when they spend too much time watching. They cancel their internet access to combat their obsessive surfing. They start an extreme diet when their eating is out of control. And, within a week or two they are out shopping for another TV, reconnecting their internet and back to their old eating habits. Why? Because the extremism that was behind their lack of spirituality is the same extremism that drove their spike in spiritual interest. What this Christian needs is not more “decisions for God” or more rules. They need to learn self-discipline and moderation.
In addition to laziness and legalism, another enemy of moderation is liberinism.
The libertine is one who is not at all concerned with moderation. He feels that since he is “under grace”, he need not worry about self-discipline. He indulges his flesh, figuring he can simply ask God’s forgiveness if he stumbles into sin. His overarching concern is not “knowing God and the power of his resurrection” (Php 3:10), but getting as much sensual satisfaction out of this life as he can.
Laziness, legalism and libertinism are all enemies of moderation. The successful Christian life is one of consistency and discipline not “mountains and valleys” of spiritual interest. If you are experiencing constant or extreme “ups and downs” in your spiritual life, you are lacking self-discipline and moderation.
Learning Moderation – The Key to Genuine Liberty
Ironically, it is not the lazy, the legalist or the libertine that experiences the most liberty. It is the moderate. The Christian who has learned to handle his appetites with moderation is free to experience all sorts of things that the lazy extremist or the legalist cannot. Because the moderate, like Paul, has learned “not [to] be enslaved by anything”, he can enjoy things that the lazy extremist or the legalist could not handle (1 Cor 8).
While the lazy extremist is in bondage to something and the legalist is making new rules to govern the use of that thing, the self-disciplined Christian is enjoying it in moderation. Whether it be entertainment, food, social media, sports, hobbies or anything else, the self-disciplined person can enjoy them all without fear of bondage. He has learned what is reasonable and enjoys them to that extent.
Essential to the Christian life is self-discipline. At the moment we became disciples of Christ we entered into a lifestyle of self-denial and discipline. Paul understood this well and even likened it to the disciplined life of an Olympic athlete. We do not work for salvation or to earn God’s favour, but we do work diligently to avail ourselves to the tools which God has given us for spiritual growth (His word, prayer, fellowship, preaching, etc). We also work diligently to protect our spiritual life by abstaining from sin and by doing everything else in moderation.
The Christian walk is one of consistent discipline. When we consistently pray, read God’s word and apply it, we will see growth. But the hit-and-miss, inconsistent Christian who swings between extremes of devotion and apathy will never make much spiritual progress.