Galatians 5 talks about the fruits of the spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control. Today, we’re talking about how to have self control.
We live in a time where we have SO much available to us. There are endless things to occupy our time and our attention. Also, endless things to distract us from the things in life that are better. The things that are CALLED to.
First, we’ll define ‘what is self control.’ We’ll talk about the importance of self control, and how to have self control and grow in it.
Self Control Defined
Yourdictionary.com defines self control in this way:
“Self control is defined as the ability to manage your actions, feelings and emotions.”
As Christians, we have to take a deeper look at self control. Why do we pursue it? What is self control in the Bible?
As Christians, we are called to live for God and not ourselves. 1st Peter 4:2 says the following to how we’re supposed to live out our days as Christians:
“so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
Is Self Control a Skill?
No one is born naturally “good” at self control. My mind flashes to a memory of my daughter about a year ago, at the age of 3, stealing the peanut butter jar and hiding with it. When I found her, she was sticking her hand in the peanut butter jar and eating it like Winnie the Pooh would eat honey.
And have you seen the way kids pick their noses? It’s like they can’t help themselves.
These are really basic examples of losing self control… but honestly, as tiny humans, kids don’t have much self control to lose. They haven’t had much time to develop it in their short existence.
The development of self discipline takes place in two complementary ways.
The Development of Self Control
First, the development of self control is a work and gift of the spirit.
2nd Timothy 1:6-7 says:
“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
It clearly says there that God GAVE us a spirit of power and love and self-control. Our self control grows through the knowledge that Jesus has saved us. This means he has called us to a holy calling. As we fully embrace his grace and purpose, our self control grows as an act of obedience. This is all by grace.
Second, the work of improving self discipline is an ACTIVE process.
You see the call to action in multiple verses regarding self control. Even in the verse above. It talks about God giving us a spirit of self control. But notice, before that part, it’s reminding the reader to “fan into flame” the gift of God.
We must first remember – apart from the gift of God by the Holy Spirit, we have nothing. But he has now GIVEN us something, and it’s ours to steward and grow.
Another verse that shows the relationship between the gift of God’s grace in self control, and our resulting action is found in Titus 2:11-12:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age”
1st Corinthians 9:25 actually compares exercising self control to that of an athlete preparing for the Olympics. The athlete practices self control in all things in order to hone their skill. They do this all for the perishable Olympic wreath they would have gotten in those days. But we, as Christians, get to exercise and hone our skill for a better wreath… one that is imperishable.
Does Having Self Discipline Mean I Shouldn’t do a Bunch of Stuff?
NO. God does not mean for us to give up everything for the sake of self control. God created the earth we live on, and it’s full of good, good things. He wants us to enjoy the good things of earth. BUT. He wants us to enjoy them to a certain length and no further.
What that means is this: Does something seem to have control over you? Does something trump your love for God? That’s when there is an issue.
Galatians 5 is where we encounter the fruits of the spirit. Take a look at what Galatians 5:1 says:
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Let’s break that down a bit more. The first part of that verse says that freedom in Christ has set us FREE. How good is that? In this particular passage, Paul is actually discussing circumcision, and it illustrates perfectly that we are not held to rules, and laws, but instead have love, grace, and freedom.
And then, let’s look at that second half of verse 1. It says, “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
So again- First we see the gift (Christ has set us free), and secondly, we’re called to action (do not submit again to the yoke of slavery). We’re called to choose. We’re called to be watchful.
In Matthew 11, Jesus says that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Let’s choose that instead of a yoke of slavery.
This is where we need to be discerning. Ask yourself if the freedoms you’re allowing yourself are nurturing your faith and bringing you closer to God, or if they’re buckling you under a yoke of slavery. Then choose (because the choice is yours) which yoke you prefer- freedom or slavery.
How to Have Self Control
We’ve talked about why self discipline is so important for Christians, but now let’s get practical. We know that self control is given to us by the spirit. But we also know, that because we’ve been given this gift, it’s our responsibility to steward it wisely, for the sake of God’s glory, and take ACTION!
Here’s how we can do that:
- Understand what you can control, and what you can’t control. Examples of things you can’t control include other people, weather, etc.. Don’t waste your time trying to control things you can’t control.
- You CAN control how much time you spend with God. This will directly correlate to your growth of self discipline… and the growth of all the other fruits of the spirit as well!
- You can also control your CHOICES. You were given free will by God, which means the onus is on YOU to choose well. Is what you’re considering going to bring you closer to, or farther from God? Is what you’re considering in line with scripture? With the way Jesus calls us to walk as Christians?
- BOUNDARIES. Do you know that you’re prone to slip in an area? Perhaps you are prone to needless social media scrolling. Or being disrespectful to your parents. Procrastinating. Set up boundaries for yourself in the area you struggle most.
- PRACTICE. So you’ve set up boundaries. You may have good days and bad days. First, see the grace the God is giving you, and then continue to PRACTICE. Like an Olympic athlete, remember that developing self discipline takes practice.
Give Up Yourself to Find Your Real Self
I’m going to leave you with a quote by CS Lewis, from his classic work Mere Christianity.
“Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with ever fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
Look for Christ. Find him. Choose his yoke.
Need a little help taking the first steps? This FREE printable will help you get your priorities in order, so that you can start living a life of self control, for the glory of God.