“Why did I do that last night?
“Why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut?
“Why did I fall for that, when I know better?”
“Why did I get so upset about that?
Paul writes to the Romans, (paraphrased) “I know what I should do, but I don’t do it. I know what I should not do, but I do it anyway.”
We’re exploring 2 Timothy 3:1-5 where Paul warns Timothy to “have nothing to do with such people” and one of the things he mentions about the last days is that people will be without self-control.
Is that where we are today?
“What do you want” can be a dangerous question; how many things in our lives are really, ultimately, about what we want? Zoom out for a second: if Earth is created by God, and God gives us the best possible way to live, and not only tells us how to live well but how to not live badly, how dare we choose to do what we want without checking with Him first?
Following our own desires, without exercising self-control, is a pandemic all of its own:
- Two high-ranking U.S. officials, cross-dressed and transgendered, represent our government at the French ambassador’s residence to celebrate Bastille Day.
- There is a growing segment of society dressing and identifying as animals: there are Furries that dress and pretend, then there are Therians who believe they are a blend of human and another animal, and then there are Otherkin who believe they are a blend of human and a mythical or magical creature like a dragon, fairy, or Kirin. (One teacher in our congregation has shared the story of a student in their school who identifies as Demon.)
Are you afraid that those examples are just outliers? No, a lack of self-control, the inability to stop yourself from acting on impulses is found in:
- Drunkenness – there’s no Scripture that says “avoid getting drunk, unless you can order an Uber, then it’s fine.” Mitigating bad decisions in advance does not make it not bad.
- Getting high/stoned – escapism is lethal. To be the change we wish to see in the world takes work, and who wants to work at making the world a better place when we can ingest a plant or chemical and not worry about it for a few more hours?
- Overeating – far beyond what it takes for our bodies to survive, we pack on pounds of excess energy. It’s wasteful, it increases lethargy, and it hinders you from moving and doing all of the things your body was made to be able to do.
- Lust – a terrifyingly high number of adults use porn regularly, and successful marriages go down as porn use goes up.
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
We have an incredible amount of freedom in our lives – more than humans have had at any point in history. We have not handled it well. Even the good things, the necessary things, can be taken to excess.
- Disciplining your child without self-control can easily lead to abuse.
- Spending without self-control can easily lead to debt.
- Eating without self-control can easily lead to weight gain.
If you are a parent, teaching your child how to live well and how to live righteously is one of the highest callings on your life. That is going to require disciplining your children as they learn where the boundaries for right living are. You have unmitigated power over their lives, though, and the same volume you use when you tell them not to touch the stove (and that volume gets results) is easy to slip into when the child gets on your nerves. The same punishments for doing something bad can become easy to reach for when they are doing something annoying. Before long, the level of punishment for that old little thing can’t match up to this new, bigger, fresher thing, so we can escalate. Discipline can turn into abuse. You can force them to stop. Should you do it that way or to that degree?
You can have a second plate of wings. Should you?
You can place that Amazon order. Should you?
It’s time to grow up a little, get past what we want, and focus on what is right. After all:
Self-Control is a Fruit of the Spirit
For the greatest example, look at Jesus: He fasted 40 days. He didn’t run to Lazarus’ side. He allowed Himself to be beaten, torn, and ultimately crucified.
Similarly, Paul writes of a thorn in the flesh, but keeping the goal of the Gospel in mind made all of his smaller struggles diminish.
Remember our “zoom out” from the top of the article: if God said “buy this ticket and play by the rules and you’ll win the lottery,” wouldn’t you do it? So when we’re given eternal life, eternal life, why do we so vehemently insist on coloring outside of the lines?
People who walk with God show lives full of self-control. It’s one of the fruits that marks us as separate.
Self-Control is a Discipline that Must Be Developed
When Pastor Greg bought his house, it was the first time he had a pool. For exercise, he started testing how long he could swim without stopping, topping out at around an hour. But the longer the year went on, he got the idea to start forcing himself to swim as the water got colder. The self-discipline required to jump into 60-degree water, then 50-degree water, then 40-degree water… it got so cold one day, around Thanksgiving, that his arm went numb. He kept swimming. Then his arm stopped working. He swam for a few more minutes after that.
He didn’t want to be governed by comfort, by ease… and that kind of self-discipline translates to other areas of life.
Galatians 5:16 – “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
Self-Control is Achieved through the Spirit of God
It’s not a devil and an angel on your shoulder whispering to you; it’s your old self and the Spirit of God.
Some of us have ruined our careers because of a lack of self-control. Some of us have ruined our health, some of us have ruined our relationships, some of us have ruined our futures…
We need to be redeemed.
And the Spirit of God is our comforter, our advocate, and our helper.
The self-help industry is the largest book sales worldwide- if it worked, it wouldn’t keep growing. False prophets keep selling false hope. We know a better way. The best way, really.
By His power, not our own, we can grow, improve, and rein in our destructive and indulgent tendencies. By His power, not our own, we can draw closer to the God of the Universe, against whom no other power or force can stand. By His power, not our own, we are redeemed from our old selves and made new.
Author’s Note: Most of the notes and summary elements are directly from the sermon. Today, I want to leave you with some lyrics from the Christian punk band Relient K’s song “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been,” as I feel it encapsulates the heart we need to move forward with a prayer for greater self-control:
“I’m sorry for the person I became
I’m sorry that it took so long for me to change
I’m ready to try and never become that way again
‘Cause who I am hates who I’ve been, who I am hates who I’ve been.”