Self-discipline is an important characteristic for followers of Christ to develop. The Bible has a lot to say about living with intentionality, controlling our desires, and training ourselves to resist temptation and persevere through trials. Developing self-control and discipline helps us live God-honoring lives.
In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the biblical principles and passages related to self-discipline. We will look at what scripture teaches about controlling our bodies and minds, fleeing from sinful desires, and pursuing holiness and righteousness.
- Self-discipline is a fruit of the Spirit that should be evident in every believer’s life (Galatians 5:22-23)
- We are called to take every thought captive and exercise control over our minds (2 Corinthians 10:5)
- Bodily training has some value, but godliness is far more important (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
- We must flee from sinful desires and pursue righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22)
- Self-control is one component of the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18)
- Jesus modeled perfect self-control during His earthly life (Hebrews 4:15)
The Value of Self-Discipline
Self-discipline is an essential characteristic for followers of Jesus Christ. Proverbs 25:28 warns that “like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” A lack of self-discipline leaves us vulnerable to all kinds of sin and foolishness. Therefore, as Christians, we should earnestly seek to develop control over our desires, appetites, emotions, and behaviors.
The apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of self-discipline in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. He urges us to run the race of faith with endurance, exercising self-control like an athlete in training. We must work hard to master our bodies and make them our slaves rather than allowing sin to master us. Paul recognizes the value of self-discipline not only in our personal lives but also in our ministry efforts (1 Cor 9:27). Developing self-mastery equips us to better serve God and others.
Furthermore, self-discipline is a fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Galatians 5:22-23 describes the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” As we walk in step with the Spirit, submitting to His sanctifying work in our lives, we should increasingly exhibit His fruit. The Spirit empowers us to exercise restraint over our fleshly desires.
The Bible makes it clear that self-discipline honors God and enables us to live righteous, fruitful, Christ-like lives. In the sections below, we will explore more biblical principles and passages related to developing self-control and mastering our desires and behaviors.
Controlling Our Bodies
The Bible often uses illustrations of bodily training to emphasize the importance of self-mastery. While physical training is of some value, godly self-discipline has far greater worth.
1 Timothy 4:7-8 states: “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Our ultimate aim should be holiness, not just physical health and fitness.
Paul continues this analogy in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
While athletes train rigorously for earthly rewards, we exercise self-control to glorify God and receive eternal rewards. The language of disciplining and subduing the body emphasizes that we must bring our fleshly desires into submission to honor the Lord.
We must take responsibility for our physical bodies and avoid using them as instruments of unrighteousness. Romans 6:12-13 exhorts believers: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life.”
The body is not inherently evil, but we must control its cravings and resist using it to indulge sinful desires. As temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), we should glorify God with our bodies. Self-mastery trains us to offer every part of ourselves to righteous purposes.
Training Our Minds
In addition to mastering our physical bodies, the Bible also instructs us to discipline our thought lives. We must take every thought captive and renew our minds through God’s truth.
The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Unrighteous thinking can easily lead us into sin, so we must control our thought lives and filter our mental processes through obedience to Christ.
Romans 12:2 also emphasizes the importance of renewing our minds: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Immorality in the culture around us exerts a subtle influence on our thought patterns. We must allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds through prayer, Scripture meditation, and conscious submission to God’s will.
Furthermore, Philippians 4:8 gives us a filter to discipline our thought lives: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” By intentionally directing our minds towards righteous subjects, we train ourselves in godliness and self-control.
Controlling and focusing our minds is a key aspect of self-discipline. We must avoid conformity to the world’s ways of thinking and instead bring every thought into submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Resisting Sinful Desires
Since the fall, all humans struggle with sinful desires in the flesh. Self-discipline requires recognizing these desires as deceptive and hostile to godliness. Through the Spirit’s power, we must flee from sin and pursue righteousness.
Galatians 5:16-17 describes the battle between the flesh and the Spirit: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit.” While we can’t eliminate sinful desires entirely until we receive our glorified bodies, we can resist acting on them by walking in step with the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 4:22-24 outlines our responsibility in this inner conflict: “…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” With the Spirit’s help, we must actively put off the sinful patterns of our pre-conversion lifestyle.
2 Timothy 2:22 gives clear advice about handling fleshly desires: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” We should literally run away from sinful impulses and tenaciously chase after Christ-like virtues instead.
Rather than endlessly battling temptations, we are called to decisively flee from fleshly lusts that war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11). Self-discipline requires cultivating a hatred of sin and maintaining an unrelenting pursuit of purity.
