In my on-again, off-again series on God’s “Steps to Success” (found in 2 Peter 1:3, 5-8), I’ve been meaning to write about self control for some time, but I never knew quite how to approach the topic. Yes, in Peter’s list, “self-control” comes after knowledge—first we need to know the right thing to do, and then we need to follow through and actually do it! But how does this affect my day-to-day life?
Then last month something happened that turned this from an intellectual exercise into a personal issue.
Though Pete was out of town, I still planned to attend a special Christian concert about twenty minutes away. To get there, I had to pass through a rural area with no street lights. Since my night vision is less than optimal, I arranged a ride with another couple.
A few hours before they were to pick me up, the wife called. She explained that she wasn’t feeling well and would be staying home, so they couldn’t give me a ride. OK, I can understand… no problem. I drove myself, only missing one turn, and arrived safely without endangering myself or others.
I was enjoying the music when the husband showed up. It turned out that she couldn’t make the event, but he was still planning on going. But because I’m female, and he’s male, he could not give me a ride to a Christian concert. We had to drive separate cars.
Now, maybe I’m naïve, or maybe I don’t understand temptation, but he’s not exactly the hunk of the month, and as I said last time, I’m definitely on the round side. We barely know one another. We’re both married. Never in my wildest dreams would I be interested in anything inappropriate with this person. So, I’m assuming that this is a general rule they follow, not something specifically targeted to this particular situation.
I’ve met other people with this rule… refusing to carpool, taking an expensive shuttle instead of being picked up at an airport, etc., all because there would have been two people of the opposite sex together in a car.
Romans 12:17 says, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” I understand that our reputation and God’s reputation are at stake. But this verse is saying that our good deeds are good advertising for God. Nowhere does the Bible tell us to be concerned about appearances. In fact, Jesus spent so much time with “sinners” that he ran the risk of scandal!
(1 Thessalonians 5:22 is often used to support the idea that we shouldn’t do anything that appears wrong, but that isn’t at all what this verse actually means… see this article or this article for a couple of good explanations.)
So I wonder… does a Christian’s refusal to share a ride imply that we’re so lacking in self-control, we can’t spend an hour together in clear view in a vehicle hurtling down a highway? What do they think we’re going to do in there, anyway?
The evangelical church seems to have traded self-control for situation avoidance. Of course, there are times when that’s the right choice. (For example, alcoholics should avoid bars.) But I think we limit God when we are so weak, he can’t put us into circumstances where self-control is required.
A lack of self-control manifests itself in many ways. Just look around any congregation and note how many people are significantly overweight (myself included). Food is a huge self-control issue. So is restraining our tongues, pornography, drunkenness, sex outside of marriage, whining, complaining, exacting our own revenge… the list of sins is endless. We especially need self-control when we’re confronted with something we know to be wrong but that everyone else is doing.
So, how do we develop self-control? Does God just zap us with it, or is it something we learn?
The practice of fasting is designed to teach us self-control. Not eating when we have a legitimate need for food is hard. (Or we can fast something else, such as video games, TV, etc.) If we’re able to exercise self-control in this area we can do so in other parts of our lives.
Self-control is really another way of saying “God-control.” Are we submitted to God in all that we do? If He says “No,” will we obey? Or does He need to give us a time out until we learn?
We all struggle with self-control. My personal Goliath is overeating. Where do you struggle? What victories have you had? What’s your balance between fleeing sin and exercising self-control?