We are starting a new short series today on a much needed topic but also one that is not real popular. That topic? Self-control.
This is a huge problem in many lives and it is one of the core problems we address as pastors. We see examples of this in couples who are seeing each other who do not remain pure. Debt is common in Christian households to the point that it is joked about and commonly accepted. Drug use and alcohol abuse are more common than people wish to admit. Sexual sin even within marriage is common-place. Gluttony is a sin we simply don’t discuss in most circles. Gossip and slander abound in many circles. Laziness is accepted in many workplaces as a part of life. Emotions are out of control, whether it be anger or anxiety, they dominate many people’s lives.
All of these are simply the fruit of a lack of self-control, in one way or another.
Beginning is something that is very easy to do. It can be scary because it may represent a new beginning, but it is still fairly easy to start something new.
Usually a new beginning represents a new chapter in your life. This can be starting college, moving out for the first time, going to a new job, entering the military, or getting engaged and married. The list could go on and on.
Sometimes when a person makes that decision to begin something new it is praiseworthy. Why? Because it was a hard decision that carried many potential consequences.
However, ending well is not so easy. Many a person has made a hard decision and made it well. They are starting a good thing that is a hard thing. They had people praise them. They entered into the new decision with a smile of excitement and anticipation, but because they did not exercise self-control it ended poorly.
To end well means you must be self-disciplined. Exercising self-control over much, if not all, of your life. To end well means to have a path planned, and then stay on it. To end well means to know what is a good and God-focused goal and then pursuing it as if your life depended on it.
Dr. Lutzer of Moody Church once said that word order means a lot in English, by simply moving a word around a little in the sentence major meanings can be changed. He gave an example by pointing out that the definition of two words, effective and efficient, are very similar, but with word order slightly changed. Efficient is doing things right. Effective is doing the right things.
One of the jobs we are responsible for as pastors is to disciple future leaders. This can be very difficult if the goal is to create and raise up godly leaders. 1-2 out of 10 seem to make it and as we discussed this we realized it came down to decisions made that related to self-discipline or control.
We want to raise up men known for doing the right things more than the things right.
This is not as hard as many seem to make it out to be. Usually a simple question will be all that is needed. “What is the right thing to do here?”
The reality is that most of the time you know what the right thing is. Very seldom is the situation so complex that you can’t figure it out. However, the real question becomes whether there is the courage to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing, and that takes self-control.
I was a young man with this marked lacked of self-control. Only if I were interested in something would I focus on it. The result was a pathway littered with good intentions gone bad, and there is much shame still that I find as I remember.
I started college with no real desire nor intention. I wasted my father's money for two years. I was fired for theft. I ended up with no job, no good reputation, and a 1.9 GPA.
I moved to Houston, and I began to grow up. This was done through many difficult things happening, all unpleasant and all good. I had a point of becoming broken before my Lord, and finally showed true repentance.
I met Kim, and began to have a vision and desire to preach the Word. I heard a guy named John MacArthur preach, and desired to be able to do that. So, we moved to Los Angeles to go back to school. 10 years of effort is what followed.
College was 18 credits per semester while with a 40 hr workweek and a 3 hr commute round trip. My final semester of college was 32 credits. I graduated with a 4.0 G.P.A.
Later moved up to the Valley with Kim and two children, and got a job close to the seminary, 60 hours per week minimum, two more children, became the chaplain in the LA Jail system, preaching 4-8 times per week, and seminary.
What was the difference? A submission to the Lord, His Word, and learning to discipline myself. Exhaustion was a good word to describe those years.
There were times where I would hear my children playing in the next room, and all I wanted to do was go out, get down on my knees and have a tickle fight. Instead, I would put my shooting ear protectors on and go back to work. Sleep was not an option until my work was done.
Why? Because I was a young man who had developed a terrible habit of quitting short of the goal. My life was littered with things not finished. I was a man easily distracted, therefore, starting many and finishing none but the least important, and make no mistake, it was tempted countless times to cut short my education. There were huge battles in my heart that only I and the Lord know about. There were countless small failures and countless reconfessing and reorienting myself back to the path.
What drove me was this simple conviction. It is easy to start well, even easier to start poorly; but it is very hard to end well. So I would tell myself, “So, shut up and do it. No excuses, and no way out. Finish it.”
This is how I started my ministry here as the pastor of the church. I was determined to finish it, and finish in a manner that glorified God. It may not make me happy or the church happy, but I was going to seek to honor the Lord as pastor. Whether that meant closing the church down, or leaving after a few years, or dying here as pastor, I needed to do it right, and it is still something that drives me.
Now what you just described could be repeated by many people who are not Christians. So what is the difference, if there is, between what was just described and any person just developing a personal habit of self-discipline?
The difference is perspective and motive.
The perspective for a biblical self-control is that it has eternity as its focus.
The motive is that it is a willful submission to the Word of God as the will of God, and these two points are huge, and must not be missed.
We talk in churches and online all the time about the need for spiritual disciplines such as prayer, bible reading, and biblical meditation. What is underlying all of those things? It is self-discipline, or they will never happen.
Our hope here is to lay out today the need for self-control in the life of a Christian. Then, we will develop how this is done in the next few episodes.
