Self-Control

“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled (I Thess. 5:6).”

“The devil made me do it.” That oft repeated comedy line is in fact true for the unbelievers, because they are willing, if unwitting, victims of the “Prince of this world” whose rallying cry is “If it feels good, do it!” Consequently, why should we ever be surprised by the horrific actions of people who are the property of “Beelzebub” whose sole existence is to “steal, kill, and destroy?” Their concern is not so much self-control, but how not to get caught.

Of course those who commit dastardly deeds are usually viewed by the modern intellectual as victims of a repressive social system that caused him/her to go bad. What else could be the cause since everyone is basically good?! So, change the social systems, get ‘em an education, then their natural goodness will blossom, and everyone will live happily ever after.

The world of psychology makes victims out of the majority of those who suffer from some sort of diagnosable mental or emotional problem. And most people are diagnosable, according to them. It is not “cool” in that field to run counter to their wisdom; alcoholics do not suffer from a lack of self-control, they have the “disease” of “alcoholism.” Granted, some do seem to have a predilection towards libations, however, no one has the genetic determinism to bend the elbow. It is an act of the will; an act of self-control. Once one has become an addict, there is the problem of physiological and psychologic dependency, but the beginning was free will, and the solution is self-control.

My friend Terry and I spend a lot of time not only solving the world’s problems, but engaging in deep theological discussions that help us understand and grow spiritually, but also show us at times, clearly and often, our own kookiness. Terry will, in my opinion, too often excuse a person’s (Christian) moral failure by stating, “We’re only human.” Well, that’s true, and it’s validated time and again in the lives of too many Christians, and tragically, some high profile Christian leaders. The world loves it when a Christian falls. Someone once stated that the reason Billy Graham lived a Christian life above reproach was that he didn’t succumb to the ubiquitous temptation of women and money. I’d say that Billy Graham is no different than you or me, excepting the world’s scrutiny, he simply exerts self-control. Actually, with God’s help he has lived out II Cor. 10:5 to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

It seems to me that the core dynamic (in the natural) of self-control begins with the mind. The above scripture speaks to the mind’s thought process. In I Peter1:13ff we are told to “prepare your minds for action.” This passage goes on to exhort Christians to “be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy as I am holy.’” Of course while the mind is, I believe, the beginning point, the spirit, being in league with the Holy Spirit, will direct the mind into Godly thinking. God places in our heart a desire to “be holy.” A favorite quote I use by Dr. Dale Erickson, is where he stated that the freedom we have in Christ, “is not the freedom to do what we want, but the power to do what we ought.” That is Godly self-control. To delight in the “law” of God because it lines up with His nature within us.. Not in a legalistic “I gotta do it,” but with joy in being pleasing to God.

One of the more comprehensive passages in the Bible that address the question of self-control is found in the book of Titus. Here Paul directs Titus to continue working with the “church” in Crete to finish what he (Paul) had started. Teaching the older men includes temperance, respect, self-control, faith, love, and endurance (Titus 2:2); the older women should train the younger women to love their husbands and children, and to be self-controlled (v.4,5,); and, encourage the young men to be self-controlled (v. 6). And finally, that the grace of God teaches us to say “No to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright lives in this present age (vs. 11,12).” That’s a lot of emphasis on self-control.

So it seems evident that the Bible regards self-control as an important dynamic. The world struggles with the same dynamic, but in a different way. The Christian has the power of God as the source of dealing with self-control. The world simply says “The devil made me do it”, or increasingly, “What’s wrong with that”, and in the flesh Adam said it was “the woman You put here with me!!”

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