God has given us knowledge and power through Jesus Christ, and has blessed us with physical bodies that can do many wonderful things. However, with these blessings comes great responsibility. We are called to control ourselves so as to fight the temptations of Satan and grow into more mature Christ followers.
An illustration of self-control is the story of David and King Saul. The young David was chosen by God to be the next ruler of Israel, but King Saul couldn’t face this reality. He chased David relentlessly, trying to kill him. One day, when King Saul searched for David and his men in a cave, he fell asleep, and David saw him. David had a chance to kill Saul and stop fleeing for his life. However, David controlled his desire and did not harm Saul, even though his men were urging him to seize the opportunity. He didn’t touch Saul because the Lord had forbid him to kill his king. David was blessed by the Lord and would later become a great king of Israel. This story illustrates that knowing what the right thing to do is only part of our growth as a Christian; we must also exercise self-control during times of temptation – putting our knowledge into action.
David also illustrates the consequences of lack of self-control. When he finally became king he was blessed with great power and wealth for He followed the Lord. One night he saw a beautiful woman named Bathsheba. She was married to a soldier in David’s army. David knew she was married but still sent people to get her. He slept with her and she would become pregnant. In order to cover his tracks, he sent Bathsheba’s husband to the dangerous front lines of battle to ensure his death. The Lord was greatly displeased with David and the son he had with Bathsheba would die. This is a great example of how one moment of a lack of self-control can snowball into more and more sin.
So how do we grow in self-control? On one level, we are called just to do it, to be self-controlled. God has given us a will, the ability to choose what we do with our bodies, and we are to take responsibility to exercise our will in accordance with His. We are not helpless victims of our desires. On a deeper level, however, it is the case for many of us that our will has been weakened by repeated failures to exercise it properly. Years of succumbing to bad habits has left us feeling like we have no control over our wills. In this case, we need to take a step back and let God do some restoration work in us. By studying the teachings of Jesus, by praying for the power of the Holy Spirit and by paying close attention to our experiences, God re-shapes our minds, our emotions and even our physical desires. As these aspects of us our made more like Christ, we find over time that our will, which is merely an expression of our thoughts, emotions and physical desires, becomes more aligned with the will of God. We begin to experience small victories. Small victories lead to larger ones. The process of renewal is now in full swing. We no longer feel like captives to urges whose power is greater than our own.
1 Samuel 24
2 Samuel 25
1 Peter 5:8
2 Peter 1:6
1 Thessalonians 5:8
The Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard
The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg (Chapter 11, “An Undivided Life”)
Sermon on Proverbs 25:28