Get Self-Control!

A man without self-control 

is like a city broken into and left without walls.”

Proverbs 25:28

The Bible teaches that we have three great enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. These three adversaries have done more damage to the human race than all the communist regimes throughout history. The world, this godless age that we live in, is a prostitute constantly seeking to allure and entice us to commit spiritual adultery on the Lord (James 4:1-5). The flesh, our sin nature that rages against all that’s godly, is consistently seeking the fleeting pleasures of sin (Romans 8:5-8; Hebrews 11:25). And the devil, that fierce nemesis of our souls, is actively tempting us to rebel against God. These enemies are forcefully trying to infiltrate our souls, to corrupt every aspect of our being, and to leave us desolate before God. 

A City Without Walls

And the proverb above teaches us how instrumental self-control is when these adversaries rage against us. You see, when we possess self-control, we can exercise control over our sinful desires and passions. On the other hand, when we lack self-control, we cannot exercise control over our sinful desires and passions. As you can see, without self-control we lie open to our enemies’ every attack. We are “like a city broken into and left without wall” (Proverbs 25:28). A city without walls is a city without a defense. It is easily taken, plundered, and conquered. This is how it is when we lack self-control. We have no line of defense against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Perfect For Conquering

When we cannot control our sinful passions and desires, every worldly enticement can lead us into spiritual adultery, every fleshly desire can lead us into heinous sin, and every temptation can lead us to rebel against God. Periods of anger have potential to lead to murder (Genesis 4:8). Moments of inward lust can lead to acts of adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5). Envy and jealousy can lead to gossip, slander, and false accusations (Matthew 27:18). Desire for worldly glory, honor, and power can lead to genocide (Esther 3:1-6). Unrestrained sensual passions can lead to incestuous rape (2 Samuel 13:11-14). A desire for continual pleasure can lead to poverty (Proverbs 21:17). Though more examples could be given, it should be apparent by now that without self-control, the world, the flesh, and the devil arrive at the city of our souls to find it lacking walls and ready to be easily taken over!

Where Do I Find Self-Control?

But how are we to get self-control? And we are not talking about the self-control it takes to wake up early in the morning to go to the gym. We are talking about the self-control it takes to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God — to say “no” to worldly enticements, the lust of the flesh, and the temptations of the evil one, and to say “yes” to righteousness, holiness, purity, and godliness! How are we to get this kind of self-control?

The Spirit of God

First, the Bible teaches that we must be born again by the Spirit of God. Apart from the new birth, we are in the flesh, and we live in accordance with our fleshly desires (John 3:6; Romans 6:5-7). And to be in the flesh and living in accordance with our fleshly desires is to be hostile to God (Romans 6:7), enslaved to sin (Romans 6:15-19), and under the dominating power of sin (Romans 6:6-11). 

However, once we are born again by the Spirit, we are in the Spirit, liberated from slavery to sin, and released from the dominating power of sin (Romans 8:1-11). By the Spirit of God, we are enabled to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God. Simply put, we are enabled to have self-control when it comes to saying “no” to worldly enticements, the lust of the flesh, and the temptations of the evil one, and “yes” to righteousness, holiness, purity, and godliness.

Secondly, as the Spirit of God leads us, we are to “walk by the Spirit,” and to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 18, 25). As we do this, the Spirit of God will increasingly produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. And “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22). So, as we “walk by the Spirit,” and “keep in step with the Spirit,” we will progressively have the Spirit empowered ability to exercise control over our sinful desires and passions. Rather than being like a city without walls, we will be like fortified city with impenetrable walls. 

Thirdly, we must know what it means to “walk by the Spirit,” and to “keep in step with the Spirit.” I mean, how are we to live in such a way that the Spirit will increasingly produce His fruit in our lives? And I think J.I. Packer is particularly helpful here, so I am just going to let him teach us:

The Spirit works through means—through the objective means of grace, namely, biblical truth, prayer, fellowship, worship, and the Lord’s Supper, and with them through the subjective means of grace whereby we open ourselves to change, namely, thinking, listening, questioning oneself, examining oneself, admonishing oneself, sharing what is in one’s heart with others, and weighing any response they make. . . . Habit forming is the Spirit’s ordinary way of leading us on in holiness. . . . Love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control are all of them habitual. . . . ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.

