Self-control cultivates our desires for God.
Most of us agree that self-control is a good thing. We might disagree on the degree to which we exercise self-control or about those things for which we ought to practice self-control, but very few of us, if any, disregard the importance of this quality entirely.
Some of this has to do with experience. When we were little children, our parents disciplined us when our lack of self-control led to rebellion against their authority. Or they might have encouraged self-control in us by saying, “Eat less candy and more vegetables.”
On that front, we have all certainly experienced the consequences of lacking self-control through eating too much food, drinking too much wine, losing our tempers, or saying or doing something we wish we could take back. Self-control teaches us to avoid over-indulgence.
While it is true that we can learn about the importance of this quality through experience, there is also a deeply biblical and human reason God wants us to develop a habit of self-control.
The Ancient Greek word for self-control in 2 Peter 1:6 involves “the restraint of one’s emotions, impulses, or desires.” The reason for this is that the Bible understands we are primarily desiring creatures. We will pursue what we desire most. God is after not just our head and our hands, but our hearts.
God uses our desires for his glory and our sanctification, but they can also be for the furtherance of sin in our lives and the world. Before eating the fruit in Genesis 3, Eve saw, “that the tree was to be desired.” In an ultimate sense, our desires can be either for or against the things of God.
Our deepest desires show themselves in what we want most, and what we want most we will fervently pursue. Therefore, God encourages us to have self-control. Not so that we become stoic, stilted beings. But so that our desires are cultivated and corrected to desire the good things of God.
On an evangelistic note, it is worth considering that the same word for self-control is used in Acts 24:25. As Paul is before the governor Felix discussing faith in Jesus Christ, the Bible says, “And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgement, Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.’”
Clearly, Paul thought this quality worth mentioning along with righteousness and the coming judgement. The result was that this grouping of topics went to Felix’s heart, and he “was alarmed.”
Learning and growing in self-control over our emotions, impulses, and desires furthers our holiness and can serve as a testimony to the watching world.
Will Stockdale is a Ministry Associate in D.C. and cohost of The Will & Rob Show.