The Gift of Self-Control

This Sunday, two words struck me. GOD GAVE. If you listened, these words are likely already underlined in your Bible. “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control…” (2 Timothy 1:7).  God has given us His Spirit, and in doing so, is “causing us to walk in His statutes…” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Throughout our series, we have been continually reminded that all spiritual striving and fruit-bearing comes by knowing the heart of our Savior. Every single spiritual blessing is received by faith in the power of God to rescue sinners who have nothing to offer. Any attempt to obtain love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control apart from this reality inevitably ends in disappointment and failure. Scripture tells us that, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have (past-tense) crucified the flesh with its passions and desires…” (Galatians 5:24).

Therefore, we can be sure that self-control is not some lofty goal, lying just outside of our grasping hands. Instead, trusting that we belong to Him, we simply look to our Father. When we do, we find that He has already given us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). 

Knowing these truths, how do we grow in this specific gift practically? I think Paul gives us a clue in His letter to the Colossians, a church that was threatened by a false-doctrine known for its asceticism. Asceticism is the idea that through extreme self-discipline and self-control, you can reach “a higher spiritual state.” Condemning this thinking, Paul clarifies that it has no real power to stop the indulgence of the flesh. Instead, his next words give us a different route:

Since you have been raised with Christ, set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth.

This week, as we endeavor to practice self-control, we can’t just tell ourselves “don’t do this, don’t eat that…” It’s even deeper than restraining from junk food or resisting binge-watching your favorite Netflix show. William Wilberforce, speaking of the outworking of authentic faith, puts it this way:

Keeping the mind attuned to the truth of God, we live active and productive lives and enjoy the comforts and blessings of the material world with a proper sense of moderation and thankfulness. We are careful not to live in totus in illis (totally absorbed in those matters). Authentic faith works to keep the eternal in focus. (William Wilberforce, Real Christianity)

We need not focus more on the fleshly in order to avoid it, but rather find practical ways to actively set our minds on heavenly things. As we do this, we will remember that God gave, and self-control is the means by which we get to enjoy His gifts and manifest them to the world. 

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