Packer goes on to emphasize that, “Holiness by habit forming is not self-sanctification by self-effort, but simply a matter of understanding the Spirit’s method and then keeping in step with Him.” Essentially, Packer is teaching us that the Spirit works through means. The more we make use of these means, the more the Spirit produces His fruit in our lives. Therefore, if we want to grow in self-control, lets habitually make use of the means the Spirit has promised to bless.

A City With Walls

This is the key to having ever increasing self-control in the Christian life. And if we are faithful to do this, the world, the flesh, and the devil will show up at the city of our souls to find unscalable, impenetrable, and sturdy walls built around it. These ancient foes will not find a city without a defense. They will find a city aware of their schemes, defended on every side, and ready to make an offensive attack by the power of the Spirit of God.

Brighter and Brighter

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, 

which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”

Proverbs 4:18

The Bible is uncomplimentary of those who are outside of Christ. The non-Christian is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), under the enslaving powers of sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:20), without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12), and hostile to God (Romans 8:7; Colossians 1:21). Their way of life is like deep darkness (Proverbs 4:19). They stumble and fall as they live wickedly on this cursed earth (Proverbs 4:19; Ephesians 5:11). Indeed, it is shameful to even speak about the things ungodly people do with their built-up enmity towards God (Ephesians 5:12).

The Light Shines in our Dark World

While it is plain that the Scriptures are unflattering in their portrayal of non-Christians, it is also unmistakably clear that the God who inspired the Scriptures is incomprehensibly merciful and gracious to unbelievers. While the world dwelled in darkness, God sent Jesus Christ, the true light, to be born of virgin (John 1:9). Christ’s purpose was to shine into the darkness and to bring life to those who were dead in sin (John 1:4-5). This God given mission could only be accomplished by destroying the works of the Devil, the prince of darkness (Genesis 3:15; 1 John 1:8). Through His obedient life, substitutionary death, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven, Christ crushed the head of the Evil One.

The Light Shines in Our Dark Hearts

After Christ’s earthly ministry, He filled His church with the Spirit and sent them to take the gospel message to this dark and evil world. As they preached the gospel, the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” penetrated deep into “our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). Now that God has mercifully given us a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we have been delivered from Satan’s domain of darkness and transferred into the bright and radiant kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). Instead of being darkness, now we “light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). Rather than being dead in sin, now we are alive in Christ Jesus. By the grace of God we now belong to those who, through faith in Christ, are righteous (Romans 1:17).

The Light Grows Brighter and Brighter

Because of God’s sovereign grace, we are now new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). This new spiritual life we have brings about incredible results. As Archibald Alexander says, “The implantation of spiritual life in a soul dead in sin, is an event, the consequences of which will never end.” In light of this God wrought spiritual life that He has given us through the indwelling Spirit, we no longer walk in darkness. As the proverb above says, the Christian life is “like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Proverbs 4:18).

Like the sun at the break of dawn, we as Christians begin to radiate with holiness and good works. This does not happen all at once. Much like the sun at the break of dawn, it is rather faint at the beginning of our Christian journey. We die to some sins. We eagerly obey God in certain areas of our lives. As time goes on, though, we get brighter and brighter. 

Through the ministry of the Spirit, we begin to be further conformed into the image of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2; Romans 8:29). Just as the sun progressively makes its way to noon day, the Christian, by the grace of God, progressively makes his way to complete conformity into the image of Christ. Nevertheless, though many of our graces will be strengthened a great deal by the end of our lives, we will never reach complete conformity into the image of Christ on this side of heaven.

The Light is Brightest at Full Day

God has ordained that our complete conformity into the image of Christ will happen at the second coming of Jesus. We are promised that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2-3). It at the second coming of Christ that we will shine like the sun at full day. Even our Lord Jesus promised this when he told his disciples that on the New Earth “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). This is the great hope that we have as Christians. Until the second coming of Christ, though, let us cast off the works of darkness and pursue righteousness that we may shine brighter and brighter in this dark world (Romans 13:12-14).