“While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us”Benjamin Franklin
As we near the end of the Fruits of the Spirit study, we find ourselves at self-control. This quality of Christian character is the skeleton of all of the others, without which, the body cannot stand. We can’t be patient, loving, kind, or gentle without control of ourselves and our reactions.
David Mathis, chief editor for Desiring God, says that self-control is “that important, impressive, and nearly impossible practice of learning to maintain control of the beast of one’s own sinful passions.”
When Paul shared the gospel with Felix and Drusilla, he “reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgement.” In essence, he was summarizing the Christian gospel worldview, which included self-control as an equal with the concept of righteousness.
Why is that? Why is self-control such a key component of the gospel? And why is it a summary of all of the fruits of the Spirit?
To understand why self-control is so important, we need to have a full understanding of its definition and concept. While it seems self explanatory, there’s more to it than simply controlling yourself.
What is Self-Control?
Biblical self-control begins in our hearts. Desires are driven by our hearts, and there they take root and grow into almost uncontrollable beasts within us that we have to fight daily. Jeremiah tells us that our hearts are “deceptive above all else” (Jer 17:9). R.C. Sproul notes on this verse that the heart “represents the basis of character, including the mind and will.”
Because of the deception of our hearts, we must take special care to be in control over those desires.
We must also have control over our minds. It is so easy in today’s culture to be distracted by literally anything. We have cell phones, televisions, radios, political battles, international conflict, schoolwork, job drama…any number of controversies surrounding us demand our attention and our time.
And we give it to them.
We are so ready to donate our thoughts to anything and everything except Christ. Just like Dug, the dog from UP, we are shouting “SQUIRREL!” every time our attention tries to focus in the right direction.
The mind is a difficult thing to control, but it governs our actions and our bodies.
That is why we must have self-control over our body, as well. I think this is often the easiest to understand as a concept. We don’t hit people for being mean, we don’t yell at people who disagree with us, and we don’t physically run away from uncomfortable situations (well…usually).
But beyond that, do we refrain from doing things we should do? By that I mean, do we procrastinate and ignore our responsibilities in favor of more leisurely activities?
I, a habitual procrastinator, would argue that yes it is. Not having control over my own use of time would definitely count as a lack of self-control. I can’t blame other people or outside circumstances if I also spent approximately twenty-five hours watching Netflix instead of writing, reading, studying, or praying. That is entirely on me.
The same goes for anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation. When it comes to God, we must act with intent.
The three facets of self-control (heart, mind, body) need to be intentionally recognized as distinct. The heart needs its own sort of self-control, the mind its own, and the body its own. But the control of each has to be a very intentional, conscious effort.
Self-Control in Daily Life
The application of self-control may be easier to attain if we can see how it affects us in our daily lives. It may play a bigger role in your life than you think! Without seeing this though, it’s easy to disconnect ourselves from the need for control. We get caught up in all the various causes around us, which isn’t explicitly bad, but we lose control of our own thoughts when we succumb to submitting to the thoughts of others.
Self-control is more than just a way to appease God. It stands as a foundation that allows every other fruit of the spirit to grow and prosper. When it comes to our day-to-day activities, self-control plays a more vital role than you may think.
It is Our Defense
“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”Proverbs 25:28
Control of ourselves is our strongest defense against the enemy. With control over our desires, we can fight off every temptation Satan throws at us, just like Jesus did in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). Satan came at him over and over again with seemingly logical arguments, and time and time again Jesus refuted the devil’s approach with His own self-control.
Satan appealed to Jesus’ body, His hunger, by telling Him to turn the stones into bread.
Satan appealed to Jesus’ mind by testing His trust in God, telling Him to jump off the cliff because “He will command His angels concerning you.”
Satan appealed to Jesus’ heart when he told Jesus to bow down and worship him instead of the Father.
Jesus responds the way I hope all of us do when we are tempted: “Be gone, Satan!”
It is Our Peace
“You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”Isaiah 26:3
Focusing our mind on God and His perfect plan is the only idea that can bring us true peace on this earth. Nothing else is as constant, or as perfectly complete as this.
Peace of mind is something people fight for a lot in this age of technology. With all the chaotic noise around us, it’s hard to find true “peace” as the world sees it. But as believers, we are welcomed into the arms of our Savior, where true peace was fought for and achieved already!
It is Our Hope
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”1 Peter 1:13
We can fully hope in the grace of God, because it is promised to us. We can set our hearts and our minds completely on the knowledge (not theory) that God has and will reveal all things to us.
