By Kevin Thompson • January 20th 2022

When we think about self-control, our first thoughts are often those of limitations. To have self-control means I can be disciplined in my eating and exercise. It means I don’t drink too much, if I drink at all. It means I never let anger have its way with me. The idea of self-control evokes a very controlled life, but one in which we get the picture of extreme restrictions.

Yet self-control looks different from a Christian perspective. Rather than seeing it as full of restrictions, the Biblical model of self-control brings freedom and flourishing.

A person who lacks self-control is held captive by their desires, temptations, and whims. Immediate pleasure or pain avoidance rules everything they do. They aren’t free to make their own choices, have long-term achievements, or choose to love. Instead, they are enslaved. This enslavement hinders their personal growth. It limits what they can accomplish and experience. While a lack of self-control sounds more pleasurable, it leads to far less enjoyment.

When Paul writes about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, he prefaces it by describing what he calls the works of the flesh. It’s a contrast. Someone led by the Spirit flourishes in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Whereas someone the Spirit doesn’t lead lives in a chaos defined by sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, etc. Which is better, the flesh or the Spirit? Which has more life?

Self-control is ultimately about love. Without it, we can never look beyond ourselves to truly experience love. The absence of self-control allows lust to flourish but causes love to founder. But when we can restrain our appetites and desires, we are free to look beyond ourselves and love our neighbor.

This freedom of love then empowers us to flourish. Consider a family filled with love. Each person has the potential to thrive because of the support and stability they have. They can grow and achieve because of the strength of love. A marriage defined by love can have deep conversations and take emotional risks. Each partner can confidently grow as an individual, knowing that their growth will simply enrich their relationship. A family with love allows children to grow emotionally.

They can explore their words with confidence, knowing they have a strong foundation. Yet when love isn’t present, marriage is paralyzed. Topics are off-limits. Each person might have to walk on eggshells. Aspects of each person must be concealed lest their true persona is revealed. In families without love, children’s growth is stunted; just like an absence of food leads to malnourishment, so a lack of love hinders the development of families.

Self-control isn’t ultimately about restraint; it’s about freedom and flourishing. We will either control our desires, or our desires will control us.

2 PETER 1:3-11 (NIV)

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Reflection Questions:

    1. What is the hope about God?

    2. How is that hope for you?

    3. How can you share hope with others today?