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How to Develop Self-Control
Self-Control Word Study, Lesson 7
In the first six lessons of this series, we’ve learned a lot about self-control. We know why we should develop self-control and who should develop self-control. We know that self-control requires having a clear mind or a sober mind. We know that self-control is especially important for those areas where passion or poor decision making can cause us to spiral out of control.
Even with all that knowledge, we haven’t discussed HOW to develop self-control. And if we don’t know how to develop self-control, then where does that leave us? In this lesson, we’ll cover three important ways that you can begin to develop self-control.
To help you process your thoughts as you go throughout this lesson, a reflection journal sheet is available. You can access it by clicking here.
Self-Control Requires the Holy Spirit
The first and most important step of developing self-control is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. In a verse most of us are familiar with, Galatians 5:22-23 says:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
The word used for self-control here is a new one for us: enkrateia. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary defines this as “self-control, continence, temperance.” I looked up these terms in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. Surprise, surprise, look what I found:
Continence = self-restraint, especially refraining from sexual intercourse
Temperance = habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions; moderation in or abstinence from the use of alcoholic beverages
We’ve already seen that self-control is necessary to help us control our passions. Galatians 5:22-23 adds that this self-control requires the work of the Holy Spirit. So how do we get the Holy Spirit? In one of the most famous sermons in the Bible, Peter answers this question in Acts 2:38:
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The Bible promises that when we believe in Jesus and turn from our old ways of sin, we will receive the Holy Spirit. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we receive power as well. Acts 1:8 says:
[Jesus said,] “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The power we receive from the Holy Spirit helps us witness to those around us, both in words and in actions. One way the Holy Spirit gives us power to witness is by having self-control to be obedient to Christ.
Self-Control Must Be Taught or Modeled
The second way that we can develop self-control is look to others who are successful in this area to teach us and to be a model for us. The verses we’ve read in Titus 2:1-8, 11-12 remind us of this:
You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. ...
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.
These teachers can be pastors or other leaders, mentors who are older and have more life experience, or other Christians who provide encouragement and accountability. But most of all, we can be taught self-control through the grace of God, which goes back to the power we receive from the Holy Spirit to have self-control.
Self-Control is a Process
Finally, as we work to develop self-control, we need to remember that developing self-control is a process. It’s not something that you decide to do and then it happens automatically. It’s something that you make a choice to do every day, and on the days when you fail, you pick yourself up again and keep at it—you “make every effort” to develop self-control. This process is shown in 2 Peter 1:5-7:
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.
The word for self-control here is enkrateia, the same word we saw earlier in this lesson. The process of developing self-control starts with faith. Not coincidentally, this is the same thing that allows us to receive the Holy Spirit.
But what is really interesting to me is what comes on either side of self-control. Before we have self-control, we must have knowledge. Whatever that thing is that you struggle with, you first have to have knowledge about what is right and what the harmful effects are. In the area of sexual desires, you have to have knowledge about what God’s design for sex is. In the area of alcohol consumption, you have to have knowledge about the harmful effects of drunkenness. For me, I struggle with eating healthy. I need to develop knowledge about what and when and how much I should be eating. Having access to the truth about your area of struggle will help you be convinced that you need to develop self-control and about what that self-control should look like.
After knowledge comes self-control. Self-control is what you use in the moment to make the best decision when you are faced with temptation in your area of struggle. You keep your mind clear, think through the choices and the consequences, and make the choice that is pleasing to God. And that’s easy to do as a one-time event. Anyone can make a good choice one time. It’s making that same good choice time after time after time that becomes difficult.
That’s where the next step comes in—perseverance. Whereas self-control is making the best choice in the moment, perseverance is what you use to continue to make that best choice time after time until that best choice starts to become more natural. The more frequently you make that right choice, the easier it will become over time. That’s when your life begins to reflect godliness.
Where are you in this process? Do you need to start at the very beginning, by having faith in Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit? Or maybe you are already a Christian, but you need to find someone who displays self-control in your area of struggle to be a teacher, model, and encouragement for you. Maybe you need discipleship or counseling. It’s also possible that you ARE the person who can be a teacher, model, and encouragement for someone else. Is there someone in your life who you can help mentor?
You can also assess where you are in the process described in 2 Peter 1. Do you need to start researching to develop some knowledge about what self-control should look like for your area of struggle? Do you need to practice having self-control in the moment? Or do you need to work on developing perseverance, having self-control consistently over time? We are all in different stages of the process, and knowing where you are in your process can help you figure out what step to take next.
Over the next couple weeks, we’ll discuss two ideas for how to implement self-control: self-denial and self-discipline. I hope you’ll join me!
To help you process your thoughts as you go throughout this lesson, a reflection journal sheet is available. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically.
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