How to develop self-control
Discover why this fruit of the Spirit is so important for young Christians – and learn five steps to increase self-control.
In February of this year, I began taking Martial Arts with my children. It was rough! I could barely kick, keep my balance, or throw a punch. At times, it was quite embarrassing!
But now that I’ve been doing it for six months, I’ve learned that I have much more control over my body. My kicks are higher, my punches are faster, and I can maintain balance (at least better than before!). But I didn’t get there easily. It took six months of training for my body to become conditioned.
In many ways, that’s what it’s like being a Christian. We don’t become super Christians overnight. It takes time and discipline. But we must also realize we can’t do this on our own. Living a spirit-filled life that’s full of self-control takes relying on the most important resource God has given—the Holy Spirit.
What Does the Bible Say about Self-Control?
The Bible tells us that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation and that we are saved by God’s grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9). So, when we talk about self-control in our spiritual lives, we don’t mean that somehow we’re working for our salvation. Rather, God has given us His Holy Spirit, who empowers us with all that we need to live a spiritual life. Check out what Paul has to say about this in Ephesians 1:18-20:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead.
Did you catch that? First off, Paul tells the people of Ephesus that God’s power is for us. Let that sink in. The God of the universe offers his power to us. Secondly, Paul tells them that we have available to us the same power that was at work in raising Jesus from the dead. Wow! How amazing is that!
Let’s look at a similar Scripture from Jesus’s disciple, Peter: "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." (2 Pt 1:3, NIV)
As the above passage tells us, God has given us everything we need for a godly life. So, the first thing we need to know about self-control is that this isn’t something we have to muster up on our own.
Peter goes on to tell us in 2 Peter 1:5-9:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 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. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
There’s a lot we could unpack here, but for our purposes, we’re only going to focus on how self-control fits in. Notice, since God has made His power available to us and has given us everything we need for a life of holiness, that means we can have self-control as Christians. It’s not an impossible task.
We also see from this passage that self-control is part of a chain of qualities that we should have in our lives and should grow in. That’s what Peter means when he speaks of possessing those “qualities in increasing measure.” We should take heart in realizing that all of us experience this process of growth. None of us have finally arrived. We’re all on the same journey together as we grow in these qualities, including self-control!
Finally, notice that self-control is one of those qualities in our lives that keeps us from being ineffective and unproductive as Christians.
How Do I Do This?
Step 1: Pray for God to show you gaps in your spiritual life where self-control is needed.
Step 2: Look to Scripture or people in your life who lived a life of self-control. You might also consider godly Christians throughout history who have lived extraordinary lives of self-control. Ask yourself: what made them different? What kinds of habits did they include in their lives? List those out as you think on them.
Step 3: Develop an action plan to help you overcome those areas where you need to have self-control. Be as specific as possible.
Step 4: Find people who will hold you accountable. Look for people who are going to be tough and who you know will help you stick to your action plan.
Step 5: Ask God daily to help you have self-control in those areas stated in your action plan.
This post concludes our walk through the fruit of the Spirit. I would encourage you to begin praying daily through each of these fruit. You might even take one of the fruit and focus on applying it to your life daily for a month. No matter which way you go, in all things, trust God. He’s given us everything we need for a life of holiness!