“You are all children of light, and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness, so then let’s not sleep, as the rest do, but let’s watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep in the night, and those who are drunk are drunk in the night. But let us, since we belong to the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and, for a helmet, the hope of salvation.” 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 (WEB)
If you’ve ever brought a whole pineapple home, you might have wondered how to peel the fruit and eat it. With the hard spiky skin and the tough leaves on top, it might be intimidating to sink your teeth into. And the truth is, you don’t just bring it home and eat it like you do an apple or a pear. You have to cut the top and outer skin off before slicing the pineapple into pieces you can eat. The meat of the fruit is protected, and if you’ve ever tried to grow a pineapple plant from the top part that you cut off, then you’ll know that the leaves of the plant are razor sharp and painful to brush against.
Mastering the art of self control will give you a suit of armor that can withstand any temptation. But today, self control is a foreign concept. People think they have to have what they want when they want it.
Have you ever seen cartoons or old movies where the character would have an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other? Each would whisper into the character’s ear, argue with each other, and try to win the person to their side. Good versus evil. The character had a choice.
But as Christians we can’t afford to have a choice: we need to be holy. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:13-21 that we need to “prepare our minds for action, be sober, and set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ- as children of obedience, not conforming yourselves according to your former lusts as in your ignorance, but just as he who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all of your behavior…” Because we weren’t bought with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Jesus, the Son of God.
Like the armor on a pineapple, self control can be a complicated fruit to enjoy; but it is not impossible to achieve. In Christ, we are new creations, and our old selves are dead. (2 Corinthians 5:17) After baptism, our sinful desires and habits should be cut away and discarded. We should have no part in sin anymore. But like the rotting corpse zombies that break out of their graves in modern fiction, the dead sin will fight to come back to life and govern our lives. Sin does not want to let us go!
Sin changes the way our brain works; it puts us into a completely different paradigm of thought. Christians will never be understood by people in sin. Titus 1:15 tells us that “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” That is why self control is so important in our lives.
But don’t lose hope, if you have a friend who is in sin. Remember Ephesians 5:8-16 when it says “…you were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth, proving what is well pleasing to the Lord. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather even reprove them. For the things which are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of. But all things, when they are reproved, are revealed by the light, for everything that reveals is light. Therefore he says, “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” With God’s grace, your friend can still be pulled out of the paradigm of sin and be saved. Pray for them!
Self control is best achieved when the trait is developed as a child. Joseph was taught self control when his father Jacob rebuked him for telling his prophetic dreams to his father and brothers (Genesis 37:5-11), and because of the discipline that he received as a child, he later was able to flee the evil of Potiphar’s wife and also hide his true identity to his brothers despite the strong emotion that welled within his spirit. That’s why it’s so important to discipline your child with punishment when respect is not given or a wrong deed is done.
But what about those of us now, as adults, wish to master the art of self control? The book of Titus explains what is expected of us as Christians, but we can also learn valuable lessons from Joseph and other key figures in the Bible.
Flee From Evil: The Story of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-45)
Joseph always kept his words, his thoughts, and his actions focused on God. This allowed him to flee the evil that confronted him. He also saved many people with self control, and had the wisdom to deal with his brothers when he saw them again. If Joseph had given into his lusts or temptations even once, it would have weakened his self control.
Before acting, always ask yourself this question: “Can I dedicate this to God?” If the answer is no, think again before you do it. Does the Bible speak against it? If so, don’t do it!
For example, if you’d like to watch a movie, then that may be fine; but if the movie has nudity or bad language then it would be better to spend your time doing something else.
Listen to godly advice: The Story of Boy Samuel (1 Samuel 3)
Samuel was ready to minister to Eli, but he didn’t think it was God Almighty who would call him. When the priest Eli realized what was happening, he advised the boy on how to respond if called again. Samuel followed the advice, and it opened a life of service to God. Samuel was respected as a great prophet of God, and followed His commands faithfully.
If you don’t know whether God would approve of what you want to do, then seek advice. Ask a godly friend or a church elder or deacon what the Bible says on the issue at hand, and ask them if they think it’s a good thing to do. Even if the issue is embarrassing or something you’d rather not confess, you need to find someone to ask advice from. Don’t try to work it out yourself.
For example, if your work group is going on a skiing retreat and they’ve asked you to come; Men and women will be occupying the cabins and alcohol will be served, though it is optional… You’d like to go, but you may need to seek advice if you don’t know what God would think.