The Need for Self-Control
The first point is the big point, eternity - your soul - hangs on self-discipline.
Do not miss this, and do not disparage the infinite value of your soul.
Mark 8:36, 37 "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
And yet, how many have suffered the infinite loss of their soul, and the joy of eternal life with God, because they did not exercise true, biblical self-control?
In Luke 12 we read of a successful farmer. Remember how this man was a person who was very self-disciplined in the ways of this world. Successful farmer looking to a successful harvest. But unknown to him, the Lord ordained that it was too late.
Luke 12:19-21 "And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified."
Paul understood the foolishness of sin, but also the deceitfulness of it. How it hardens a heart and draws it away from the beauty of Jesus alone. His answer was self-control, to refuse to allow his body to be the final determiner of what he will or will not do. He was a man who daily would stand and set his face before the Lord to serve Him and love Him with all his mind and body and strength.
Notice that he was focused, very focused on the prize. That which is imperishable. Eternal life, life with God, participating and watching Him set all things right for all eternity; a life of entering into His Master’s immeasurable joy.
When he faced hostility and violence, he would remind himself of what he wrote in Romans 8:18 - “ For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Hebrews 12:14-15 with 1 John 3:1-4
“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God. . . .”
This passage is often overlooked by people and as a result they treat holiness in a casual manner. This is not talking about that initial setting apart that occurs when we believe. The entire context of Hebrews is about persevering in the gospel by growing in grace and knowledge and godliness.
The point is that though we may claim Christ, it is through a persevering, sanctifying life that we will see Him. Now consider that as we read from 1 John….
"See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness."
Here we see the connection of the coming of Jesus and the pursuit of holiness.
We could say it this way:
Only when we see the coming of Jesus as supreme in our hearts and desires. . .
Only when we see that we shall never enjoy eternity with Jesus without sanctification/holiness/purity. . .
Will the message of self-control make sense.
1 Peter 1:13 - "Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Main point, fix your hope. A command, not a suggestion. It is the practical duty of every Christian to cultivate a type of hope that is persevering and confidant and disciplined.
Fixed on what? “The grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Here we have the same concept as in Hebrews 12 and 1 John 3, but in a positive manner.
It is reminding them of the grand, glorious promises of God ,and that at the return of Jesus they shall enjoy those promises and blessings to the fullest.
Now what is that grace? Well this is why verse 13 starts out with “therefore.” It is pointing back to vss 2-12.
- God’s saving foreknowledge.
- The Spirit’s sanctifying work.
- The blood of Christ.
- The mercy of the Father.
- The new birth.
- The living hope through Christ’s resurrection.
- An unfading inheritance kept safe in heaven.
- The reality that we, ourselves, are kept safe by God.
- The fact that suffering is revealing the true faith.
- The persevering in one’s love and faith in Christ.
So grace is all of these things!
But, then it is modified by two supporting participles.
1.) Girding your minds.
Tying the tunic out of the way so that you might effectively travel, labor or fight. The idea is being able to take all of those distractions that are thrown at you and tuck them in. No loose ends.
2.) Keeping sober-minded.
At times it speaks of alcohol and drunkenness. Here is speaking of a mind set which is the more common use. It is an attitude of seriousness. -- the opposite of “Amusement.”
"The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer." (1 Pet. 4:7) Keep frivolity in perspective, for the end is near.
"Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (1 Pet. 5:8) Lack of seriousness allows Satan room to affect you.
We can speak to this personally as we try to disciple and train up people. A lack of seriousness and a willingness to tie down loose ends are constant points of friction.
2 Peter 1:5-11 "Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you."
“Moral excellence” (Virtue in ESV).
Used to describe military acts of valor, bravery, and such.
This is our point in this whole podcast. A determination to make the right decision for the right reason–that though you might lose this entire world, you have gained Jesus—and that is worth it!
Without this moral courage the natural progression that Peter then gives will not occur.
Take them briefly through that progression.
Key point: “in your faith supply. . . .” Speaks of adding TO your faith these things.
It is through adding to your faith that your faith in the gospel and in the God of the gospel grows.
All of this is premised off of the description of what God has accomplished.
Hear this well. Because God has already furnished the everything pertaining to life and godliness (vs 3), go fight for it.
Push forward and onward. Never give up and never give ground. Never allow yourself to forget the magnificent promises found in the gospel.
Vs 8 gives the reason to do all of this. “For if. . . .”
Vs 9 gives the warning if you don’t. “For. . . .”
There is no such thing and simply “coasting.” It is better to see it as drifting, and it is always drifting away. Vss 10-11 gives the encouragement.
Self discipline is not something to prove to you, nor the world, the power of your will.
It is not something that exists to show your goodness and wisdom.
When we see that God is truly our delight, we will willingly and joyfully set aside pursuits that offer nothing in the end.
We will willingly and joyfully restrain ourselves and commit ourselves to God’s glory, for it will be our passion.
So may we all learn what it means to run a race of life not of sour faced, teeth gritting endurance, but rather a clear-eyed, God-infused, big-grin life of self-discipline, bringing all of what we are and do under the Lord of heaven and earth.
And, then next time, we will develop this concept a bit more.