Ever wish for an easy button? I do. All the dishes washed. Push. “That was easy.” All the projects finished. Push. “That was easy.” And seriously, what about those horrible habits that plague us? What a relief it would be to just push and exclaim, “That was easy!”
Wouldn’t you be nearly ready to give your right arm for a relationship easy button? For a sin easy button? Push…and arguments are resolved, peace is restored, the right is practiced, the wrong denied.
As Christians, many of us long for the day when our minds, hearts, lives, and relationships are more fully brought into that beautiful conformity to the gospel of Jesus. We want to be mature! We know enough to have tasted the goodness of the truth: Bible reading and prayer really do give life! Humility, repentance, and forgiveness really can bring peace in relationships! The gospel really can change the way we see ourselves and others! God’s ways really are wonderful! But O how soon we can slide back down the mud of old patterns and habits. “Argh!” we groan, “Where’s the easy button?!”
Well, let’s get real. Ninety-nine percent of the time, there is no easy button. Things simply don’t change by the wishing. The bones of our thought life and desires are not brought back into joint with the push of a button.
In fact, it would do us good to officially abandon the wait for the easy button. It’s time to admit it: our problems will not disappear by avoiding them. But no easy button does not mean “no hope”. In fact, our problems do not come from the lack of an easy button, as those don’t even exist. Rather, there is something essential lacking in a least parts of each of our lives. And that something can often achieve the desired results of the fabled easy button. And though the results are perhaps slower than desired, the results are real.
What is this missing ingredient in the recipe of our lives? The ingredient is self-control. Think about it – most of us have a decent idea as to what we ought to be doing, right? Though our knowledge could always increase, we have a clue as to what is good. So what is the issue? At least part of our problem stems from the fact that we simply cannot seem to control ourselves. We know a bit of what’s good. We have an idea as to what’s bad. And yet we can’t seem to practice the good and abandon the bad. The dieter knows that more exercise and less calories will mean a loss in weight. The lover knows that more encouragement and less verbal attack will help. The debtor knows that living within the means and cutting the credit cards will get them on track. The believer knows that more communion with God and less TV will grow the soul. The dater knows the boyfriend could care less about Jesus and is bad for her. And yet…we continually abandon wisdom and engage foolishness. What kind of insane suicide is this!
We are in desperate need of self-control. There’s four things we need to ask in its pursuit:
1. What is self-control?
Self-control is the ability to do what is right even when our circumstances and feelings would incline us towards doing what is wrong.
2. Why is self-control important?
Perhaps Proverbs 25.28 says it best: A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
Picture an ancient city, torn and ransacked by it’s enemies, empty and destroyed, and you get the idea of a life without self-control. Self-control is important because, wherever you abandon it, disaster is immanent. Perhaps this is why, in Titus 2, though old and young, male and female are addressed according to their roles and places in life, the one common denominator for their behavior is the exhortation to be “self-controlled.”
3. Where can I find self-control?
This is a hard answer and deserves more time. For now there’s two important truths to guide us.
1) You can’t have self-control until you give up the controlling of yourself.
The Christian’s goal is to do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10.31). Our problem is that, so often, it seems hard and we don’t feel like it. The goal of self-control is to overcome those tendencies and glorify God with everything, all the time, even when it seems difficult. At the core, that means self-control grows out of giving up control. The control now belongs to Jesus. This means confessing that you no longer live for yourself, your agenda, your glory. It means you are giving your life to Jesus, surrendering to Him, trusting Him for your salvation, and now living your life under His reign and rule. Self-control comes from giving up control. Have you given up the rule of your life to Him?
2) Self-control is given by the Holy Spirit.
When you trust in Christ, you are given the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8.1-11; Galatians 3.1). There are many very glorious things about that. One of them is this: "…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." (1 Timothy 2.7) …the fruit of the Spirit is…self-control (Galatians 5.16-23)
Take hope! If you trust in Christ, you have the Spirit! If you have the Spirit, He gives self-control! Ask for it, seek it, study, practice it, and claim it, for it is yours in Jesus by His Spirit.
4. How can I grow in self-control?
I have four ideas:
1) Seek to learn and love what is good.
We need to have our minds and affections conformed to God’s wisdom – that which He says is good. A greater understanding of and lover for what is good will help us to do it. Filling ourselves with the truth of Scripture is the way there. This gives us a view as to where we ought to be heading.
2) Examine your life accordingly.
Look at the details of your life and ask yourself (and ask the Lord to show you) where your habits, thoughts, words, and time are out of control. Make a list of the issues. Then…
3) Make a plan.
Decide what it would mean for that part of your life to be “under control”. Apply #1 and make a plan that will help you on your way to greater self-control.
4) Get help.
There’s nothing like a good, godly friend to help with the process of gaining self-control. Many times friends have skills and ideas that we don’t and can bring valuable construction and encouragement to the effort.
But most importantly, seek help from the Lord. He promises to give it. It takes self-control to grow in self-control. Rely on the Spirit. He’s there for you and eager to enable you.
So there’s no easy button. But daily doses of self-control in the wisdom of the Word and the power of the Spirit result in a life of real beauty. Let’s seek self-control together. We may never say, “That was easy” but we will certainly proclaim, “That was worth it!”