In the world, self-control is a “bite your tongue” self-effort. In the Bible, self-control is yielding whatever is of me, even my own strengths, and letting the Spirit of God be in control.
In this study, the focus is how easily we can make an idol out of our own self-discipline, holding it up as the guide for life — instead of God. This “bite my tongue” effort might look and feel like a good thing, but when I am relying on myself for anything, I’ve put me above God instead of doing what the Bible says . . .
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5–8)
The first thing I notice in these verses is that God connects the commands to promises. He is not like the parent who tells a child to obey “because I say so” but offers reasons for obedience. Here, He says if trust Him, He will guide me; if I fear Him and avoid evil, He will heal me and give me good health.
Added to those specific promises, God also rewards obedience in another powerful way. When I turn from my own understanding, I begin to see more of the power of God, a power I would not realize by insisting on doing my own thing.
Yet this ability to let God be the Lord of my life is literally impossible without His help. The Bible is clear that self-control is a faculty of the Holy Spirit . . .
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23)
This shows that I really don’t have the ability to control self. My sinful human nature resists that and wants to go its own way. Instead, I need the power of the Holy Spirit to have the power of the Holy Spirit! God is gracious and works that out by giving me what I need . . .
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:3–7)
The Bible is filled with examples of those who learned how to exercise self-control. Jesus is at the top of the list. He continually moved under the direction of God, saying “Not my will but thine be done.”
Self-control is vital. It is required in every other virtue, from patience to purity. It is particularly needed in the frustrations of life. Proverbs 16:32 says “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” indicating that self-control could be a major cure-all for today’s messy world.
Again, this is not the self-control that self can do. Eventually “gritting the teeth” will burst the bounds of human restraint and vent. Instead, biblical self-control is a yielded life that puts God in control every moment of every day.
In my desire for absolute surrender to God in all areas of my life, God is right with me to make this possible. This week, He showed me an example of self-control in one of His people that goes beyond anything I’ve ever thought or imagined. While I cannot share or describe a confidentiality, I can say that God changed something in my heart. Seeing Him at work in someone else in such a powerful way motivates me. Because of God’s grace, I’m filled with a deepening desire to never idolize any of my so-called strengths, but to lean entirely on God.