Institute in Basic Life Principles

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Related Character Quality

Related Character Quality

Self-Control vs. Self-Indulgence

Self-control is instant obedience to the initial promptings of God’s Spirit.

The Biblical term for self-control is temperance. The Greek word for temperance is egkrateia, which means “restraining and controlling one’s self.” It is the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions.

Self-control is the inward strength to bring all physical appetites under the control of the Holy Spirit. A word related to egkrateia is egkrateuomai, which describes the rigid self-discipline practiced by athletes who are intent on winning the prize.

The Vital Importance of Self-Control

Self-control is essential for any believer who wants to excel in the Christian life and receive honor from the Lord. Paul used the analogy of a runner in a race. “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 [egkrateuomai] in all things” (I Corinthians 9:24–25).

Paul then emphasized the eternal value of self-control and the personal sacrifice he was making to achieve it. “Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (I Corinthians 9:25–27).

The Opposite of Self-Control

The Biblical antonym of egkrateuomai (temperate) is akrates. It means “powerless, incontinent,” unable to withstand or resist the desires and passions of human appetite. Paul describes this condition: “That which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. … For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. … O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:15, 19, 24).

The Power That Produces Self-Control

Scripture gives a clear sequence of spiritual steps that, when followed, produce self-control. “Having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. … Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance…” (II Peter 1:4–6).

These steps are consistent with the functions of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life. When a person exercises faith by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, he receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Then, as a believer, he can ask his heavenly Father to fill him with the Spirit. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:13).

Once we are filled with the Spirit, we will be taken through trials and testing that will require us to die to ourselves and our natural inclinations. Passing each test requires that we thank God for His purposes in allowing the tests, rejoice in them by looking for benefits, and then cry out to God if there is need for deliverance.

The resurrection power of the Spirit produces self-control. Paul refers to this in Romans 8:11: “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

Experiencing this power was Paul’s great goal; he was willing to go through whatever suffering was necessary. (See Philippians 3:8–10.)

Personal Evaluation—How Much Self-Control Do You Have?

  • Do you give more time to spiritual pursuits than to the pleasures of the world?
  • Do you bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ?
  • Do you control your eating or allow yourself to indulge in food?
  • Do you acknowledge your weakness so you can experience the power of Christ?
  • Do you literally cry out to God for deliverance from addictions?
  • Have you asked your heavenly Father to fill you with His Spirit?
  • Do you respond to each test of the Spirit by thanking God for His purposes and then looking for benefits if you respond correctly?
  • Do you remove provisions for indulgences so you will not fulfill them?

This character lesson is taken from The Power for True Success. For further study, this book may be purchased from our Online Store.