Self-control is a Christian virtue; we all know that. It is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and as a building block of Christian maturity (2 Peter 1:5-7). It is used as a description of a runner in the Christian race (1 Corinthians 9:25) and of a godly woman (1 Timothy 2:9, 15). It is considered a gift from God (2 Timothy 1:7).
But what kind of self-control is this that we are supposed to cultivate? Is it of God or of man?
After all, any unsaved person can practice self-control. We see it often in the realm of fitness, what with gym memberships and exercise classes and fitness gurus. We see it in the financial world with paying off debts and saving thousands of dollars. We see it in medical schools and law schools, students spending long hours studying and even longer hours practicing to reach a goal. For all the undisciplined people in the world, there certainly are many on the flipside, many who live their lives with strict discipline for one reason or another.
And should the Christian be any different? Of course not! We ought to be the epitome of disciplined people. We ought to resolve as the apostle Paul did, to “discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). We are commanded to add self-control to our lives, to bear the fruit of discipline consistently in everything we do.
And yet, our discipline must stem from a different source. It is simple enough to have the willpower to say no to laziness or impulsiveness or gluttony. It is easy to use accountability partners and logs or journals and other various systems to reach some goal like weight-loss or financial freedom or a college degree. But that stems from within ourselves, from our own stubbornness and our own desire for achievement.
The discipline of the believer must stem from the power of Christ. We must be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) in order to be in control of our inner desires and lusts. We must allow the Spirit to guide and direct us, to prick us and convict us, until we are living as God commands. The believer’s self-control is really not “self-control”; it is “Spirit-control.”
The discipline of the believer must also lead to a different end. We must be disciplining ourselves, saying no to our lusts and resisting temptations, not to reach some transient goal that will make no difference in eternity (although those goals are not to be neglected if they are in line with God’s will for us), but rather to glorify Christ and become more like Him. We must practice Spirit-controlled discipline with the goal of reaching Christlikeness.
So I challenge you: where is your control coming from?
Are you ordering your life and disciplining yourself solely on your own willpower? Does it come easily to you? Or are you daily seeking the Spirit’s control over every part of your life, submitting every word and action to His control for the purpose of glorifying Him and reaching Christlike maturity?
Is your control of God or of man?