At the risk of losing all credibility with some readers (though perhaps gaining with others?), I offer you two words:  Candied.  Bacon.

This was my daughter’s creative culinary contribution to my birthday menu on Sunday.  Strips of bacon, cooked partway in a skillet, patted down on both sides with brown sugar, laid out on parchment paper, then baked off until done.  (I can hear some of you salivating out there.)

How was it?

It reminded me a bit of the first time I tried homemade ice cream, made mostly with whipping cream and sugar.  That first mouthful or two is amazing, and you go back for more.  But the more you eat, the less amazing it gets: the sweet richness quickly becomes cloying and more difficult to swallow.

Candied bacon is like that.  Half a strip to satisfy my curiosity should have been just about right.  But I ate two, for a nice case of salt/sugar overload.

I love food.  I love to eat.  But I also try to eat wisely, generally following Michael Pollan‘s simple seven-word maxim: Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.  By “food,” Pollan means what your great-grandmother would have recognized as food–not something prepackaged with a list of ingredients you can’t pronounce.  So, yes, I consciously make it a point to limit my intake of processed food, including fast food.  I eat a good salad (not iceberg lettuce!) every day, and so on.  And I don’t do it grudgingly, as if someone’s forcing me.  This is my value, my choice.

Then why candied bacon?  Or more precisely, why that second strip?

There’s no denying that my taste buds (at least for a while) enjoy the fatty, salty, smoky sweetness.  But as I reach for that second piece, part of me is thinking, “Maybe I shouldn’t do this.”  And that’s when the nearly automatic rationalization kicks in.  Oh, come on.  It’s not going to hurt you.  You’re healthy.  You eat better than the average Joe.  And besides, it’s your birthday!  You don’t want to miss out on this.  So relax; indulge a little!

To be clear: there’s no eleventh commandment in my Bible or yours against bacon, candied or otherwise.  I can eat it in complete freedom, and my eternal salvation won’t be on the line.  But I suspect the kind of rationalization I described above isn’t limited to birthday bacon.

“Hate what is evil,” Paul says; “cling to what is good” (Rom 12:9, NIV).  And no, that doesn’t translate to “Hate bacon; cling to Brussels sprouts.”  But do we, in any area of life and behavior, rationalize indulgence with the reassurance that we’ve worked really hard to be good, so deserve a day off now and again?

I usually do pretty well following the rules.  Usually.  That’s not the same thing, however, as hating evil and holding tightly to what is truly good.  The pursuit of holiness can’t be done on legalistic grounds; if that were possible, there would have been no need for the cross (cf. the book of Hebrews).  And the very need to rationalize away questionable behavior suggests a lingering legalism that needs to give way to a sincere love of the holiness of God as demonstrated through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

I still need discipline, and always will.  Just not for its own sake, or the sake of being “good”–but because without it, amidst all the seemingly commonsense reasons to indulge my appetites, I will be less inclined to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8, NIV).

And that would really be missing out.