What better way to prepare our minds for action than to learn how to have more control over our thoughts? And when our minds belong to God, it may be easier to turn our hearts and our bodies over to Him as well. Our minds are the source of our intent, and self-control and self-discipline is achieved through intentional action and decision making.
It is a Sign of Stewardship
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”1 Peter 4:7
The practice and act of self-control is a sign of good stewardship of the grace of God.
It is like receiving a set of kitchen knives as a gift. You want to make them last and take care of them, especially if they come from someone who means a lot to you. So you’ll sharpen them, and clean them, maybe even polish them. You’ll try to use each knife for its specific purpose.
By doing these things, you’ve been a good steward of the knives. You received a practical gift, and you’ve taken care to use them as they are meant to be used. We have to do the same thing with self-control. We’ve been given the fruits of the Spirit by God, and thus practicing them and making sure we use them correctly shows that we are at least trying to be good stewards of those gifts.
The Act of Self-Control
Since self-control is a matter of the heart, mind, and body, we can deduce that it is both an external and an internal battle. We have to work on our surroundings as well as our decisions and intentions. As reflections of Christ, we must concern ourselves both on our outward reactions as well as our inward affections. How are we responding within ourselves to the circumstances around us? How are we outwardly reflecting the gospel in response to these circumstances?
Self-control, according to David Mathis, is “at the height of Christian virtue in a fallen world.” This means that the more control we have over our internal and external reactions, the easier it will be to reign in the rest of the virtues listed as characteristics of Christ in the scripture.
Each element of self-control then (mind, heart, and body) must be examined against scripture, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 13.
Matters of the Heart
The heart is likely the hardest element to control, as it influences many of our decisions and emotions.
First off, do not “follow your heart.” As we mentioned before, scripture tells us that our hearts are deceptive above all else, so why would we follow them?
I believe the only way to truly have control over our hearts is to give them to God. The Psalmists pray in Psalm 51 “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Our hearts should, and do, belong to God. Only He can purify them and cleanse them through the Spirit. Luke writes in Acts 15:8-9
“And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us, and He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.”Acts 15:8-9
God knows our hearts, He knows where they stray and where they are weak. He alone can cleanse them and turn their desires towards heavenly action and purpose.
Thinking Thoughts Through
The mind is a delicate part of us, and must be protected while also exercised. We are told to “prepare (our) minds for action.” How do we do that?
We can use Philippians 4:8 as a guide:
whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure
whatever is lovely,
whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.”
Intentional thinking has to be practiced daily, because it won’t come naturally. Pray about it, allow God to saturate your mind with all He has said and done, and these characteristics will begin to flow through your mind more freely.
One way to do this is to start each day with a meditation on scripture. One of my favorite places to begin my daily meditations is in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. However, the Psalms are also an excellent place to begin, as they record the very thoughts that people had while meditating on God!
It’s My Body
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”Romans 12:1
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”2 Corinthians 4:8-10
After reading these verses, can we really claim that our bodies are our own? Once we’ve given our hearts and minds to God, don’t our bodies also belong to Him and His purpose?
As children of God, and members of a larger body, one made and driven to serve a purpose greater than ourselves.
This purpose is the spread of the gospel, Matthew 28:19-20 tells us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus tells us straightforwardly what we are to do, and that He is going to be there to help us do it. We have only to decide to turn our hearts, minds, and bodies towards this purpose.
What Will it Look Like?
What do you picture when you picture self-control? Do you picture someone sitting quietly in the corner? Do you picture someone diligently filling out their planner every morning, or working out for exactly one hour in the gym, Monday through Friday? Or maybe you think of the phrase “think before you speak.”
All of these are accurate representations of self-control. I would argue that self-control is achievable through intentional action. Where have we placed our intentions? Do we make an effort to be diligent and responsible in every plan we make and every response we give? Do we really truly think before we speak?
David Mathis suggests in his post titled “Self-Control and the Power of Christ” that the best way to pursue self-control, is to change the way we think about what we need to control ourselves about. We need to turn our eyes to the source or real and true power, look upward rather than inward. When we consider God in all of our actions, it is much harder to lose control.
“Christian self-control is not finally about bringing our bodily passions under our own control, but under the control of God by the power of His Spirit.”David Mathis
A Prayer for all us Mountain Goats
My prayer for all of you this month is that you can rely fully on the hope and peace we have been given by God, and that you and I both can learn to look upwards rather than inward to gain control over our hearts, minds, and bodies. I pray that as hard as this may be, the fruits of the Spirit truly begin to grow in each of you as you begin practicing intentionally every day. I pray that God would fill you with a hunger for Him, and to be a full reflection of Him in your everyday life.
Christian, Writer, Coffee Addict
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