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Every one of us has things about our lives that we desire to change. Often we make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, get more organized, save money, get in shape, learn to control our temper, quit smoking and numerous other things that know we need to do to improve. As Christians we also determine we are going to study the Bible more, read the Bible every day (not necessarily the same thing), pray more often, be more hospitable and supportive of our brethren, attend worship services better, draw closer to God and become better Christians all around. If you know me, you know that I believe resolutions are a good thing and something we need to make frequently based upon continued examination (2 Corinthians 13:5). However, as this article is being published we are already into the third Sunday of January and I suspect that some of us have already broken some or ALL of our resolutions for 2007. I ask, WHY? Why is it that we resolve to make good and necessary changes in our lives but we almost always fall short? I am convinced it is NOT because we do not want to become better people. Nor do I believe we are being dishonest when we make these decisions to change. After all such is a part of true repentance and we know we need to change. There is a trait that is behind most of our failures that I want to address. That trait is a lack of self-control.
A lack of self-control is a cause behind virtually every sin we commit. There are usually other factors involved as well, but our self-control certainly contributes to the cause. From time to time we all commit sins. To deny that fact is to deny what John said in 1 John 1:8. Sometimes our sins are the result of a failure to do those things we ought to be doing (James 4:17). At other times we do things we ought not to do. Sometimes we act with doubt as to the scripturalness of an act, which also is called sin (Romans 14:23). So we all sin! And when we sin it is because we CHOOSE to do so.
The degree of self-control we possess in our lives can also contribute to the overall quality of who we are in virtually every aspect of our lives. How organized our lives are is a result of our self-control. Whether or not we overcome addictions and bad habits directly correlates to our self-control. Keeping our schedules is a matter of self-control. The discipline to do the things we need to be doing involves self-control. Controlling our tongues requires self-control. Maintaining relationships also calls for self-control. Our spending habits are determined by how much self-control we have. Even our outlook about life in general is largely influenced by self-control. Numerous other examples could be added to these to demonstrate how self-control is a primary factor in shaping who we are and who we will become.
Living the Christian life requires self-control. It is described in the character we are to possess. In 2 Peter 1:6 it is to be added to our faith, virtue and knowledge as we strive to be fruitful. In Galatians 5:23 it is a fruit (product) of the Spirit that is to dwell within us. 2 Timothy 3:3 describes the selfish as being without self-control. When Paul reasoned with Felix about his lost condition, included in the discussion was his self-control (Acts 24:25).
There are also other passages which do not specifically mention self-control but their message clearly includes it. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, Paul said, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things… Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Dealing with liberties he noted in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Concerning what we say, James 3:2 says, “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.” Many other passages could be added to these to demonstrate that we are commanded to have self-control as Christians.
We live in a society filled with miserable people. While some are suffering and facing adversity due to circumstance beyond their control, most of us contribute to our misery by our own actions (or lack thereof). And that is usually affected by how much self-control we have. But even beyond that, how we react in these adverse situations is something we can control. There are some who live their lives continually worried. Some are depressed because they dwell on what is wrong or what they don’t have. On the other hand, there are many who even in suffering have a good disposition. Consider the example of Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi: Acts 16:22-25 notes that in spite of having been beaten, they were singing praises to God. If we want to we CAN control even how we think when faced with circumstances. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
Having established the need for self-control we still need to ask why we don’t practice it more. When all is said and done, the answer can be summed up in one statement: We do what we want to do! Ultimately, under normal circumstances, we say what we want to say, go where we want to go, associate with whom we want to associate, and act like we want to act. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a desire to do or say things differently, but because we know what is best we do what needs to be done instead of pursuing only our selfish desires all the time. My point is that this is a choice we make! And such is pleasing to God. Consider Jesus dying for us on the cross. Remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will be done.” (Matthew 26:39) It was something He didn’t want to do, but He knew it needed to be done and He wanted to do what was best, and it was His choice (John 10:17-18, Matthew 26:53). He demonstrated self-control by going through with that horrible deed anyway. How would we react in a similar situation? The choice would be up to us.
Thus we can see the need for self-control in our lives. We need it because God expects us to use it and because it will make us become better people. What about you? When you need to make changes in your life will you have enough self-control to change or will you simply stay where you are at. Be careful how you answer. Your eternity may depend on it.
HOW TO DEVELOP SELF-CONTROL
In our last article we addressed the subject of self-control noting that it is a characteristic we are expected to develop as Christians (2 Peter 1:6, Galatians 5:23). We also noted that it was something we all need to work on. Continuing our study on this subject, in this article we want to notice some things you can do to help you gain self-control. We also want to talk about what self-control will mean in your life. That will conclude this brief study.
To learn self-control begins with a DESIRE to change. Remember that in our last article we noted that we do what we want to do. If we don’t really want to do something, we will find a way out of it. We will find excuses to procrastinate or quit. We will let distractions slow us down.
