We’ve all been at the crossroad of good versus evil when we have had to choose between doing what’s right and what’s wrong: praying for someone rather than cursing at them; choosing to go home to your spouse instead of that happy hour where you know your ex will be; stepping away from the computer when the urge hits you to look at pornography; refusing to go out with that person that knows you are an alcoholic but encourages you to have “just one drink”. Making the right choice is self-control.
According to The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, self-control means, “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, desires, or emotions”. Once we lose that restraint, then we are tempted to participate in activities we know are not good for us.
Protection from temptation was on Christ’s mind when he taught the disciples how to pray. In Matthew 6:13, he specifically mentioned that they should ask God to “lead [them] not into temptation”. What Christ understood was that the lack of self-control places one in the hands of temptation, and a person tempted is a person on the path to destruction.
I believe he shared this with the disciples to keep them from repeating the same mistakes made by people like David who sent Uriah to the front lines on the battlefield to die so he (David) could marry his (Uriah’s) wife Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11); Potiphar’s wife who falsely accused Joseph of attempted rape when he rejected her advances (Genesis 39:6-20); Eve when she ate of the tree of life (Genesis 3:6); Cain when he killed his brother Able (Genesis 4:8). All examples of people who lacked self-control, gave in to their temptations, and caused mayhem in their lives and the lives of others.
Recognizing the Signs: Losing self-control begins with a thought. Can I go to that bar and not have a drink? Should I just look at one page in that magazine? What would happen if I just had one potato chip? Would I still be affected if I see him/her tonight? If you do not control your thoughts, then they transfer to emotions, and emotions push you into action that could either save you from or send you down a destructive path.
James, the brother of Christ, states it this way in James 1:14-15: “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” This sounds extreme because it is extreme. Losing self-control has the ability to destroy everything including your self-respect and your relationships.
Fight for It: We all must play an active role when it comes to employing self-control. The first mandate is to pray. Christ mentions prayer as the first line of defense in Matthew 26:41 and Mark 14:38 when he state, “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation”. The two most important words here are watch and pray. Be vigilant, watchful, in order to see the signs so you won’t be caught off guard when temptation comes. Pray for God to help you make the right decision if you find yourself in situations that are trying to encourage you to lose self-control.
Secondly, take the exit! According to I Corinthians 10:13, God will, “provide a way out so that you can endure [being tempted]”. In other words, don’t just stand there, put the glass down, step away from the bag of chips, avoid the happy hour, turn the other way when you want to cuss, get rid of the pornographic magazines! Don’t put yourself in situations where you know you will lose your self-control.
Here’s the good part: Christ understands how it feels to be tempted, “for he himself suffered and was tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). This means that you are not alone. Christ knows what it feels like to be tempted and will help you navigate around your temptation. Choosing to focus on his presence will enable you the courage and the strength to walk away, and to find peace in your decision.
I hope my “Living the Fruit of the Spirit” summer blog series has been a blessing to you. Please share your thoughts about the series with me. Click here to read all nine of the "Living the Fruit of the Spirit" blogs.