Self-Control is not Denial.
To keep our passions and desires in check, we need self-control. Praise God that He gave us self-control as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Galatians, declaring that because we belong to Christ and live by the Spirit, we have our passions and desires crucified with Christ (Gal. 5:24-25).
Self-control is also known as temperance. It is the ability to act in moderation and constraint; it is our God-given capacity to keep ourselves from indulging in unhealthy cravings and sinful things. We are weak on our own, but because of God who works in us, we can work on his excellent pleasure (Phil. 2:3) rather than lose ourselves in the world’s satisfaction.
To better understand self-control, we need to know what it is and is not. Contrary to what many believe, biblical self-control is not about restriction or deprivation. God knows us far too well that such strict restrictions and deprivation are rules for us. Those who have ever been on a very stringent diet know that we can only follow three with severe diet restrictions during the first few weeks; eventually, something in us seems to rebel. The rebellion comes from deep starvation. In other words, deprivation is counter-productive; it will only cause us to indulge even more than before. This is why self-control is not about restriction or deprivation but masteringdenial
Yes, self-denial is a command from Jesus. We are to deny ourselves and starve the sinful flesh. Self-mastery, however, comes before self-denial. Self-mastery involves being fully aware of the self. It is about being sober-minded about our behavior and actions.
Self-Control as Sober Mindedness
Sober-mindedness is about being watchful against Sin and temptation (Mrk. 14:38). Sin is the ultimate instant gratification; it is fulfilling a legitimate need through illegitimate ways. Sin never wants to wait. It wants things right here, right now. However, the gratification it gives us is also short-lived. To have mastery of the self is to know when Sin is crouching at the door; to have self-control is to realize one’s boundary and limit even before it gets to the point when our passions and desires have gotten out of hand. This is why Peter wrote: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pe. 5:8-9).
Self-control is contingent on a high sense of self-awareness. We need to know what makes us tick and what our limits and boundaries are to overcome our temptations. Believers also need to be aware of our thoughts, words, and actions so that our needs remain legitimate. We must continue to be sober-minded about our needs and how we fulfill them so they do not result in insatiable cravings.
Self-Control is Submission to Christ
Part of self-control is submission. To submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ is to declare him as our ultimate Savior, Master, and Lord. The lordship of Christ replaces the lordship of the self. This is why self-control and sober-mindedness are made possible. As we declare Christ as our Lord, the self, who once unduly took center stage, is transported to the sidelines. Because Jesus is now at the center of our lives as our Master and Lord, what matters is not what we want but what pleases him.
This is the beautiful paradox that Christianity offers. When we relinquish the self, we gain control; self-control is achieved when we lose control and lay it down the feet of Jesus. It is only by admitting that we are weak that we can experience the power of God. After all, when we are weak, Jesus is made strong in our lives. A writer put it this way:
“The self is of the world, not of God. By practicing self-control, you are showing your “self” that you are now in Christ, have died and been resurrected into a new, free life.”
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