God wants us to mature in our character to become more like Christ, and self-control is an area that people can get the wrong idea about. When you hear the words, “self-control,” don’t hear, “You have to do it all on your own.” That’s not true. We can’t do everything by our own self-will. The key to self-control is having the will to submit and be surrendered to the Spirit of God.
Self-Control in the Bible
The Bible mentions self-control often and even shares stories of people who either had or lacked the characteristic.
In Titus 1:6-9, being self-controlled and temperate were qualifications for being an elder. 2 Timothy 3:3 mentions that in the last days, among other things, people will lack self-control. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, self-control is likened to how athletes train their bodies and discipline themselves to win. In the same way, we are to be disciplined and self-controlled spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Proverbs emphasize the importance of self-control. Proverbs 25:28 says, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.” And Proverbs 16:32 states, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”
Esau lacked self-control when he gave up his birthright for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25). Apparently, he was so famished that he couldn’t hold on a bit longer. Later, of course, he regretted his decision and begged his father to bless him in some way (Genesis 27).
Jesus was angry in Matthew 21:12-13 when He turned over the tables and drove out the money changers. But He didn’t lack self-control; he was completely submitted to God, and He only did what he saw the Father do and said what he heard the Father say. Remember, anger itself as an emotion is not a sin; it’s in your anger do not sin and do not give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:26-27).
On the other hand, Matthew 26:63 tells of a time when Jesus was silent and didn’t fight back. In this moment, the Father said, “Be silent.” Submitted to the Father and His will, Jesus displayed self-control because He had control over his emotions and His tongue.
Self-Control = Submission
Self-control is all about learning how to have our soul submitted to our spirit-man. And it’s our new spirit-man that God’s working on; our old man is dead and gone. When we don’t have our soul (mind, will, and emotions) submitted to the Spirit, then that’s when we’re in the flesh, and that’s when we can find self-control to be difficult.
The truth is, we cannot heal, grow, fix or mature ourselves in our own strength. We need our body, soul, and spirit to be surrendered to the Holy Spirit, and that’s how, in partnership with God, we grow in the characteristics of Christ. We are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), and He’s working on us. Our job is to be fully submitted to Him, cooperating with Him and allowing Him to do the work.
Self-Control and Emotions
Our mind, will, and emotions make up our soul, and our soul needs to be submitted to God’s will. We have to have self-control when it comes to our emotions. It’s important to understand:
- It’s ok to have emotions; we’re human, and God gave us emotions.
- We’re all wired differently and have different personalities. Some of us are thinkers, ponderers, or studiers; we analyze more than we feel. Others are wired the opposite; they feel deeply and ponder less.
Having self-control in our emotions doesn’t mean that we have no feelings, but it’s what we do with those feelings that matter. Do what you need to do to manage your emotions, not stuff, suppress, hold in, cover up, or deny your emotions. Self-control means you manage your emotions. Ask yourself:
- What am I feeling?
- Why am I feeling this way?
- What can I do about my feelings? How do I take my emotions to the heart of the Father and let Holy Spirit comfort me, bring peace, and bring truth to me as I surrender my emotions to Him?
The way we control our soul is by taking our feelings and thoughts and submitting them to the Spirit. In this, we are being authentic and acknowledging where we’re at, but we don’t sin in the midst of the emotion. We seek God for His perspective and His strength to manage our emotions according to His will, not ours. This isn’t always easy, and it’s in this “suffering” that we grow in the character of Christ.
So how do we grow in the character of Christ in the area of self-control? We manage our emotions & surrender them to Christ. We release them in healthy, appropriate ways. We get help, support, and comfort from others through godly counsel and through Holy Spirit (our Comforter). And we embrace our Father who loves us.
Ask God how to walk through what you’re facing. Some of us are ready to stand up and fight at all times, but what if God is saying to exercise self-control by not fighting and to rest in Him instead? That’s displaying self-control.
Others who don’t especially like conflict would rather not fight, but what if God is saying to show self-control by rising up and swinging your sword of the Spirit? That’s displaying self-control too.
Self-control means surrendering and submitting our body, soul, and spirit to God just like Jesus did. We give up our own agenda in humility and say, “Whatever YOU want, God.” And then we wait until we know for sure what He wants us to do. The bottom line is this: to be self-controlled is to be self-disciplined and obedient to the Father.
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