By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
One of the most important fruits of the Spirit we find listed in Galatians 5 is self-control. On the list of topics that preachers can preach or teach on, I am not sure if this one often lands near the top of the list.
What if I told you that self-control was not only possible but is expected? When you look at what the Bible says about self-control, we know that this is something that God desires in every one of us. Thankfully he has given us the tools to make it happen.
What Is Self-Control?
According to Dictionary.com, self-control is the control or restraint of one’s actions or feelings. Another way to look at it is that you don’t always do what you feel to do, think to do, or want to do. The impulse may be there, but you don’t act on it or give in to that impulse.
As a person who has a notorious sweet tooth, there will be moments where the impulse is to indulge in something sweet – for me, it is usually desserts. If I am exercising self-control I won’t automatically give in to this impulse. This however extends to just about anything. It could be food, spending, sexual desires, gossip, things you shouldn’t watch, people you shouldn’t be around. Just about anything has the potential to get out of control, and this is where self-control comes into play.
What Does the Bible Say about Self-Control?
Jesus gave us some interesting examples of what self-control looks like in the Bible. Consider these verses from the Sermon on the Mount.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’” (Matthew 5:38-48).
When you read this passage, do you hear what Jesus is saying? He is saying don’t give in to what your natural tendency would be. That is what self-control is. Your natural desire may be for you to move or react in one direction, but self-control pulls you in another direction.
What Bible Verses Talk about Self-Control?
Let’s look at what the Bible says about self-control.
“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28).
“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins” (2 Peter 1:5-9).
“Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2).
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good” (2 Timothy 3:1-3).
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
Why Is it Important for Christians to Have Self-Control?
Knowing what the Bible says about self-control, here are two reasons why it is important for Christians to exercise this fruit of self-control.
1. It Is Evidence of God’s Transformational Power
For many people, there was a time they lived outside of the influence of the Holy Spirit. When you were an unbeliever, you moved to your own impulses. You could do or say whatever you wanted because your flesh was in charge.
However, when you got saved something changed. You often discover an ability to not react the way you used to. Where there might have been anger, cursing, worry, or gossip you now respond with patience and kindness while exercising self-control in the process. This demonstration of self-control becomes evidence of God’s transformational power. The things you used to do you no longer feel compelled to have to do them.
2. It Helps Focus You on the Greater Purpose
Sometimes you may need to demonstrate self-control when everything around you is screaming not to do it. In these moments, self-control helps you focus on the greater purpose.
Consider for a moment what Jesus endured. Think of the self-control it took for Jesus when he was before Pilate or when he was hanging on the cross. At any moment he could have wielded his power, but he chose not to. He was not thinking of himself in those moments, but he was thinking of the higher purpose for which he came. Exercising self-control can become easier when you think of the reason why you are doing it.
Also, when you understand that your choices not only affect you but those around you, it can motivate you to exercise self-control. It becomes easier to not cheat on your spouse and exercise self-control when you think of the higher purpose of loving your spouse and caring for your family. It becomes easier to avoid sin altogether when you realize that doing so pleases God and maintains your testimony. Often when we give in and indulge, it is because we have forsaken the purpose of a lifetime to partake in the pleasure of the moment. However, when you remember the higher purpose attached to it, self-control looks much more attractive.
A great example of this was Joseph in the Old Testament. When he was confronted by Potiphar’s wife, he exercised self-control because he thought of his greater purpose.
“So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he refused. ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’” (Genesis 39:6-9).
In Joseph’s situation, there were two motivating factors that allowed him to exercise self-control. He wanted to please God and he wanted to remain faithful to his master. These two things were far greater than any temptation he might have experienced to sleep with Potiphar’s wife. He was able to exercise self-control because he focused on his higher purpose.
A Prayer to Have More Self-Control
Lord, Today I ask you to help me walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, who will give me the ability to exercise more self-control. Keep my eyes focused on my eternal purpose and not get distracted by temporary things in the moment. Help me to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. If I see a situation that could cause me to lose control, give me the wisdom, grace, and strength to walk away from it so that I might always live a life that truly honors you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If we are going to become the people God desires us to be, then self-control will play a part in this. Remember you cannot always say what you want to say or do what you want to do. Your ability to refrain will be evident in all that God is doing in your life. This will not always be the easiest thing to do, but don’t worry, the Holy Spirit, whose character is patience, will give you all the strength you need so you can exercise self-control.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/ra2studio
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.