Self-control is a vital aspect of the Christian faith. As Christians, we are called to exhibit restraint and discipline in how we think, speak, and act. Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and a mark of spiritual maturity. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the biblical basis for self-control and its importance for living a godly life.
Self-control is defined as the ability to control one’s emotions, behavior, and desires. In the Bible, the Greek word for self-control is “egkrateia”, which means “possessing power, strong, having mastery or possession of, continent, temperate” (Strong’s Concordance).
Developing self-control is a lifelong process. We must continually yield our thoughts, words, and actions to the leading of the Holy Spirit. As we grow in Christ-like maturity, we gain greater ability to resist temptation and walk in holiness.
Viral Believer is reader-supported. We may earn a small fee from products we recommend at no charge to you. Read Our Affiliate Disclosuree
Here are 5 key reasons why self-control is so vital for Christians:
- It is a fruit of the Spirit that results from renewed thinking and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
- It helps us resist sinful desires and walk in purity.
- It enables us to exercise wisdom and discretion in our conduct.
- It is essential for governing our tongues and emotions.
- It empowers us to pursue holiness and godly aspirations.
In the rest of this post, we will unpack each of these points in depth and see how Scripture instructs us to develop self-control in all areas of life. Our model is Jesus Christ, who exemplified perfect restraint and alignment of human will with the Father’s purposes.
- Self-Control is a Fruit of the Spirit
- Self-Control Helps Resist Sinful Desires
- Self-Control Enables Discretion
- Self-Control Governs Emotions
- Self-Control Ensures Godly Speech
- Self-Control Catalyzes Godly Living
- Developing Self-Control Through Spiritual Disciplines
Self-Control is a Fruit of the Spirit
Self-control is listed by Paul as one of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV)
The fruit of the Spirit refers to Christlike virtues that the Holy Spirit develops in us as we submit to His sanctifying work. These graces exemplify the restored human capacity to love, trust, and obey God after regeneration.
While the initial infilling of the Spirit gives us new spiritual life, developing the fruit requires continually yielding to the Spirit’s promptings and training. This enables the maturation of Christian character. The Spirit enlightens our minds to understand God’s truth, convicts us of sin, comforts and guides us. As we respond in faith and obedience, we progressively reflect more of Christ’s character.
Self-control is an essential aspect of this inner transformation. It is not merely human willpower, but Spirit-empowered restraint that aligns our faculties – mind, will, emotions, body – with God’s purposes.
The close proximity of self-control with other fruits like patience, faithfulness, and gentleness demonstrates that it is an indispensable Christian virtue. Just as fruit naturally grows from a healthy tree, self-control flows from the Spirit’s work in sanctifying our inner being.
Self-Control Helps Resist Sinful Desires
Developing self-control is a key weapon in fighting sin and resisting fleshly indulgence. Paul writes:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25 NKJV)
Paul articulates an internal struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. Our natural inclinations tend towards sin because of the Fall. But the regenerate human spirit desires holiness. Self-control is required to subdue sinful passions and walk uprightly. Through the Spirit’s help, we can resist acting upon every wrong impulse and instead exercise discernment to make wise choices.
We see this dynamic further in Galatians 5. After listing self-control as a fruit of the Spirit, Paul contrasts it with the works of the flesh:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV)
Paul urges the Galatians believers to walk in the Spirit so they will not gratify the lusts of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). This requires intentionally yielding moment-by-moment to the Spirit’s lead through self-restraint.
As James 1:14-15 explains, temptation arises when we allow evil desire to conceive through unchecked indulgence. Practicing self-control enables us to reject the solicitation to sin during those initial moments of temptation, rather than entertained it.
Developing self-mastery under the Spirit’s direction helps us resist being entangled again with bondages Christ liberated us from. This keeps us on the path of righteousness.
Self-Control Enables Discretion
Another benefit of developing self-control is that it endows us with discretion – the ability to think before speaking or taking action. Proverbs 25:28 warns about the dangers of lacking appropriate inhibitions:
Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls. (Proverbs 25:28 NKJV)
When we lack self-restraint, we are prone to making reckless choices that leave us morally and spiritually exposed, like a city without walls.
Having self-mastery under the Spirit’s guidance enables us to exercise appropriate caution and control over our conduct. We develop discernment to know when to act, how much to say, and what is truly edifying. This preserves us from much evil and folly.
Consider these additional Proverbs that extol the virtue of discretion that flows from self-control:
The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil. (Proverbs 15:28 NKJV)
He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive. (Proverbs 17:27-28 NKJV)
Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. (Proverbs 13:3 ESV)
As these verses demonstrate, self-control empowers us to exercise wisdom in our speech and conduct, for our own good and the benefit of others.
Self-Control Governs Emotions
Scripture frequently emphasizes the importance of governing our emotional impulses so that we respond with discernment even in provocative situations. Consider the following verses:
He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly. (Proverbs 14:29 ESV)
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32 ESV)
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; (James 1:19 ESV)
A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. (Proverbs 29:11 ESV)
Each of us faces scenarios that can ignite sinful anger if we do not exercise self-restraint. When criticized, attacked, misunderstood, or mistreated, our natural response may be outrage or retaliation. However, as Christians, we are called to master our anger and forgive others as we have been forgiven. This requires the Holy Spirit’s help to rule over our temperament.
