Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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The third in Peter’s list of attributes to be added to our faith, (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11), is “self-control.”

The term self-control (translated as “temperance” in the KJV), comes from the Greek (egkrateia). This term has as its root the Greek (kratos), denoting strength or power. The term is literally rendered and easily understood as power or strength in regard to self. A person who has self-control has the ability to limit his urges and desires in order to conform to God’s will.

Theoretically, we all have control of ourselves. This is why God can and does hold us accountable for our actions. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Paul here indicates that each individual has it within himself to avoid sin. We can control ourselves.

Practically, it is not always easy. God has created us with several natural and beneficial urges. However, it is possible to pander to these urges, and abuse ourselves. For example, the sexual urge is designed for procreation. The urge is to be satisfied in the marital bed (cf. Heb. 13:4). If such satisfaction is not found, there is danger of sin, “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). Even the spiritually minded must always be on guard to protect against such sin.

The same can be said about physical appetite (gluttony) and physical thirst (drunkenness). Also, Satan entices with illicit things, appealing to the lusts of man. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:14).

The end result is that self-control is a theoretical possibility, but a practical difficulty. It takes great diligence and effort to be “temperate in all things.”

The apostle Paul used the image of the athlete to express this principle of self-control. He wrote to the Corinthians, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). Those familiar with the regimen of the professional or Olympic athlete realize the single-mindedness that such training requires. Likewise, we must give ourselves totally to our race as Christians.

In another epistle Paul equated the concept of self-control with crucifixion. He wrote to the Galatians, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24). This statement was written in the context of a conflict (“the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh,” 5:17) which affects us all. Such a crucifixion of the flesh is necessary to be pleasing to God. “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth” (Colossians 3:5).

We live in a time where each is committed to self-fulfillment. Little that is considered appealing is denied. Lasciviousness, intoxication, gambling, and excesses of every type is the norm, and the idea of refraining from such activity is thought by many to be laughable.

It is against this backdrop that the Christian must practice self-control. Peter indicated in his second epistle that the Christian should no longer practice sin, because “we have spent enough of our past lifetime doing the will of the Gentiles” (2 Peter 4:3).

This necessitates on our part a determination to avoid all evil. James said to “resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Paul put it in this way, “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith…” (1 Timothy 6:11-12). Whether we are fleeing evil, (or, when cornered by the devil, resisting him and putting him to flight), we must be always in control of ourselves. The child of God, to secure an entrance in heaven, must add to his knowledge, self-control.