1 Peter 1:13-16
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
A man observed a woman in the grocery store with a three-year-old girl in her cart. As they passed the cookie section, the child asked for cookies and her mother told her, “No.” The little girl immediately began to whine and fuss, and the mother said quietly, “Now Ellen, we just have half of the aisles left to go through; don’t be upset. It won’t be long.”
He passed the mother again in the candy aisle. Of course, the little girl began to shout for candy. When she was told she couldn’t have any, she began to cry. The mother said, “There, there, Ellen; only two more aisles to go, and then we’ll be checking out.”
The man again happened to be behind the pair at the check-out, where the little girl immediately began to clamor for gum and burst into a terrible tantrum upon discovering there would be no gum purchased today. The mother patiently said, “Ellen, we’ll be through this check-out stand in five minutes, and then you can go home and have a nice nap.”
The man followed them out to the parking lot and stopped the woman to compliment her. “I couldn’t help noticing how patient you were with little Ellen…” The mother broke in, “My little girl’s name is Tammy… I’m Ellen.”
Parents, do you remember those days? Dealing with toddlers who had no self-control required great control on our parts, right? As I prepared this message, I thought, “This may be the most important message I ever preach to Christians.” It dawned on me that when the world accuses Christians of being hypocrites that perhaps at the root of what appears to be hypocritical behavior is a lack of self-control.
We don’t intend to be hypocritical. We don’t wake up thinking, “I’d like to say one thing and do another.” We don’t set out to tick people off, demand our own way, or spend more money than we make causing us to be stingy with our resources when it comes time to our tithe or to helping people in need. We don’t think it’s a good idea to overeat, stay up too late, or spend hours playing on the computer or scrolling through our phones when we should be spending time with our family and God or preparing well for the job we have to do the next day.
But we just get sucked in. We rush here and rush there and often don’t plan our days as well as we should (After all, even time is a gift from God to us. We need to be good stewards of our time). We get squeezed in the moment by the demands of the culture or by our schedule and we react in the moment and at the end of the day, we find ourselves saying or thinking, “I wish I wouldn’t have done that,” “I wish I wouldn’t have wasted time,” “I wish I wouldn’t have said that,” “I wish I wouldn’t have eaten that,” “I wish I wouldn’t have listened to that conversation,” “I wish I wouldn’t have posted that on Facebook,” “I wish I would have hit the gym,” and the “wish list” goes on and on.
It’s not that we love sin, but when we really are honest we find we love pleasing ourselves more than we hate sin and the other things that keep us unproductive in our Christian walk and witness.
And when we realize that, we resolve to do better tomorrow. L It is a daily struggle.
And the idea of self-control is now almost completely counter-culture. We are really fighting an uphill battle when we think about self-control in 2012.
2 Timothy 3:1-4 says,”1But mark this: (Timothy was saying, “Mark my words!”) There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. . .”
Gulp. Those people Timothy were talking about-are any of them Christians as well as unbelievers? Do we see it everywhere? Do we see it in our homes and relationships?
Let me tell you what I observe. Many are living life without margins. Many are burning the candle at both ends of the stick. Many of us are under rested! More often than not when I ask young people today how they are, what I hear isn’t “Good” or “Alright,” but “Tired.” Perhaps it’s time to get on a schedule and go to bed at a decent hour. Turn off the i-pods and cell phones and computers and TV’s and discipline ourselves to get the rest God designed for us to need.
Many wear themselves out to get rich. They have a one-track mind. Work consumes them. Life can’t be enjoyed daily because the pursuit is all about more and more money. They have shallow relationships and no time for the things of God because of the god of money controls them.
Or what about those who struggle with gambling addictions? People who are seeking an easy life, free of hard work and responsibility while they are living a reckless life, jeopardizing their financial stability and often their family’s future.
Many are slaves to physical lust. One of the main problems with pursuing our lusts is that they are never satisfied. They will demand more and more of our time and satisfying them will take more energy, more effort, a greater thrill, more danger or increasing perversion. Once you open the door to sexual sin, closing it is like trying to get a herd of buffalo to stay in a locked closet! J
Many are out of control with their spending. You can spot an out of control person when they are never content with what they already have.
I see many people living angry lives. The slightest thing causes people to lose their patience and tempers. I witnessed a verbal knock down drag out in a store parking lot between a man and woman just this past week. Many people are out of control because of anger and bitterness.
Many are addicted to nicotine, tobacco, drugs, alcohol and food because they take the edge off and help people forget for a few minutes that their lives are really out of control.
How has this happened? What can we do about it?
Listen to Galatians 5:16-23: 16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, (don’t all of those depict a lack of self-control?)
I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
Do you ever wonder why self-control was listed last in this nine-fold Fruit of the Spirit Paul writes about? He started with love and he ended with self-control. Perhaps they are bookends. Perhaps self-control is truly an expression of love; love for God and love for others and even appropriate love for self.
