Self Control: A Needed Virtue In Our Culture
By: Natalie Wiesen
March 27, 2017
We live in a culture that screams to us at every corner, “you are justified in having all of your desires met, and if you don’t have them met, something is wrong.” Thus, our desires can easily come to master us, keeping us in bondage and often escalating out of control.
On this topic, Dallas Willard states, “desire itself is not bad, but desire is not meant to master our lives. It isn’t that desires or feelings are overwhelming, but they are overwhelming if you concede to them time and time again.”
In contrast, the way of Jesus—the way of the cross—says: not only will you be ok when you crucify the flesh with its earthly desires, but you will find a divine power through the Holy Spirit to live a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5).
The New Testament is full of exhortations to have discipline and self-control:
With our Bodies (1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Romans 12:1-2)
In our Minds (Philippians 4:8-9, 1 Corinth. 10:5, Colossians 3:2, 1 Peter 5:6-8, Ephesians 4:23-24)
With our Tongues (James 1:19-20, James 3)
With our Money (1 Timothy 6:6-10 & 17-19)
In all of our Actions (too many verses to list, but for the sake of listing just a few: 2 Peter 1:3-11, Galatians 5:13-26, Titus 2)
Just to name a few!
1 Timothy 4:7 tells us to “discipline ourselves to be Godly.”
Titus 2:11-12 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…”
1 Corinthians 9:25-27 says,
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (ESV)
It must be stated that self-control in and of itself is not the end goal.
We exercise self control so that we can enter into greater intimacy with Christ and become more like Him, as we eagerly look forward to our heavenly home.
God does not call us to self-control because he wants to keep us from fun or fulfillment, but because He wants to give us true fulfillment!
Augustine said, “God himself, who is the Author of virtue, shall be our reward. As there is nothing greater or better than God himself, God has promised us himself. God shall be the end of all our desires, who will be seen without end, loved without cloy, and praised without weariness.”
Above I quoted Titus 2:11-12, but the two verses right after give the motivation for why we say no to ungodliness and live self-controlled, upright lives:
Because we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Our hope is not in this life, but in Christ and the life to come. If our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are most to be pitied (1 Corinth. 15:19). We eagerly await a new home where God will renew this Earth and unite heaven and earth into one dimension (Revelation 21). We will have new bodies and God will physically dwell with us. We will have responsibilities of stewardship, governance, and (redeemed) work based on our faithfulness in this life (eternal rewards).
It must also be re-stated that desires are not bad in and of themselves.
God is a lavish, generous giver who has placed us in a world full of things to find great delight and pleasure in! He richly provides so much for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17)!
In his 50 Days of Heaven study, Randy Alcorn so beautifully states,
“Though preoccupation with a God-given gift can turn into idolatry, enjoying that same gift with a grateful heart can draw us closer to God. In Heaven, we’ll have no capacity to turn people or things into idols. When we find joy in God’s gifts, we’ll find our joy in him. Enjoying God’s gifts to us should never move us away from him; it should always draw us closer.”
Lastly, self-control is HARD.
Jesus himself knew that self-control would not be easy! In Matthew 5, He said, “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” This graphic imagery reflects his understanding of how hard and painful it might be to crucify ungodliness and sinful desires.
We cannot muster up self-control, so how do we get it? Our part is to train and practice it to the best of our ability, not letting desire rule over us and always reminding ourselves that we will be just fine if we don’t get our way. Most importantly, though, God must give us self-control through His Spirit that dwells in the heart of every disciple. As we yield to him and do our part, His character will begin to form in our innermost being.