Sometime when I was under four feet tall, I learned a song about the endearing Benny Bear who couldn’t restrain himself from eating just one little berry out of the basket he was bringing to a party. Of course, before he knew it the basket was empty, and he was left bemoaning his total lack of self control. Then there was Mrs. Blab who just couldn't stop blabbing gossip until her tongue was sore, and Suzy Q who snoozed constantly. My sisters and I loved singing this song, partly because the words were so much fun to troll, and partly because the adults always laughed hysterically when we sang it for them. (You can listen to this song here, starting at about 2:35.)
So here I am now, just a touch over five feet tall, and I’m still thinking about self control. In fact, I have been dwelling on the word a lot lately, and I've had a revelation. Am I the only one who has ever thought that, for a Christian, the word “self control” seems like a misnomer? After all, Romans 7:18 says,
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”
Does not Scripture emphasize that we are to be “Spirit controlled” not “self controlled”? When you sniff it out, does not self control reek just a bit of self help, innate goodness, and self sufficiency? My revelation may seem to be a restatement of the obvious to you--perhaps you have always taken for granted that when a believer talks about "self control" he is actually talking about "Spirit control." I know I am being technical, but I want to get the term right because it affects how we respond to temptation and how we aim for righteousness!
As I said, I have been mulling this thought over for some time now, for I know that it will be no easy task to get Webster’s to change their dictionary. Thus I have also considered that, even if I could convince the Webster dictionary man to replace “self control” with “Spirit control,” that would not mean that Christians abdicate their responsibility for living righteously. At some level, we do still have a responsibility.
Rejecting control of yourself by your flesh and accepting control of yourself by the Holy Spirit still requires a decision and daily obedience. That’s why I love the definition the Institute in Basic Life Principles gives for self control (that misnomer aside!):
“Instant obedience to the initial promptings of God’s Spirit.”
That is also why I love how the King James version of the Bible translates self-control: temperance. Strong’s says that temperance is the virtue of one who has mastered his desires and passions, especially sensual appetites. The Greek word for temperance comes from two root words, literally meaning “fixed position of great vigor” or “strong in a thing, masterful.” And Scripture tells us to find our strength in the Lord!
II Timothy 3:1-4 describes today’s society perfectly:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, ...blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ...incontinent [i.e. intemperate],...lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Yes, we are very good at being self controlled. We are very good at doing what we think is right, and at avoiding things that will bring us pain. But how are we at being Spirit controlled? We need to hand the steering wheel over to God. God fills us with fuel, the Spirit steers, but there is no cruise control--we still have to press the gas in order to go anywhere. Matthew 26:41 says,
So if self control has never been your strong suit; if you, like me, find it difficult to stop the vicious cycle of distraction via Google searches and website browsing; or if you love your sleep or your chocolate a bit too much or find yourself losing your temper only to cry, "I wish I had some self control!"--consider changing your mindset by deeming self control a misnomer and Spirit control the real virtue. Webster's might need some convincing, but I've never been more excited to redefine a word.“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Scripture taken from the King James and New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The key to Spirit control is Philippians 4:13:
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."