Interesting that when the Ancient Greeks decided to illustrate self-control, they created a statue of a person that was in perfect proportion. There was perfect coordination and balance of the person’s body. You might say everything was in line or as it should be.
Aristotle once said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self.” (http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/seizing-self-control-brian-bill-sermon-on-christian-disciplines-58740.asp?page=2)
One of the Apostle Paul’s mentees was a man named Titus. He accompanied Paul to several places and then Paul strategically placed him on the island of Crete for the purpose of carrying out the work of the Gospel. Crete was a tough place for the Gospel message. It was a party island. People who lived there weren’t known for their self-control. Even one of their own called them “liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12)
Crete was known for its famous drunken love fests. They weren’t in to showing restraint. They never told themselves “No.” It wasn’t an easy place for a believer to grow in Christ and develop a holy life. It’s not surprising that when Paul talks to Titus about how to work in and among the converts in Crete, he emphasizes that if the Gospel is going to take root, if the transforming power of God is going to be seen against the backdrop of the lasciviousness of the Cretan culture, there was going to be a need for some self-control to be developed and to be on display.
There are only 46 verses in the three chapters of Titus and at least six of them talk about self-control. In Titus 1:8 elders are to be men who are known for their hospitality, good works, holiness, discipline and self-control. If you were going to be a leader of the Christian church on the island of Crete you were going to have to show self-control.
In chapter 2:2 Titus was told that since self-control wasn’t the norm or wasn’t what was naturally possessed. It had to be learned. So, Titus was told to teach the leaders self-control. I wonder how many people signed up for that Bible study? “Self-control 101!”
Evidently the women needed some help in the area of self-control when it came to their mouths (no “amens” from the men in the house, please J) and when it came to alcohol (Titus 2:3).
Then the older women were supposed to teach the younger women how to be self-controlled (verse 5).
And then in verse 6, Paul told Titus to go over to the youth group and start teaching them about self-control too.
And Paul said to Titus specifically, “You’d better be self-controlled yourself, Buddy” (that’s my paraphrase of verse 7). Furthermore, Paul said, “Set the example for them. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” Paul was saying that fundamental to our ability to live successfully as Christians was the development of the Spiritual fruit of self-control in our lives. I believe with the Apostle Paul, if that becomes the foundational principle for the way our lives are lived out as believers, we are going to get far more right than wrong!
Why is it so hard? Why do we give in so easily and fall for so much without even putting up a fight? Perhaps the answer lies in the hyphenated word itself. “Self-control.” The emphasis is on our ability. For the Christian, perhaps it could be more aptly termed, “Spirit-controlled.”
Paul is right when he says in Romans 7:18: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out.” You and I cannot be self-controlled. We must be transformed by the Holy Spirit if it is ever going to happen because it isn’t a man-made or man-developed ability. It is a spiritual fruit that is only the work of the Holy Spirit. It is supernatural so it can’t be created with natural, human effort.
Christian, don’t underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your life. You need the Spirit’s power and control over you in increasing measure. If you seek anything daily or focus on anything daily it ought to be that of seeking to be completely possessed by the Holy Spirit. Self-control is a FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT not a determination of your will.
Proverbs 25:28 paints a dramatic portrait of the individual who lives an out of control life, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”
Broken down walls were bad news in the Ancient World. The walls were a city’s main source of protection. Broken walls meant a city was always vulnerable to attack. Broken walls meant a city would always be poor. Nothing of value could be kept in a city without walls because it would be easily stolen. Nothing significant or sacred could be built in a city without walls because it would be destroyed. People who lived in cities without walls weren’t peaceful. They were always afraid of who or what was coming in next to take advantage of them.
What a sad place to be in-in a city without walls. Proverbs says people who lack self-control are in a similar situation.
Like un-walled cities they are VULNERABLE. When a person lacks self-control they are an easy target for the enemy when it comes to temptation. He loves to tempt us in the area of our weakness; where we are least protected. Whether it is overspending or overeating or indulging in some kind of sexual fantasy or perversion, when we live without self-control we are easily drawn to things which displease God, ruin our testimony and cost us personally.
People without self-control are easily talked into doing things they wouldn’t normally see as right or godly. They just live an exposed life. Going with the flow isn’t the way to the holy life I Peter 1:16 admonishes we should go.
Like un-walled cities those who lack self-control lead an IMPOVERISHED life in a way. Giving in to whims and desires costs us. We steal from ourselves, our families, and our destinies when we lack self-control. Maybe we become slaves to financial debt. Maybe we lose our marriage because of impulsive fantasies. Maybe it costs us our reputation or a friendship. We are left empty and discontented.
Like un-walled cities those who lack self-control lead an EMPTY life. They can’t build solid friendships. They can’t get ahead financially. They can’t grow into stable Christians because the foundation is shaky. Every time they give in and do whatever feels good in the moment or seems right at the time, they feel the condemnation Satan wants to heap on them, they are ashamed, and they promise God they will do better. Satan comes at them then all the harder and they fall again yet with greater shame and greater guilt and a greater sense of defeat because they had determined they weren’t going to continue to do that anymore!
