An essential practice of Christ-like living is the exercise of self-control. It may help you to know that the meaning of self-control in the bible doesn’t have the same connotations as our modern understanding of the word. It’s important to understand the biblical text so you can benefit from the truth and empowerment offered in scripture.
As you become better equipped in using self-control, you will become more qualified to teach it. As a parent, when you effectively teach self-control to your children, you bless them with an ability that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
Spiritual Self-Control In The Bible
Self-control, according to Galatians 5:23, is a product of having the Holy Spirit. Being a product or fruit of the Holy Spirit, means having the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite. Self-control comes from the indwelling and transformation by the Holy Spirit. Strong’s Concordance defines the word used in this bible verse, ἐγκράτεια, as “self-control – proceeding out from within oneself, but not by oneself.”
Jesus is the expert on overcoming temptation. He never sinned, despite being tempted. And he is compassionate towards our struggles with temptation.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV).
Not only does he care, but he has left us with help to overcome. As Jesus was leaving he told us, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26, NIV).
Spiritual self-control cannot happen without the Holy Spirit. You need to depend on him and draw upon the power and strength you have been given in Christ through the Holy Spirit in order to practice self-control well. So really, as people of faith, we might do better to call it “With the help of the Holy-Spirit control.”
But there’s another important aspect of self-control in the bible. We are told to choose self-control in the bible. It is both Holy Spirit empowered and by our own choice.
“But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer” (I Peter 4:7).
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness,” (2 Peter 1:5-6).
So self-control is both something we make an effort for and receive. It is done in collaboration with the Holy Spirit – not by Him for us, nor by us without Him.
Biblical self-control means choosing to give up trying to control things on our own, surrendering to God for help, and working alongside Him for real change.
Why Self-Control Is Important
If you lack self-control, you will be controlled by your whims. If you don’t choose to rely on the Holy Spirit and aim to make the right choices, you can’t become your best self.
Jesus gave up his life so that you could be set free from sin and death. This freedom is meant to be used to glorify God. When you give up the life ruled by desires that come and go, you discover the better and more meaningful life God has for you.
As Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
When you die to yourself or surrender to God’s way over your own way, you will find a more beautiful and fulfilling life on the other side.
More Verses About Self-Control In The Bible
Scripture also speaks to the many benefits of self-control. Below are more bible verses and key takeaways from scripture on self-control.
Self-Control Protects You
“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28).
It Makes You More Attractive
“Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,” (I Timothy 2:9, ESV)
Note the word here for self-control is σωφροσύνης. It means being sober-minded. Whereas the other word was more about your behavior and having mastery over your actions.
Self-Control Benefits Your Testimony
“Likewise, exhort the younger men to be sober-minded. In all things show yourself an example of good works” (Titus 2:6). This verse also uses the word for self-control, σωφρονέω, or sober-minded.
What God Says About Self Control And Overcoming Temptation
1. Expect trials and temptations.
Be prepared. Being a Christian doesn’t mean life is easy. While we are still in this world and in our earthly bodies we will be tempted, just as Jesus was.
“Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you” (I Peter 4:12). This same word for trial, “peirasmon” in the original Greek is also translated as temptation, such as Jesus used in teaching us to pray “Bring us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).
2. It’s a battle. It can be hard and frustrating.
You don’t need to minimize the difficulty. It’s hard. Choosing right when faced with temptation is much easier said than done.
As Paul said, “For I delight in God’s law after the inward man, but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, the sin’s law” (Romans 7:22-25).
3. You have the power in Christ.
It might be hard, but you are strong enough in Christ. Jesus has won the battle, removed sin’s power, and has empowered you to make the right choices.
“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin” (Romans 6:6).
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NIV).
4. You never have to battle alone. The Holy Spirit will help you overcome temptation.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh,” (Galatians 5:16).
God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13).
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5. Prayer is your weapon.
When you feel like you are struggling with self-control, pray to be rescued from temptation. In what’s known as the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13, NIV).
At the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus encouraged the disciples who were struggling to be there for Jesus as he had asked them to, saying, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41, NIV).
In the beginning, our kids require us to step in and hold the boundaries. But our end goal as parents should be to move our children from being managed by us to being self-managed with the Holy Spirit. Children need instructions to help them learn how to master their impulses.
If you want to succeed and help your kids to succeed, spend time mastering self-control and teaching your kids to do the same. Self-discipline doesn’t come easily or naturally. It must be learned. Mastery over anything is not accomplished overnight, but with careful and persistent effort. Self-control is a skill that can be taught and a muscle that can be grown, but it takes time and practice.
And notice how contrary scripture is to the world’s ideas about self-control. The world tells you to punish – punish yourself and others until they “get it right.” That’s not spiritual self-control. It’s not coming from the Holy Spirit, but fear.
Lead your kids into spiritual self-control by teaching them it’s normal to be tempted. Empathize with them, understanding the difficulty, as Christ empathizes with you (Hebrews 4:15). Let them know it’s a battle and you struggle, too -just as Paul did. Teach them that through the Holy Spirit by prayer and choice, they can overcome.
This teaches them about the Way, Christ. He is the way to self-control. If you teach them self-control without Christ they will have less success, and even worse, they may come to believe that their efforts, not his, will save them.
Final Encouragements On Biblical Self-Control
In Christ, you are called to live into the best life that God has always intended for you, and to honor Christ’s sacrifice by worshiping God with your choices. This isn’t just for God’s benefit, but yours.
It’s worth the effort and sacrifice. And truly, as time goes on you will get better at it. If you’d like more help, I’ve put together self-control worksheets. Go here to get yours or click the link below. They’re free and downloadable. They’re also appropriate for kids about 8 and up.
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