But desire alone will not help us change what needs to be changed. Desire must be followed up with determination. Real change will not happen in our lives if we don’t have the mindset to make those changes. We will not learn to control our tongues if we are not determined to change the way we talk. Determination is proportional. The stronger our determination to do something (or quit), the more likely we are to accomplish our goal. What is the difference between someone who quits a diet after two weeks and someone who stays on that diet for a year or more? It is the amount of determination they have. What is the difference between someone who quits reading through their Bible before they finish Genesis and the one who completes the task? What is the difference between someone who brings their bodies and souls into subjection and one who lives with little or no restraint? It is the amount of determination we have.
But there are more steps that can help you learn self-control. In an article entitled, Keys to developing self-control, Rick Warren notes there are seven steps to help gain self-control. (see note below). The steps are as follows with my observations.
L 1. Admit your problem. Until you acknowledge that something is not as it ought to be, you are not going to take additional steps. When one is addicted to alcohol, the first thing they have to do is admit is that they are an alcoholic. The prodigal son was no good to himself, his family or anyone else until “he came to himself.” (Luke 15:17, 11-24). The first thing he did was acknowledge his situation. That also describes David after Nathan confronted him. He said, “I have sinned.” (2 Samuel 12:13) That admission has to be to yourself AND to God. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
L 2. Put your past behind you. We face so many problems in society today simply because we dwell on what we used to be. We see miserable failures, maybe over and over, and we tell ourselves that is all we will ever be. Christians have to learn to put the past behind them. Philippians 3:13 says, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” One thing we must never forget about the past is that we CANNOT change it! We may be able to change some of the results of our past but it is history. Therefore, GET OVER IT and determine to move on. If you have not exercised self-control in the past, put it behind you!
L 3. Talk back to your feelings. When you find yourself wanting to do something you should not do, you need to tell yourself, NO! This is a part of your determination to take control of your life. I see this as the same thing as when Jesus said to Satan after being tempted by him, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Luke 4:8). Titus 2:11-12 speaks of the grace of God that has appeared to us teaches us to deny ungodliness (esp. NASU). A part of denying ungodliness is firmly telling yourself that you are not going to participate.
L 4. Believe you can change. One reason so many of us fail is because we don’t have enough confidence that we can succeed. Paul wrote to the Philippians telling them of what one is capable if he is in Christ. He said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) How many of us really believe this? Obviously it is not saying that you will get everything you want or that you can do anything you want and when you want (that would remove the need for self-control). The point is that you can accomplish everything you need to accomplish IF Christ is in you. In Romans 12:1-2 Paul taught us to be transformed by renewing our mind and thereby proving the good will of God. A part of renewing the mind is believing you can accomplish what God desires of you.
L 5. Make yourself accountable. In whatever area you need to learn more self-control, it helps if you have someone that you can turn to that you can bear your soul to (with confidence) and who will in turn help you overcome your problems. Ideally, if you are married, your spouse can be your confidant. James 5:16 says, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed.” Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, “Two are better than one,…though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
L 6. Avoid temptation. Put simply: Don’t put yourself in a situation where you will be more pressured to do what you ought not to do. Be like Joseph and RUN AWAY from sin. Paul told Timothy, “flee also youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22). 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee sexual immorality.” Many other passages could be added to these which call for us to consider our environment as we strive to gain self-control. Paul said, “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
L 7. Depend on Christ’s power. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God., who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Wisdom is certainly something God desires for us to have and thus we are told to approach Him for such things (and of course this does not preclude our efforts in attaining wisdom). I believe self-control to fit into this same category. We are expected to develop it and therefore we ought to turn to God and our Lord for strength in receiving it. As Jesus was about to ascend to heaven He said, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Also don’t forget 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” According to this passage, we CAN develop self-control. Do we really believe that?
These are some steps that if we apply them can help us develop self-control, whether it be the discipline to do what we ought to be doing or keep us from doing what we should not. There is one more step we need to add to these. Don’t ever give up! If something is really a problem in our lives, chances are we will suffer some set backs. But they do not have to defeat us. When we fall down, we simply need to get back up again, dust off and keep on going. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Also, realize that making something a habit in your life takes time. Some have said it takes 21 days to develop a habit. Others say it takes 5 weeks to make something a permanent habit. So keep on hanging in there. You can CONTROL yourself!
Are there benefits to learning self-control? Absolutely! In fact they are multitude. Ultimately, you will feel better about yourself as you are doing that which is right. You will finish what you start. You will get more accomplished with your days and weeks. When you pillow your head at night you will be able to sleep a sweet sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:12). Spiritual growth will be a natural result (see 2 Peter 1:5-8). You will gain more self-confidence in your dealing. You will learn to say no when you need to.
Considering all these things, not only should we develop self-control because it is commanded, but it will lead to a more meaningful life. What about you? Do you have the self-control you need? Think about it!
Note: Rick Warren is an accomplished writer, most know for his book, The Purpose Driven Life. Being a “pastor” of a community church, there are many things he teaches and does that I simply do not agree with and I believe he is in error in these things. However, the suggestions he offers on this subject, I believe to be both scriptural and helpful. That is why I present them here. The truth is the always the truth, regardless of who says it! TATJR.