Like un-walled cities those who lack self-control lead a CHAOTIC life. They get tangled up in webs that hold them hostage. They have to “Rob Peter to pay Paul.” They have to compromise core values and moral standards to “fix” their problems short-term. They justify erratic and irresponsible behavior. They turn to things like drugs, alcohol and illicit sex to soothe their feelings of inadequacy and failure. Life spirals out of control. Lies have to be told to cover up impulsive behaviors. Deception ensues.
At the root of a lack of self-control is sin because when we give in instead of saying “no” to things we shouldn’t we are letting something other than God’s Spirit and God’s will control us. Even if for a moment, we are giving temporary control to the drug, to a sexual experience, to alcohol, to a material possession, to a person in a relationship, etc. We need to start calling a lack of self-control what it is, sin. Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
If you sense you lack self-control in any area of your life I want to encourage you to:
- Talk to God about your problem. Admit you lack self-control. Ask God to fill you
with the Spirit of God and to empower you in the area of your weakness. God wants to remake you within so that you can withstand pressures from without. He has power that is greater than any temptation. He has power that can help you crucify fleshly passions. He wants you to live for more than the moment! He wants you to have abundant life and that is only possible when you embrace that an abundant life doesn’t mean possessing everything in abundance. But it means learning the power of saying “no” to many things in order that you might possess the best things! Abundant life is breathing room. Abundant life is peace. Abundant life is freedom. If you don’t feel like you have those things, perhaps you are lacking self-control.
God can give you the ability to withstand temptations and will provide a way of escape when they become too severe (I Cor. 10:13). Our problem is that when temptation comes, God isn’t usually the first or second or third or ever person we want to converse with, but He must become our first Confidante! The name of Jesus must be the first name on our lips. Don’t think you can just exercise mind over matter. Your mind will always control your matter if you don’t get the power of God on board. J Talking to God will put a speed bump between you and your impulse. It will create space between you and temptation. It will give God room to get to you with His power. Forget the phrase, “Look before you leap,” and adopt this one: “Pray before you do anything.”
And this talking to God can’t be a one-trip to the altar conversation. Christians, we would do well to keep the Fruit of the Spirit in front of us and to pray daily that each manifestation would be grown in us. This is an ongoing pursuit. Pray to be possessed by the Spirit of God.
- Talk to the problem about God. In the little book of Titus that has so much to say
about self-control, we read in chapter 2:11: 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Notice in verse 12 that we can say “no” to ungodliness and passions. (That’s the sixth time Titus mentions self-control.) Even if everything within you says “yes” to the wrong thing, you can still, by the power of God, say “no” and follow through with your “no.”
You have to exercise dominion over your body and circumstances by learning to say “no” to the temptation. When you do, tell your temptation why your “no” is “no.” Speak and say, “Jesus doesn’t want me to do that and in the Holy Spirit’s power, I am not going to” or say “Giving in won’t take me where God wants me to go, and I’m not going down that road. With God’s help in the Spirit’s power I will resist this temporary high for something much greater; something that will sustain me and give me peace long term.”
- Talk to other people about the problem. We need accountability. Too many of us
are trying to live life alone. Too many aren’t in a Bible study or accountability group or in regular meetings with other Christians to whom we are accountable. I don’t know about you, but I have been blessed by every testimony we have heard over the last month and a half. People who have shared what God has done and is doing in their lives have blessed my soul, and strengthened me in my Christian walk. Their sharing also gives me an opportunity to hold them accountable for victories won in their lives. As a result of his bold testimony about being delivered from tobacco, I can now go to Chad Westfall and say, “Are you still tobacco free?” I can go to Tommy Young and say, “Is your integrity still intact?”
When you share your struggles and your victories with other Christian brothers and sisters, you make yourself voluntarily accountable. I hear that the kind of sharing going on in the men’s group and in Scott Haas’s Sunday School class and no doubt in other groups throughout the life of the church, is creating awesome accountability, deep Christian friendship and respect, love and admiration for one another and people are being set free to be real and find the support they need to overcome life’s challenges.
Conquering inner space, conquering ourselves requires not only that we prepare our minds as we talked about last week, but that we seek the control of the Spirit of God completely in our lives in order that we may live self-controlled lives. Isn’t it time to end the rat race? Isn’t it time to get order in your life? Isn’t it time to quit living from paycheck to paycheck? Isn’t it time to quit hiding secret addictions? Isn’t it time to pay attention to our health and get adequate rest? Shouldn’t we make teaching and modeling self-control to our children a high priority? Isn’t it time to reign ourselves in and be submissive to the Spirit of God? Isn’t it time to conquer our inner space so that we can be the holy people of God?