“By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT)
Self-control, or lack thereof, is at the root of a lot of wrong that is done in the name of Jesus. The word that is translated “self-control” in the New Living Translation is translated “temperance” in the King James Version. Temperance is defined as “habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions; moderation in or abstinence from the use of intoxicating drink.”
Think about what you just read. What’s the first word? “Habitual.” One of the primary ways God enables us to control our behavior is through the development of godly habits. If you became a Christ follower as an adult, think of all the habits you had that were negative or distracted you from your efforts to be a person of God.
Usually, one of the first things with which God must deal is our bad habits. What is the most effective way to break an unhealthy habit? By forming new, godly habits to take their place. Nature abhors a vacuum. To stop one habit without replacing it with a better one is a formula for disaster.
On some levels this whole conversation about “self” control, is misleading. Yes, of course, over time, as the Holy Spirit enables us to formulate godly habits, they become a great means of “self-control,” but we can’t lose sight of the fact that apart from Jesus we can do nothing, and apart from Jesus we are nothing.
Jesus IS our life, so to the extent we yield ourselves to Him, to that extent our life will come under control – His control. That’s why Paul urges us in Romans 12:1: “to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind He will find acceptable.”
Taming the body is the pathway to taming our soul. Without getting the outward manifestations of our “indulgence of the appetites or passions,” under control, we’ll be fighting a losing battle trying to tame our thoughts. We’re so prone to follow our feelings – i.e. “if it feels good, do it!” But if we learn to DO the right thing – i.e. stop whatever we’re struggling with – we’ll FEEL the right way about it.
Honestly, thoughts and behavior, on many levels, go hand in hand. Our thoughts feed our behavior and our behavior feeds our thoughts. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s almost like trying to figure out “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Obviously, as a child of God, we nurture and train our thoughts through prayer, meditation, and contemplation of the truths of God found in Scripture. But right thinking alone won’t release us from the captivity of our “appetites and passions.” It’s like learning to drive. You can memorize the manual, but until you get behind the wheel, you will never know how to drive.
Lust, in whatever form it entangles us – from porn to possessions – demands repentance. A spiritual change of mind, realizing a change is required, and a dynamic change of direction from our way to God’s way. But it’s not simply a rugged self-determination that brings about the needed change. It’s a cooperative effort between us and God.
It’s what Jesus was alluding to when He said in Matthew 11:29: “Take My yoke upon you. Let Me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Another way to think of that is – what’s impossible for us, is possible with God. He can do in, and on our behalf what we can never do for ourselves.
The most effective means of learning self-control is by giving the Holy Spirit permission to exercise His control. And the straightest course to follow in the development of a godly life is to follow Jesus.
Blessings, Ed 😊