The Armor of Self-Control
Ephesians 6:10-13 says: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day.”
Then in verses 14-18, Paul describes each piece of armor, including this in verse 14: “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”
The belt of truth and breastplate of righteousness speak primarily of moral purity and uprightness. By living honestly and practicing holiness, we strengthen our defenses against demonic attacks.
But self-control serves as the shoes that enable us to stand firm. With the “readiness given by the gospel of peace,” we brace ourselves to face every spiritual confrontation. Self-mastery is crucial for responding appropriately when temptations flare up or trials hit.
By exercising self-discipline, we equip ourselves to withstand the devil’s onslaughts through confidence in Christ. Self-control acts like sturdy footwear to dig in and stand our ground.
Jesus’ Example of Self-Control
During His incarnation, the Son of God voluntarily laid aside some of His divine privileges (Philippians 2:5-8). Facing genuine temptation, Jesus met and overcame every test through complete self-mastery. His sinless example shows the beauty of self-discipline empowered by the Spirit.
The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as the supreme high priest who sympathizes with our human weaknesses. But this High Priest differed from all others in a crucial way: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Not only did Jesus face every human temptation and trial, He confronted them with perfect self-discipline. He exercised complete mastery over his natural desires, emotions, and body. When Satan tempted Him to break trust with the Father by misusing divine power, Jesus refused (Matthew 4:1-11). He rejected Satan’s offers of self-glorification, demonstrating that a Spirit-filled life of self-denial pleased the Father more.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus modeled the self-control that arises from a heart fully surrendered to God. He held his impulses, feelings, thoughts, and body under strict spiritual control. His unwavering self-discipline honored the Father and accomplished their unified purpose.
As we seek to develop greater self-mastery, the lordship of Jesus Christ gives us a perfect standard. His example inspires us to bring all our faculties under the control of the Spirit. Just as Jesus trusted the Father amid temptation and suffering, we must exercise faith in Him to empower our self-discipline.
The Process of Growth in Self-Control
The Bible makes it clear that exercising self-discipline is essential for following Jesus faithfully and fruitfully. But growth in self-mastery occurs gradually through faithful obedience over time. Sanctification requires perseverance.
Peter writes that maturity comes through applied effort: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness” (2 Peter 1:5-6). We supplement faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, and so on – building Christian character intentionally, step by step.
Similarly, developing self-mastery requires training ourselves habitually to submit to God in every circumstance. Through daily choices to embrace righteousness and reject sin, we strengthen our self-control muscle. Small victories lead to greater victories.
Occasional failures don’t invalidate our progress in self-discipline. When we stumble, we must get back up and continue striving to live honorably. James writes: “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2). As long as we are in this body, the potential for failure exists. But by God’s grace, we can maintain forward progress.
Just as an athlete’s training has ups and downs but gradually increases in rigor, our quest for self-mastery advances through consistent effort. Our self-discipline will not be complete until we receive our glorified bodies free from sin (1 Corinthians 15:51-57). But we must continually train ourselves for godliness, trusting the Spirit to produce His fruit.
Equipped to Serve Others
A final essential motivation for pursuing self-discipline is that it equips us for more effective ministry. Mastery of the body, mind, and will prepares us to serve others with endurance.
Paul recognized that he had to discipline himself so that he would not be disqualified from ministry. He says in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” He did not want hidden sin or lack of self-control to undermine his evangelistic efforts.
Likewise, governing our desires and appetites enables us to keep serving consistently. Proverbs 16:32 observes: “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Harnessing our temper prepares us to remain patient and gracious with people over the long haul.
Moreover, self-discipline minimizes distractions from urgent Kingdom work. The increasingly sensual environment around us can easily divert our attention and energy. By keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus through committed self-denial, we repel temptations that would drag us off mission.
And self-mastery is key for persevering through the inevitable trials of ministry. Difficult seasons reveal whether we have truly trained ourselves to submit to God’s purposes. Those who abandon spiritual disciplines under pressure will struggle to endure.
In summary, every believer should earnestly pursue self-discipline. It honors the Lord, enables resistance to temptation, facilitates maturity in godliness, and equips us for more fruitful service. Through the Spirit’s power, we can master bodily desires, control our thought lives, flee from sin, and put on the armor of God. Jesus Christ perfectly modeled self-control for us during His earthly ministry. And by persevering in the process of sanctification, we can increasingly emulate His example for God’s glory.