"Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."
~ Luke 9:23
My niece loves cheese. It is easily one of her favorite foods. Unfortunately, she did not inherit the ability to process large amounts of cheese. When she was five, she learned the hard way that a little self-control needed to be exercised when it came to her love of cheese. For several days, in the midst of the excitement of having Grandma Kris in town for an extended visit, she would not only grab a cheese stick out of the fridge for herself, but often swipe her sister’s when she wasn’t looking as well. Plus, grandma Kris loves to make meals which include cheese and other dairy products. After a few days, a stomach ache developed. The poor girl was crazy constipated. Several fixes were tried and finally her mom simply had to take her into the bathroom, sit with her, and coach her through pushing it out. Her love of cheese was, at least for the next few days, significantly lessened. She learned a hard lesson about the importance of self-control.
Self-Control is something we often think about in terms of diet. I won’t eat the cookie. I will skip dessert. I’ll pass on the 2nd or 3rd helping of the main dish. To be fair, it is a valid example of what it means to have self-control and a valid way of exercising the skill and growing in it. How many of you made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier? How many of you have given into the temptation of carbs and sugar already?
But self-control is about so much more than what we do or do not eat. It’s about being able to resist all forms of temptation.
Are you able to resist the temptation to gossip?
Are you able to resist the temptation to boast and make yourself the center of attention?
Are you able to resist the temptation to keep money or possessions which do not belong to you?
Are you able to resist the temptation to hurt those who have hurt or wronged you in some way?
Are you able to resist the temptation to resent others when you don’t get your way?
Are you able to resist the temptation to believe yourself better than your brother or sister in Christ?
The list could go on and on but I think you get the point. Whatever it is which tempts you, self-control is given so that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you are able to resist.
A saying which is super popular and often said to those who are struggling or seem to be getting hit from all sides is, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” The fact that self-control is a gift from the Holy Spirit tells us otherwise. It would be better said that God will not give us more than he is able to bring us through. We are often given more than we can handle on our own. Satan wants to see us fail and will throw every possible temptation our way to cause us to turn away from God. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to resist those constant temptations.
It’s easy to feel good about our self-control. Why? Because it part of our sinful nature to compare ourselves to others. It’s easy to look at a teenage mother and think, ‘Well, at least I didn’t get pregnant before I was married so I have more self-control than she does.’ Or to look at the person struggling with addiction and think, ‘Well, at least I don’t do drugs or do out drinking so I have a good amount of self-control.’ Or how about looking at the person who losses their cool and starts yelling at someone? Have you ever thought, ‘Well, I would never loss my temper like that because I can control myself?’
Those sorts of comparisons are great ways to justify our short-comings and ignore what God is calling us to work on in our lives. Instead of looking down on others for their shortcomings, challenge yourself to control your sinful nature and see them as Jesus sees does. Celebrate that the teenage mother is choosing to give birth to her baby instead of aborting. Reach out to the person struggling with addiction and offer to be someone they can call when they need help to make the choice to walk away from temptation. Be honest with yourself, could you really have kept your cool as long as that other person did before they reached a tipping point? Is there something you could do to help relieve the tension/stress which contributed to the loss of temper?
These sorts of questions give us a much better self-evaluation of our self-control. They remind us that we have made mistakes and others have been gracious to forgive us and show us mercy. They remind us that each person faces different temptations and while you could resist one temptation easily, everyone has at least one temptation they struggle to resist and so need the power of the Holy Spirit to be successful at doing so.
Just yesterday the Christian church started a season known as Lent. It’s a season which lasts 40 days and ends with Easter Sunday. Part of the focus of these next days and weeks is remembering Jesus’ 40 days in the desert fasting and being tempted by Satan. Jesus resisted. It’s worth pointing out that Jesus was lead into the desert by the Spirit (Matthew 4:1) and there is no mention of the Spirit then leaving him to his own devices. Just like Jesus, we have the power of the Holy Spirit with us as we resist various temptations.
Click HERE to check out an article which talks about how self-control is part of every fruit of the Spirit.
If you have ever been around a dog, you probably know they get super excited for treats. I can’t blame them. I get super excited for treats as well. Have you ever seen the videos of dogs who have learned the self-control to let a treat lie where it is put until their master gives the OK to eat it? For me, they are a reminder that if a dog can learn to resist a tempting treat, I can learn to resist temptation as well. Check out an example below!
One of the things which is unique to self-control is that you can often point to an exact moment where you clearly resisted temptation. Be it big or small, think about one of those moments. How did you feel? Is that feeling at all motivating to resist the same temptation in the future? Now think about a moment where you failed to resist temptation, again big or small. How does the failure make you feel? How can you rely on God’s help to turn those times you tend to fail into times you succeed?