Likewise, we are not to let anxiety overwhelm us when facing trials or uncertainty. Though it is natural to feel distressed, we have the Spirit’s peace to guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:6-7).
Maintaining self-control helps us respond to emotional provocations with supernatural love, patience, and grace. This contrasts the destructive fruit of uncontrolled reactions – damaged relationships, rash choices, grief to the Spirit, and impaired testimony.
Self-Control Ensures Godly Speech
A crucial application of self-mastery is governing our tongues. James 3 elaborately describes how the tongue, though small, can cause untold damage through unchecked speech:
For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:2-10 NKJV)
Because words carry immense power, we must bridle our tongues through self-restraint empowered by the Spirit. This prevents all manner of idle talk, gossip, slander, lies, boasting, and verbal malice that easily flow unfiltered from the mouth.
Proverbs especially highlights the blessings of controlled speech and the destruction caused by undisciplined tongues:
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. (Proverbs 10:19 ESV)
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18 ESV)
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4 ESV)
As we yield our tongues to the Spirit’s control, we will speak with greater thoughtfulness, integrity, and grace. Our words can then impart life and build others up.
Self-Control Catalyzes Godly Living
A final reason self-control is so vital is that it empowers us to live purposefully in pursuing righteousness. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV)
Paul uses the metaphor of athletic discipline to describe how he subdues his body and appetites through rigorous self-control. He does this to avoid spiritual disqualification and live effectively for God’s kingdom purposes.
We too are called to sanctification and good works prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). Yielding to the Spirit’s work in our lives is essential both to grow in holiness and walk in our divine calling. Exercising self-mastery frees us from excesses and impulsiveness that would hinder our vocation.
Additionally, governing our conduct ensures our testimony stays beyond reproach. Like Daniel who refused the king’s delicacies to avoid defilement (Daniel 1:8), maintaining self-control helps us walk uprightly even in tempting surroundings. This protects the reputation of the Gospel.
Of course, the ultimate model of perfect self-control is Christ Himself. Though subjected to every weakness and temptation, He never succumbed to sin inwardly or outwardly. At His trial, Pilate found no fault in Jesus even as He suffered excruciating injustice calmly (John 18:38). What a model for overcoming evil with patient endurance and unswerving obedience, even under provocation.
As we yield ourselves to the Spirit, He reproduces the mind and character of Christ in us. This includes developing the self-mastery that enables us to walk in purity, discretion, wisdom, and purpose. Our transformed lives then powerfully testify to the Gospel that saved us.
Developing Self-Control Through Spiritual Disciplines
How then do we cultivate greater self-control with the Spirit’s help? Here are some key spiritual practices that reinforce self-mastery:
Immersing our minds in Scripture renews our thinking to value godliness. We gain perspective on what is most important in life. Bible study also equips us to overcome temptation with Christ’s truth rather than succumb to deceitful desires.
Prayer nurtures intimacy with God that reinforces our highest allegiance to Him. As we prayerfully cast our cares upon the Lord, we embrace His empowering grace to walk uprightly. Praying in the Spirit also strengthens our inner self in overcoming weakness.
Fasting exercises self-denial of normal appetites to seek God more earnestly. When we willingly “afflict” ourselves by abstaining from food or other things, it fosters self-control to resist desires. It also deepens hunger for the spiritual over physical gratification.
Accountable relationships provide the encouragement and correction needed to reject temptations and walk circumspectly. Together we uphold righteous standards that support self-discipline.
Actively putting sinful deeds to death through the Spirit trenches in the habit of self-control. Romans 8:13 tells us if we mortify the flesh by the Spirit, we will live. Resisting sin becomes more reflexive the longer we practice saying no.
Handling money wisely requires self-control to avoid wasteful expenditures and extravagant lifestyle inflation. Operating within a budget fosters intentionality and restraint in spending aligned with God’s priorities. Tithing and generous giving also develops mastery over natural covetousness.
Of course, implementing such disciplines requires self-control itself! This is why we must rely daily upon the Spirit’s sanctifying work by surrendering our will to Him. We can only resist the crushing weight of sin through His empowerment.
Still, these habits will greatly reinforce the fruit the Spirit wants to produce in us. Through them, self-mastery will grow as we deepen in consecration to God.
Self-control is indispensable for Christian maturity. By walking in the Spirit, we gain greater ability to overcome unrighteous impulses and live purposefully for God. Developing Christlike self-restraint takes continual practice and dependence on the Spirit. But the harvest is abundant fruit that brings glory to God, benefits others, and determines eternal rewards.
May the Lord give us the grace to daily master ourselves so that He may be master over every area of our lives. Let us pursue the upward call of God in Christ Jesus unto full sanctification and reward (Philippians 3:14). By His mighty Spirit, may we walk in the victorious liberty of self-mastery for righteousness. To God alone be all the glory!