“Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.”
– Proverbs 25:28
Self-control is defined by Thayer’s Biblical Dictionary as “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions.” Scripture says in 2 Peter 2:19 that people are slaves to whatever masters them. We are enslaved by our sin, but Romans 6:6-7 says, “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” Paul goes on to say in verses 12-14, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
We cultivate self-control by dying to our sin.
Because of Jesus, we have power over sin. When we follow the example of Jesus, we see how He resisted the temptation of sin. He prayed, and He fasted. He overcame every lie of the enemy with a truth from the word of God. His resistance was rooted in a knowledge of God’s Word. His resistance was rooted in an understanding of who God was and what God desired for Him. He looked beyond His temporary situation and ahead to an eternal purpose. He was driven by His love for the Father and His love for us. He came not be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom (Mark 10:45). By living a sinless life and dying a blameless death, He did what we were powerless to do. When He heals us, He does so without judgement and condemnation, but He tells us to go and sin no more. He tells us to take up our cross and follow Him. We have to die to ourselves daily. We have to surrender ourselves daily to His all-sufficient sacrifice. And when we fall, as we inevitably will, He picks us up and dusts us off with love and compassion because He is a God of second chances and unending grace and mercy.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
– Titus 2:11-12 NIV
Our sinfulness is defined by unrestrained passions and desires, unhealthy cravings and addictions. Our sinfulness runs rampant when we surrender ourselves to the desires of our flesh rather than the desires of our spirit. In Galatians 5:16-17, Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” He goes on to say in Galatians 5:24-25, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”
We cultivate self-control by walking in the Spirit.
When we bear the fruit of self-control, we are focused and disciplined; our eyes are fixed on the things above, and we are practicing spiritual disciplines as if they are exercises for our soul. When we do not bear the fruit of self-control, we are wandering around aimlessly; we’re easily distracted and thrown off course. In 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, Paul writes, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
When we practice self-control, it’s important for us to be clear on what is the source of our motivation. I’ve heard it said that self-control cannot be practiced by ourselves or for the sake of ourselves. It’s important for us to remember that self-control is not dependent on our own power and ability, but on God’s power working through us. We must surrender ourselves to the work of the Spirit and be completely dependent on Him. If we make our ability to resist sinfulness and be spiritually disciplined something that is done our own willpower, then we negate the power of God working through us. This way of thinking takes the focus off of God and places it onto ourselves. This way of thinking invites in pride and idolatry. When we practice self-control, we have to be careful to avoid falling in to the trap of self-righteousness. For example, fasting is often used as a discipline to break chains of addiction and set our focus on things above. However, as Phillip Kenneson writes, “Fasting that is undertaken as a form of self-mastery can easily reinforce the self-centeredness that often fosters addictions in the first place.” We must be clear on what is the driving force of our motivation. We practice self-control not for ourselves or by ourselves, but for the Spirit and by the Spirit.
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
– 2 Timothy 1:7 ESV
If we think we must practice self-control all on our own, then the mountain seems impossible to climb. We must remember that we are not alone in this journey. God is with us. God is working through us and fighting for us. We need our Father to guide us in the way we should go and discipline us when we go astray, but we also need our brothers and sisters in Christ to hold us accountable and keep us encouraged as we battle against the sins that so easily entangle us (Hebrews 12:1). God has given us a spirit of self-control. The word for “self-control” in 2 Timothy 1:7 can also be translated as “self-discipline” or “a sound mind.” God knows what we need because He has been where we are, and He is with us now. He gives us what we need, and He gives us who we need. He empowers us to do what we need to do. He can relate to our struggles with sin because He was tempted in all the ways we are tempted, but sinned not (Hebrews 4:15).
We cultivate self-control by controlling our thoughts.
The battle of sin is a battle of the mind. It starts with our thoughts. 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. We are waging war daily against our sinful nature and the desires of our flesh. In Romans 7:18-20 Paul writes, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”
1 Peter 1:13-16 says, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”
Our emotions. The way we feel about certain situations. The way we respond to other people when they hurt us or make us angry. The way we react when we’re under stress. The words we speak. The things we do. The way we plan and organize our day. The way we spend our time and our money. The way we maintain our health and well-being. These things all originate in our thoughts, and they all impact how we cultivate the fruit of self-control.
Self-control leads to confidence, calm assurance, and trust. The more we listen to and believe the words of truth God has spoken to us and over us, the better we feel about ourselves and the better decisions we make. The more confidence and trust we have in God, the more willing we are to take risks and step out in obedience to what He is calling us to do. When we trust His will above our own will, our fear and anxiety will yield to boldness and confidence in who He is and what He is able to do.
Self-control is also closely related to the fruit of patience. Practicing restraint takes patience. We have to process our thoughts through the lens of Christ rather than act on the impulse of our desires. Self-control means thinking before we speak, and thinking before we act. Scripture tells us in Matthew 15:11 that it’s not what goes in that defiles us, but what comes out. Everything that we fill our mind with must be processed through our heart and through our Spirit. Without that filtration system, our sinfulness will surely come forth through our words and our actions. Cultivating the fruit of self-control means maintaining that internal filtration system and keeping it in check through our prayer, fasting, and spiritual discipline.
Let us pray….
Spiritual Warfare Prayer for Self-Control and Self-Discipline
Written By: Geevetha Mary Samuel
“Almighty Father, in this world filled with goodness, evil, pleasure, leisure, lust and temptations, my desire is to have the fruit of Your Spirit evident in my daily life. Grant me Father I pray, a spirit of self control. May I face all issues of life with calmness and control, from self and over-indulgence.
Father, please forgive me for the times I have said and done things rashly. Please remind me to consider self-control as “God-control”. It’s not trying to control myself with human effort. But rather it is depending on the Holy Spirit to guide my ways and choices.
Lord Jesus Christ, You defeated Satan in his attempts to tempt you to flaunt Your power with a spirit of self control. And now I call upon Your blessed name. I ask You to bless me with this virtue, which is very much needed in most aspects of life. I seek Your assistance and guidance. May Your Holy Spirit fill me with power, as I come in prayer and raise my supplications before You.
Lord Jesus, empower me with a spirit of self control when I’m tempted with sexual desires and lusts over the flesh. Help me to restraint myself from thoughts of lust. May I be pure in heart, mind and soul. In my relationships, may I practice self-control. May I not give in to others in sexual desires except within the bond of marriage.
May I grow in deeper mutual understanding, respect, honor. And, most of all, may I grow in love for my brothers and sisters, even as I grow in self control to be able to counter and defeat most issues in life.
I pray for a spirit of self-discipline as I deal with money, wealth, my daily living habits and my pleasures. Help me to do all in moderation and in accordance with your will.
As a family, may we keep ourselves in the right perspective. May we to live a life, evenly spread with all joys and pleasures that are blessed in Your eyes. May we never indulge in anything impure and illicit. And may our choices be never rash or impulsive. Help us Lord to pray and receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all our decisions of family, work, friendship and relationships.
Lord Jesus, I believe and trust that You will deliver me from temptations and self indulgence as I place my heart in Your loving care. Though I may stumble, Your mighty power will lead me back in focus and self control. You will deliver me from the evil schemes of Satan.
I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. May I be renewed daily with a fresh filling of Your Spirit, as I come and surrender myself. In Your blessed name Lord Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.”