Building Self Control

      Over the years I have done many individual spiritual plans with people.  One of my questions in this process is to mention the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22,23).   I then ask if there is one of these fruits that is really flourishing in their life and which one is missing or struggling?  The answer to the flourishing question is all over the list but the overwhelming answer to the struggling question is self- control.  Author James Merritt says self-control or self-discipline is “choosing to do what is right when you feel like doing what is wrong” (Character Still Counts, 180).   Self-control is a struggle in my life and it is probably a challenge for you as well.  There are multiple ways to struggle with self-control—gluttony, financial debt, pornography, gossip, smoking, and anger, just to name a few.  However, God calls us to a life of self-control.  Self-discipline helps us succeed in life and relationships.  For example, controlling our temper and tongue; most can think of a time when a loved one hurt you with their words and a time when you injured another with a harsh statement.  In Philip Yancey’s recent memoir, he shares how his Christian mother once got angry at him and said, “Maybe I should have had that abortion after all.”  Wow! I doubt she really meant something so cruel, but words damage.  The writer of proverbs compares a man without self-control to a city whose walls are broken down (Proverbs 25:28). How do we develop self-control in our lives?
      First, live for the long term.  In a culture that emphasizes instant gratification, we must keep the long view.  Over the years, I have watched many men shatter their marriages, reputations, and families for an affair.  When facing a dangerous decision, roll the tape forward in your mind.  How will this decision affect your marriage, your children, and your reputation? Allow Jesus Christ to speak into that moment. 
       Second, plan for success.  Set up the automatic savings plan.  Remove the sugary food from your house when you start the diet.  Make the decision about sexual purity before going on the exciting date with the woman of your dreams.  Download the filter against pornography on your phone.  Make holy decisions before the emotion drenched moments; you are much more likely to succeed.        
     Third, embrace accountability.  Seek out and invite into your life allies in your fight to live a robust, flourishing life.  Honestly, there are some people you may have to cut out, particularly if they tempt you in an area of serious struggle or addiction. 
      Fourth, we must persevere.  The Apostle Paul tells us that we must “not become weary of doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 5:9). Often we have to fight the same battle more than once to succeed, whether it is giving up smoking, losing weight, or taming our tongues.   
       It is troubling to acknowledge that one of our greatest enemies is our own selfishness.  We do not accidently grow in self-control; it requires effort.  I appreciate the old poetic advice that Dr. David Jeremiah shares in one of his books, “Two natures beat within my breast: The one is foul; the one is blest.  The one I love; the one I hate.  The one I feed will dominate” (A Life Beyond Amazing, 180).  Virtue takes time and the help of the Holy Spirit.  Pursue self-control today.

Pastor Derek Dickinson
Journey Christian Church