All Aboard, or Self-Control?

This post was born at 5:24 a.m. My preferred activity at that time, and for the 45 minutes after it, is sleep. The irony that the thought for a blog-post on self-control would poke its head out at 5:24 and demand to be written is stellar. And, as such in content and approach, this post will have the subtle and poetic nature of a dental cleaning. Please keep in mind that the composing and editing of this post took place prior to any intake of caffiene.

The original thought that spurred me on was the lack of self-control that exists in our culture, and among Christians nowadays. We hear a great deal of media howling about self-awareness (right now someone is becoming self aware of something that they shouldn’t be and will soon redefine themselves with the word “trans.”). Once self-aware, that person will be obligated to begin heralding their new discovery through self-expression. Once self-expression arrives on the scene, self-justification and self-promotion are soon to show up. They are a noisy and pushy bunch.

Two questions yawned into my head about this at 5:24. One, what does the Bible say about this? Two, how are Christ-followers to avoid this type of behavior, or lifestyle? Galatians 5:22-23 provided the answer to the first question:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

You know that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are virtues and character traits that are not present in us and must be developed by the Spirit of God through prayer, walking in God’s Word, and following the Spirit’s leadership. In short, they are un-natural to us and supernatural in nature. Pay special attention to the fact that “self-control” is the final one mentioned. I am not going to suggest that it is at the end because it is the least important, I do assert that it could be the final one because the others are necessary for its development.

The answer to our first question is that the Bible promotes self-control, not self-discovery. Skim through the Book of Proverbs and you will see this repeatedly. Yet, when you do, you might get the idea that self-control is a trait that we possess and simply need to exercise it. Wrong, very wrong. Self-control is produced by the Spirit of God in us and is exercised by the wise living prescribed in Proverbs. Self-control is created by God’s Spirit and driven and informed by His Word.

As an aside, self-control is the mother of spiritual discipline. And, of all discipline, for that matter. The choices that we make about food, sleep, money, words, attitudes, etc., are made within the presence or absence of self-control. For the record, self-control does not mean self-deprivation. Think of self-control as the bridle in a thoroughbred’s mouth. It does not stop him from doing what he is best at. Rather, it brings all of his strength, passion, and energy into focus and guides him in the right direction. The Bible makes much, and says much, about self-control.

On to the second question, how do we avoid this type of self-izing that the world lauds? Let me illustrate where this type of “self” living ends up, and then apply some Bible salve to it.

Here is the “self-awareness” travel log. In order to board the world’s train of Self-Discovery you have to abandon self-control at the baggage check; it’s not allowed as a carry-on, or allowed at all. As you pull out of the station, the conductor will announce in a voice that sounds strangely like that of Joel Osteen, “next stop Free Choices.” This town was formerly known as “Lack of Accountability.” Once you visit Free Choices you are well on your way to the second leg of the journey — Freedom-ville (formerly known as Irresponsibility). There are many folks who make their home in Freedom-ville. The migration there is steady and oh-so easy. Remaining there is effortless.  But, those truly committed to self-ing eventually re-board ole’ Self-Discovery and chug down the tracks to Self-Justification. This town has never changed its name despite the many attempts of its citizens to do so. The ruling class feels that the name is appropriate, sends a strong message, and reminds its dwellers that they should feel proud of themselves, their journey, and stand up for where they reside. Once fully self-justified, folks eventually make the final few miles of the trek to I-am-here-and-you-all-drove-me-here (formerly known as Victim’s Corner). Once here, people usually saturate themselves in many sorts of “self” activities and philosophies. They do so without guilt, fear, or remorse because they really believe that someone else put them on the train, paid the fare, forced them to go, and will not allow them to return. Period. End of normalcy.

It is obvious that the Bible, if you have ever even buzzed through some of it — especially Proverbs, James, and Philippians — shows that God doesn’t allow his own to live at Victim’s Corner. Why? Victim’s Corner rejects all of the things that move us to know his grace, depend upon him, and develop the disciplines to know and follow him more fully. (see 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 for a good poke in the eye)

To prove the point let’s re-write some story lines of famous Bible folks as victims:

  • Job – “This should not be happening to me, it’s not my fault, this is all because of how people treated me, and, because the world was jealous that I had a nice family, land, and wealth. This is the world’s way of getting back at me.”
  • King David – “Psalm 159 – A Psalm of King David — Why, oh why, does this happen to me. I deserve more than this. Enemies surround me, and pursue me. If only God had not chosen me to be king, how lovely my life would be. Oh, the pressure to write these psalms. Oh, the agony of ruling. If only I could return to my fields, tend my sheep. If only I had not slain Goliath. I would be free, and free to be me. Free to cloak myself in the soothing blanket of old feelings. Selah.”
  • Paul – “The difficulty of this life is great, I should have never journeyed to Damascus. Then, my life would be more pleasing. I could have focused on becoming a better Pharisee. But, alas, I will make the best of this as long as I can. I will submit to God’s plan, and suffer through it, perhaps through my suffering others will feel better about themselves.” 1 Ridiculous 2:7-8 (Oprah’s favorite verses)
  • Jesus – Well, I can’t. It would be too disrespectful, and blasphemous. The point here is that Jesus never complained about his mission to fully obey and fulfill the will of God the Father, die for the sins of others, and love and sanctify those for whom he had died. That would make a great victim story, but, it would have dishonored God the Father and undermined Jesus’ mission. It will do the same in your life and mine.

So, stay off of the train of Self-Discovery. Instead, walk the Shepherd’s trail. He is the Good Shepherd. He will provide all that you need, give you abundant life, and through self-control empower you to be who He designed you to be, not who you or the world hopes to fashion you to into.

In closing, a good first step toward self-control begins with this verse:

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, – 2 Corinthians 10:5
Kill every lofty opinion (the world’s ways and opinions) and take every thought captive to obey Christ? Yep. Self-control starts in your mind.

By the way, that Bible salve that I mentioned is a gritty emollient containing mint, cayenne pepper, and pumas stone. But, you see and feel it working already.

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