vs. Self-Indulgence
Instant obedience to the initial promptings of God’s Spirit

Key Verse

“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
Galatians 5:24–25

The operational definition of self-control is “instant obedience to the initial promptings of God’s Spirit.” At salvation, a person is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit within reminds the Christian of God’s Word, convicts him of sin, and comforts him in trials. The Spirit’s direction will always be in accordance with God’s Word and His ways. Many people in the Bible learned to recognize God’s voice. The Spirit’s promptings are not audible but can be perceived within a believer’s spirit. A Christian develops sensitivity to the Holy Spirit by spending regular time with God and responding immediately when He speaks. The Holy Spirit may prompt a believer to rise right away when his alarm rings, to give a Gospel tract to a stranger, or to respond graciously in a frustrating situation. Although anyone can seemingly control himself for a time, only the person yielded to God’s Spirit can experience freedom from sin. (See Romans 6:22–23.) The indwelling Holy Spirit has the power to transform a Christian’s desires as well as his actions.

Just as a stoplight directs traffic, the Holy Spirit gives direction so a Christian can know when to stop and when to proceed.
Without self-control, a child will indulge in more than his rightful share of dessert.

The opposite of self-control is self-indulgence. Self-indulgence is a lack of restraint, evidenced by a misuse of the good things God created. For example, God gave us taste buds so that we can enjoy eating our food. However, this pleasure is misused when a person overeats. God designed rest to rejuvenate the body, but this necessity is abused when a person is slothful. A self-indulgent person does whatever he feels like doing, even if it goes against God’s Word. He lacks the self-discipline to limit and deny himself. Proverbs 25:28 warns: “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” Yielding to one’s natural desires leaves a person vulnerable to spiritual attacks and painful consequences. If children do not learn self-control when young, as adult citizens they will not govern themselves responsibly. Consequently, they will require more oversight by authorities, who will govern with excessive laws and regulations. Self-control safeguards society from corruption, because human desires become harmful when they are indulged, abused, or fulfilled outside of God’s boundaries.

Evaluation Questions

  • Do I carefully consider what I am about to say and do before taking action?
  • Is my eating controlled, or do I indulge in too much food?
  • Am I willing to trade extra sleep or playtime for daily time in God’s Word?
  • If someone wrongs me, do I react in anger and try to retaliate?
  • What personal limits have I set for myself to guard against temptation?
  • Am I committed to speaking well of others and rejecting gossip?
  • When do I set aside times to abstain from food, entertainment, or other pleasures in order to spend focused time with God?
  • Am I quick to listen and slow to speak, or do I react hastily?

More About Self-Control

“Always do something you don’t need to do for the sake of doing it — it keeps you in moral fighting trim.”
Oswald Chambers
Transformation results as we behold the Lord and yield to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). As we see God’s character through testimonies in Scripture, we grow in our understanding and obedience to His Word. Here are ten aspects of Self-Control with supporting verses found in God’s Word.

God enables me to:


Avoid acting impulsively.

“He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.” Proverbs 14:29

Not equate my desires with rights.

“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. . . . But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” I Corinthians 8:9, 12–13

Set my own limits.

“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” I Corinthians 6:12–13

Consider myself dead to sin.

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:11

Walk away from things that are not right.

“Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” II Timothy 2:22

See anger as a sign that something is wrong.

“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” James 1:20

Yield to righteousness.

“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Romans 6:16

Choose to fast.

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” Isaiah 58:6

Discipline myself.

“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” I Corinthians 9:24–25

Overcome temptation.

“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” I Corinthians 10:12–13

Self-Control in Scripture

A Perfect Opportunity for Revenge

“The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord’s anointed: but, I pray thee, take thou now the spear that is at his bolster, and the cruse of water, and let us go.”
I Samuel 26:11
Because of King Saul’s disobedience, God directed the prophet Samuel to anoint young David as the future king of Israel. Furious and jealous, King Saul determined to kill David. For years, King Saul pursued David. On one occasion, King Saul entered a large cave, unaware that it was the same cave where David and his men were hiding. What a perfect opportunity for David to kill his attacker and secure the kingdom! Yet, because of his deep reverence for God, David refused to harm the king whom God had appointed. Instead, David quietly cut off a small piece of King Saul’s robe and remained hidden until Saul left the cave. When David called out and showed the king the cloth, Saul wept, realizing David had spared his life. David and King Saul then went their separate ways. Shortly afterward, some people told Saul where David was hiding. With this information, the king rallied a trained army of three thousand soldiers to hunt down David. If David had another chance to kill King Saul, would he take it? Would David change his mind since King Saul had failed to keep his word? Or would David trust God and honor his resolve to respect the Lord’s anointed?

Revealed in Nature

Black Bear

Unlike brown bears, the black bear usually refrains from confrontation. Even when other bears enter its territory, it avoids conflict whenever possible. During harsh winters when food is scarce, the black bear can go without eating for up to seven months.

For Kids

Biblical Character Illustrated Curriculum

The Biblical Character Illustrated Curriculum uses examples from the lives of men and women in the Bible whose walk with God resulted in good character or whose lack of faith produced poor character. Through this study, children are encouraged to develop the self-discipline needed to obey God and overcome Satan's temptations.

View the Self-Control booklet sample:

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Free Resources for Self-Control

Enjoy these selections from the Biblical Character Illustrated Curriculum that are fun and memorable!

Bible Story Coloring Page
Verse & Definition Word Search
Related Hymn Sheet Music
“True self-control means willingness to resign the small for the sake of the great, the present for the sake of the future, the material for the sake of the spiritual, and that is what faith makes possible.”
Hugh Black