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Self-Control as the Mark of a Christian, Part 1
Self-Control Word Study, Lesson 3
In Lesson 1, we discovered that there are negative consequences to a lack of self-control, such as misery, isolation, and defeat. In Lesson 2, we learned about two big reasons we should develop self-control: to be prepared for Satan’s attacks and to be prepared for Christ’s return. But if you think about it, none of these reasons will be very convincing for someone who doesn’t follow Christ.
For those who don’t think with an eternal perspective, self-indulgence seems like a great option, and they aren’t concerned with when Christ might return and whether they will be ready. Therefore, it follows from logic that self-control is the mark of a Christ-follower. We’ll look at this idea in general for all Christians first in this lesson, then we’ll look at specific groups of people in Lesson 4.
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 is the Mark of Salvation
Titus 2 is a passage we will refer to over and over again in this study. Titus 2 discusses characteristics of those who follow God, who understand sound doctrine, and who have accepted salvation in Jesus Christ. For every group of people it addresses—old men and young men, old women and young women—self-control is listed as an attribute that they should develop. We’ll look at some of the nuances in meaning between these different groups in Lesson 4. But for now, understand that it is clear from this passage that no matter your age or gender, self-control is a mark of those who follow Christ. This is applied to all people in Titus 2:11-12:
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.
For those of you really struggling with self-control, these would be great verses to memorize!
Interestingly, the word translated as “self-controlled” in Titus 2:12 is sōphronōs, which has the context of a person being in their right mind. What does it mean to be in your right mind? As a Christian, that means our mind need to be focused on Christ and his salvation. The only way we will have the strength to turn away from self-indulgence and live lives of self-control is to focus on God rather than on ourselves. We’ll talk about this idea of saying “No” to our worldly desires more in Lesson 8.
Self-Control is the Mark of an Encounter with Christ
There’s a connection between self-control and being in your right mind elsewhere in the Bible as well. A similar word, sōphroneō, is translated to “right mind,” “self-control,” or “sober” at different places in the Bible. One of these places is in the story of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39. You can read the full story by clicking on the respective links.
Essentially, a demon-possessed man lived in the tombs, and even though people tried to bind him with chains, he always broke through them. He was a hazard to himself and to those who tried to help him. He had no self-control because he was being controlled by demons. When Jesus approached him, we learn that the man is possessed not just by one demon but by a legion of demons. After Jesus freed the man from demon possession, all the people were amazed to see the “man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15). The word translated “right mind” here is sōphroneō.
It’s amazing how a man who had no self-control at all due to being controlled by a legion of demons immediately gained sōphroneō—self-control and a right mind—after being in contact with Jesus. Self-control is the mark of encountering Jesus.
The World’s View of a Christian’s Self-Control
Another place that the Bible translates sōphroneō as “right mind” is in 2 Corinthians 5:13-15:
If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
In this passage, those who are making fun of Christians target their minds. These people say that Paul and his fellow Christians are “out of their mind.” To those who are of the world and not of Christ, the mind of a Christian that is focused on Christ rather than self doesn’t really make sense. Even today, society wants to silence or discredit Christians who are sharing about Christ, claiming that what Christians are saying doesn’t make sense, or it is too limiting for what “I” want to do. They would rather follow self-indulgence than the self-control that comes from knowing Christ. But for those who are Christians, who do understand the eternal implications of our choices on earth, living a self-controlled life in Jesus makes eternal sense.
The other issue this passage addresses is the concept of being dead vs. alive. In Lesson 1, we learned that the person who is self-indulgent is dead on the inside even though their body appears to be alive. Here, we see that for those who are in Christ, who are in their “right mind,” even though we have died to ourselves, we are truly alive. This is the mark of a Christian who is self-controlled: we are alive in Christ.
Looking back at these three passages, where is your mind? Is it on yourself, allowing you to give in to your worldly passions and desires? Or is it on Christ, causing you to say “No” to your worldly desires and instead focusing on obedience to him? What do you think society thinks when they look at you? Do your choices make sense to them? If so, you might want to reconsider your choices.
In future lessons, we’ll look more closely at this idea that self-control follows from being in your right mind. In order to make choices that have eternal implications, you need to have a clear mind that can think through potential outcomes. I hope you’ll join me as we discover more about self-control.
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.
You can access all the resources for this study by clicking here: Premium Resources