Live for God: The Story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 1, 3)
Daniel and his 3 friends begin their story as they are taken from Judah and placed in the king’s palace to work. They honored God by refraining from eating the royal food and wine, instead eating only vegetables and drinking only water. The self control that these men showed in chapter 1 of Daniel is tested severely in chapter 3. When the king Nebuchadnezzar called for everyone to bow down to the great golden statue, it would have been easy for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to bow down along with everyone else- but they didn’t. Instead, they had already dedicated their entire lives to God, so they were able to stand firm on their belief and as a result, God’s greatness was glorified.
Know what’s expected of you. Read the Bible daily and learn the laws of Christ. Study with a church family. Memorize scripture so that you can combat against the sinful habits that try to ensnare you.
For example, it may not be a sin to eat an extra piece of pie at dinner, but if you’re trying not to eat so much then remember Matthew 5:33-37, which says “…But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’…” and keep your word, even to yourself.
Live in prayer: The Story of Daniel (Daniel 1, 6)
We already know Daniel dedicated his life to God along with his 3 friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. While the others found themselves in a fiery furnace after Nebuchadnezzar’s decree, Daniel found himself facing a sentence in a lion’s den because he would not give up his relationship with God. King Darius’s decree was for no one to pray to anyone but him, and Daniel could have simply prayed quietly for no one to see. But Daniel’s public prayers to God were too important to him. His self control wouldn’t allow his faith in God to be hidden.
Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Have a personal relationship with God. Talk to Him, and allow yourself to open the Bible so that He can respond back. Seek His will for you, and strive to live it. If you’re always in prayer with God, then sin has a hard time sneaking back into your life.
For example, you’ve got a juicy bit of gossip that you know your neighbor would love to hear, but the gossip will hurt the local celebrity’s reputation if the word gets out. Next time you greet your neighbor across the fence, be sure to ask God to give you the wisdom to speak only words that will edify the neighbor and glorify God- not words that will slander anyone else.
Admit When You Do Wrong: The Story of Eve (Genesis 3)
Eve is often criticized for eating the forbidden fruit of Eden and then passing the blame off to the serpent. And although that could be true, we cannot ignore the fact that she did admit her fault. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” God punished her for eating the fruit, not for playing the blame game.
Admit when you’ve done something wrong. You can keep a prayer journal where you write down your prayers to God- write in your pages that you’ve done wrong and you need forgiveness. Or find a godly friend that you can trust, and tell that friend whenever you do something against God. Have your friend pray for you, right there on the spot if he or she is willing.
For example, if someone has done something against you and you feel hatred towards them for what they’ve done, then go to that person and tell them what you feel about what they’ve done. If the person is unapproachable, then confess to a godly friend or church elder or deacon and ask them to pray for you.
Recognize Your Demons and Rebuke Them: The Story of Jesus Rebuking Satan (Matthew 4:1-11, Matthew 16:22-24)
When Jesus told his disciples that he was going to have to die, Peter was quick to reply by saying “Far be it from you, Lord! This will never be done to you.” After all, Jesus is the son of God, so Peter couldn’t dream that He could have such a tragic fate. This is the Lord who can call angels from heaven! Death would never come to Him!
But Jesus recognized Peter’s words as from Satan himself- perhaps it reminded him too much of the temptations He had met with in the desert, when Satan told Jesus that he would give the Son of Man all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if He would just fall down and worship him. The temptation in the desert received the response: “Get behind me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him only.” Just like the response which Peter now received: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.”
Jesus wasn’t afraid to call the demon for what it was; He wasn’t just responding to his friend Peter, He was responding to Satan speaking through Peter. Satan was telling Jesus that ‘You don’t really have to die. You have the power to stay alive. Don’t leave your friends here on earth. They need you.’
Split your mind into two personalities. The demon on one shoulder and the angel on the other. There’s a difference between your mind and sin’s thoughts. Learn –through knowledge of the laws of Christ- what sin’s thoughts sound like. Once you can hear the demon’s voice for what it really is, you can argue and fight for God’s truth instead.
For example, when you’ve got a moment to spare and you decide to pass the time, you may automatically move to enjoy some indecent pictures. Catch yourself in the act and ask yourself, “What are you doing?” Your brain will surely try to justify your actions and give you good reasons for why you’re doing it, but if you know Matthew 5:28 (CEB) which says “But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart,” (Don’t be fooled by sin my friends, this applies to men as well as women) and Romans 7:5 (ERV) which says “In the past we were ruled by our sinful selves. The law made us want to do sinful things. And those sinful desires controlled our bodies, so that what we did only brought us spiritual death,” then you’ll be on your way to arguing your demon’s voice in the same way Jesus did in the desert. (Also, read 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Peter 4:1-6, and Colossians 3:5-8 for more arguments against your demon of lust.)
“Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings. But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:8-11 (WEB)