“. . . put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds. . .” - Ephesians 4:22-23
Advertising tells us there are things and products we didn’t even know about that, now that we know, we simply can’t live without. Psychologists tell us to follow our desires. Not all new products are bad and it is sometimes right to follow our hearts, but the overriding message seems to be “if it feels good, do it.” That philosophy runs counter to the message given in the Bible.
We need self-control and are the benefactors when we choose to develop this spiritual fruit in our lives. The Greek word translated self-control in the Bible actually means inner strength. Who among us would not want to have inner strength?
Strength to make right decisions even when driven by the world around us to go with the flow.
Strength to enable us, as much as it is in our control, to keep our bodies in good condition so we are able to enjoy physical activities and have stamina to work hard and long.
Strength to be healthy emotionally so we can enter into loving and nurturing relationships with others.
The obstacle for many of us, though, is that the inner strength we want is not instantaneously given. It is developed over many months and years of exercising the muscle of self-control on multiple fronts.
We need to control our bodies in areas of food and drink, work ethic, and sexuality. We need to control our emotions by dealing biblically with anger, bitterness, and self-pity. We need to control our minds by guarding what enters them and focusing our thoughts on things that are pleasing to God.
Self-control in all of these areas is a difficult assignment, and even the saintly apostle Paul admitted to sometimes being defeated in areas of self-control. If it were easy, we all would be models of perfection. It is not easy, but it is very important. And, there are steps we can take to begin to exercise our self-control muscle.
First, we need to know the standards revealed in the Bible. We don’t know what we should be striving for until we know what God says. His Word tells us everything we need to know about the behavior he expects from us.
The second step is to do a self-assessment. With the Spirit’s help, we can identify our weaknesses and then think about ways we can overcome them.
As a third step, we can try a holy experiment by committing to giving up temporary pleasures in order to please God. We can try a time of fasting from food, sweets, television, or some other activity that we are willing to give up as a spiritual work-out in order to develop self-control. When we do this, we are letting God and ourselves know we are serious about emphasizing the spiritual over the physical, the eternal over the temporary, and God over self. When the spiritual pleasures become a greater draw to us than physical pleasures, we will have begun to learn the discipline of self-control.
A fourth step is mind-control. We must put a wall of protection around our brains and carefully guard the gate, allowing only the things that contribute to our physical, spiritual, or emotional health to enter. We need to develop an awareness of our thoughts, discarding those that are negative, lustful, self-indulgent, or self-pitying and instead, filling our minds with memorized scripture, spiritual reading, and continual praise of our Father in heaven.
Fifth, we should find a friend who knows God’s standards and loves us enough to hold us accountable for the discipline goals we have set. We are many more times stronger with someone than we are alone. God intends for us to help and support each other in this journey.
Last, we must continually pray for strength to make good choices. The Holy Spirit is our greatest ally in the development of self-control. He is our workout partner and will supernaturally increase the results of our own efforts if we allow Him to.
“We seek satisfaction of our spiritual longing in a host of ways that may have very little to do with God.” – Gerald May