Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that is essential for living a godly life. As Christians, we are called to exhibit self-control in order to resist temptation, live righteously, and bring glory to God. The Bible has a lot to say about the importance of self-control and provides countless examples of those who either exercised it well or failed to exercise it.
- Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that God produces in us as we submit to Him.
- Exercising self-control allows us to resist temptation and sin.
- Self-control helps us live wisely and make prudent decisions.
- Lack of self-control leads to sinful indulgence and spiritual harm.
- Self-control must be developed through godly discipline and training.
- God gives grace to strengthen our self-control as we depend on Him.
- Jesus Christ modeled perfect self-control during his earthly life.
- Scripture urges us to pursue self-control as an essential virtue.
- Key Takeaways:
- Self-Control Comes from the Holy Spirit
- Self-Control Resists Temptation
- Self-Control Brings Wisdom
- Consequences of Losing Self-Control
- Developing Self-Control through Discipline
- God's Grace Strengthens Self-Control
- Jesus Christ Modeled Perfect Self-Control
- Scripture Urges Us to Develop Self-Control
Self-Control Comes from the Holy Spirit
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As Christians, we recognize that any good fruit in our lives comes not from our own efforts but from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Self-control is no exception. It is listed by Paul among 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. (NKJV)
Rather than seeking to manufacture self-control through sheer willpower alone, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to produce it in us. As we submit to God, obey His Word, and surrender control of our lives to Christ, the Holy Spirit transforms us from within (Romans 12:2). Self-control then emerges as a Spirit-empowered fruit in our lives.
The connection between the Holy Spirit and self-control is also seen in Paul’s admonition to Timothy:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV).
The reference to a “sound mind” speaks to mental self-control and discipline that comes from the Holy Spirit who lives within believers.
Because self-control finds its source in the Holy Spirit, it is greater and more enduring than any self-control we can conjure up by our own strength. When we feel our human willpower faltering, we can turn to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to fortify our self-control and help us exercise restraint over our thoughts, emotions, and actions.
Self-Control Resists Temptation
One of the primary purposes of self-control is to resist temptation so that we can avoid sinning against God. The Bible warns us that temptation is inevitable in this fallen world:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV).
When we are tempted, self-control empowers us to take that “way of escape” rather than succumbing to sin. With the Spirit at work within us, we can reject the allurements of temptation and walk a righteous path instead.
We see this vividly in the life of Joseph who resisted the temptation to sin sexually with Potiphar’s wife:
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge . . . How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:6-9 ESV)
Joseph’s self-control enabled him to recognize the temptation, resist it, and flee from it.
The book of Proverbs also stresses self-control as key to resisting sensual temptation:
Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes. For the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life (Proverbs 6:25-26 NIV).
Rather than letting temptation inflame lustful passions, the wise man or woman maintains self-control and avoids compromising situations.
Single people must exercise self-control to remain sexually pure until marriage (1 Corinthians 7:9). Married people need self-control to remain faithful to their spouse (Proverbs 5:15-19). When it comes to alcohol, Christians are to avoid drunkenness by practicing moderation and self-control (Ephesians 5:18). In every area of life, the Spirit-endowed fruit of self-control enables believers to resist the pull of temptation.
Self-Control Brings Wisdom
In addition to resisting temptation, self-control is crucial for living wisely and making sound, prudent decisions that align with God’s will. As Proverbs 25:28 warns:
Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls (NKJV).
Without self-control, it is easy to make reckless choices based on wayward emotions and desires rather than wise judgment. Our lack of restraint can leave us morally and spiritually unprotected, just like a city without walls is vulnerable to attack.
Self-control applies wisdom and discretion to our decision making so that we pursue courses of action that are noble, right, and honorable in God’s sight (Philippians 4:8). We see the positive fruit of self-control in passages like these:
Good people think before they act; evil people don’t and even brag about their evil desires (Proverbs 14:17 GNT).
Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back (Proverbs 29:11 NLT).
Rather than reacting rashly, the self-controlled person takes time to process situations calmly, applies discernment from God’s Word, consults wise counsel, and then responds prudently. Their composure and restraint protect them from hazardous outcomes. As James 3:2 declares, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (NKJV)
We live in turbulent times that are anxiety-provoking and divisive. As followers of Christ, we can model self-control by not getting swept up in the chaos, refusing to perpetuate strife, and making level-headed choices that glorify God through our conduct. Our Spirit-led self-control can be a witness for Christ and an example for others to emulate.
Consequences of Losing Self-Control
Lacking self-control has disastrous consequences both spiritually and socially. A quick temper and uncontrolled tongue can destroy relationships and reputations in the blink of an eye:
A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control (Proverbs 29:11 ESV).
A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1 NKJV).
Failing to restrain inappropriate sexual desires can lead to destructive infidelity or addiction. Laziness and lack of discipline open the door to poverty and ruin:
Little by little, the wicked will be defeated, but the righteous won’t be bothered by it (Proverbs 10:25 GNT).
Each of us can likely point to times when our own deficiency of self-control resulted in regret, consequences, or pain for ourselves and others. Through the Spirit, God graciously helps us learn vital lessons from these failures if we seek His wisdom in their aftermath.
