Breaking the Power of Your Body over You
Recently I was giving a lecture on how every sin arises out of our not being in right relationship to God, and that idolatry (worshipping something rather than God) is the "root sin" behind most all other sins. It is because we think that there is more joy in money than we do in God that we steal, cheat, misplace our priorities or overwork; it is because we think that there is more joy in the praise of others than we do in the praise of God that we feel jealous, lie to exaggerate our accomplishments, etc. It is because we think there is more joy in the sensual pleasures that we forsake the laws of God to indulge in them.
I was asked how the idea that idolatry is the sin behind all sins applies to bodily cravings we can't seem to control, like sexual lust, overeating, oversleeping, etc. My answer was that many times our bodily cravings for something have a "soul" dimension… i.e. our overeating or looking at pornography is a way of dealing with stress (from which we should be finding respite in God), or it is manifestation of our desire to control… so in those cases, our inability to indulge in bodily cravings has a soul dimension. My answer, however, did not satisfy me, nor the person that was asking.
So, I took some time to mull it over, and here is what I think (with the help of John Owen): when we cannot say no to our "lusts," be it for food, alcohol and drugs, sleeping that extra hour, sexual gratification, or the impulses of anger, it is because our bodies exercise an extraordinary amount of control over us. It speaks, we obey; we cannot say no. Even when we know we want to say no we cannot.
The will of God does not carry the same weightiness to us that the impulses of our body do. In that sense, our "addictions" are a type of idolatry. We have ascribed the control that should belong to God to the impulses of our body.
The key to overcoming addictions is a 1-2 punch: to strengthen the power of God's authority in our lives and to weaken the power of the body over us. We do the former by learning to adore and worship God more, which comes primarily by growing in our understanding of and experience of the Gospel. The primary way to overcome the influence of the body over you is to allow a greater influence to take root. Puritan Thomas Chalmers called this "the expulsive power of a new affection." In other words, we will overcome sexual urges NOT by learning to love sex LESS, but by learning to love and enjoy God MORE.
But how do you do the latter, i.e. weaken the power of the body over you? You "beat it and bring it under subjection" (Romans 6; 1 Cor 9). Learn to say no to the impulses of your body in all areas. Never do something simply because it's what you want; always let the will of God have the last say. Even in those areas where indulging your body is not sin, make sure that you are always giving greatest thought to the will of God. The body's mastery over you is a total package. Let's say that you are one of those people who can eat all you want and not gain weight (by the way, I hate you) and so you never have to say no to your desire for food. Still, if you always must eat whatever your body tells you, it is strengthening the power of your body over you. This is one of the reasons why the Bible tells us to fast as a way to not enter into temptation. By denying our body's impulses for food, we weaken it's impulses period.
So, for those of you (like me, and really all of us) who struggle with the control of some physical gratification, spend time today growing in your knowledge of God and love for the Gospel. Focus on denying the impulses of your body in some area. Give fasting a try!