Perhaps most tragically, losing self-control can also impair our spiritual walk. When the Bible describes the “deeds of the flesh” that characterize unbelievers, lack of self-control makes the list:
Envying, 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 5:21 NKJV).
As Christians, we know our eternal salvation is secure in Christ. But yielding to sinful patterns of excess reflects worldliness, grieves the Holy Spirit, and inhibits the fruitful witness God desires for our lives.
Maintaining self-control is not about perfection or legalism – it is about living intentionally as followers of Jesus and honoring our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). When we fall short, God’s grace and mercy are more than sufficient. But Scripture urges us to earnestly pursue self-control out of love and devotion to the Lord.
Developing Self-Control through Discipline
Since self-control is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we begin developing it first and foremost through our relationship with God. Abiding in Christ, praying, studying the Word, obeying God’s commands, and yielding to the Spirit’s leading in all areas of life allows self-control to naturally emerge and strengthen. As we fix our eyes on Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), His empowering grace flows through us.
At the same time, we have a responsibility to cultivate personal habits and discipline that reinforce self-control in practical ways:
- Set reasonable goals and break them down into measurable steps. Don’t attempt change overnight. “He who obeys instruction guards his life, but he who is contemptuous of his ways will perish.” (Proverbs 19:16 NASB)
- Eliminate distractions and control your environment and schedule to support your goals. “I discipline my body and bring it under strict control.” (1 Corinthians 9:27 NLT)
- Monitor your progress through journaling, accountability partners, and other tracking measures. “For by wise guidance you can wage your war.” (Proverbs 24:6)
- Don’t become discouraged by setbacks. Get back up and try again. “A righteous man falls seven times and rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16 NIV)
- Make any necessary lifestyle changes to reduce temptation and breed self-control. “Flee from sexual immorality.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)
As an athlete exercises their body to build muscle and stamina, we must also “exercise” ourselves “toward godliness” through incremental training (1 Timothy 4:7). Our human effort, however, only succeeds through the empowering grace of God at work within us.
God’s Grace Strengthens Self-Control
The good news of the gospel is that God does not leave us on our own in the struggle for self-control. While we were “dead in trespasses”, “God made us alive together with Christ” and saved us by His grace (Ephesians 2:5). Now as new creations in Christ, He continues to supply grace to transform our character:
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:3-4 NIV).
When we feel our self-control weakening and cry out for God’s help, He promises to sustain us and provide strength. As Paul discovered when struggling with his own persistent temptation:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:8-9 NIV).
Rather than chastising us for shortcomings, God reassures us of the all-sufficient abundance of His grace. As we surrender control to Christ and admit dependence on Him, His power infuses us with renewed self-control. This process of walking in grace and accountability before God yields greater growth than striving in our own feeble strength ever could.
Jesus Christ Modeled Perfect Self-Control
If we want the perfect example of self-control personified, we need look no further than Jesus Christ Himself. Though tempted and tested severely, Jesus never sinned or faltered in exercising complete command over His words, thoughts, and actions. His unwavering self-control was evident in moments like these:
- The desert temptation – “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”‘ Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down…’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”‘ Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”‘ Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4:1-11 NIV)
- Facing death – “…Jesus said, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'” (Matthew 26:38-39 NIV)
- Suffering abuse – “Then the men who were holding Jesus in custody took Him and beat Him. And they blindfolded Him and repeatedly asked Him, saying, ‘Prophesy! Who is the one who hit you?’ And they were saying many other things against Him, blaspheming.” (Luke 22:63-65 NASB)
Despite immeasurable provocation, Jesus responded with grace, obedience, forgiveness, and quiet trust in God – never with uncontrolled fervor or rage. As one who was also tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), He fully understands the struggle for self-control and stands ready as our High Priest to mercifully intercede when we stumble. Christ empowers us to follow His example.
Scripture Urges Us to Develop Self-Control
In verses throughout the New Testament, we find straightforward commands teaching believers to pursue self-control as an essential virtue of the Christian life:
- “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28 ESV)
- “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (Proverbs 25:28 NIV)
- “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)
- “And make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control…” (2 Peter 1:5-6 NIV)
- “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober…But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:6,8 ESV)
- “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:2-5 NASB)
- “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” (1 Peter 4:7 NIV)
- “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)
Far from demanding perfection, these verses urge us to nurture personal responsibility and self-discipline as a safeguard against the hazards of uncontrolled living.
Our mindset should be that of a soldier training and vigilant on guard duty, not a careless citizen oblivious to looming trouble. As 1 Corinthians 9:25 reminds us, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (NIV)
When we do stumble, God’s grace abounds. But Christ set us free not for license but for transformation (Galatians 5:13). Out of reverence for the Lord, we are called to earnestly “train ourselves to be godly” through incremental diligence and restraint guided by the Holy Spirit (1 Timothy 4:7).
Self-control is a valuable spiritual discipline that Scripture repeatedly affirms. As followers of Jesus Christ, we honor God and experience greater peace and wisdom when we exhibit self-control empowered by the Holy Spirit. Though not easy in a world full of temptation, training in godly self-control better equips us to walk in righteousness, resist the devil, share our faith, and fulfill God’s purposes. With Christ as our model of perfect restraint, and the Spirit producing His fruit in us, let us heed the biblical call to sobriety of spirit, alertness of mind, and soundness of heart.