Lauren and Mikaela--identical twins living on opposite coasts--blog about the story of life and their adventures in faith.


Self Control: The Big Misnomer

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,
“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
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. 

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."


  1. Very good Lauren and interesting. You are absolutely right, nothing should be done out of "self control." Nor should anything be done out of "self esteem." So many things we have been hearing in our modern culture in the last 60 years have been clearly un-Biblical. It would be a challenge to list them and then define them filtered through Scriptures. One such idea might be, "God helps those who help themselves." Isn't it true that God helps those who can not help themselves. Just a thought. Blessings!

  2. Great post, Lauren!!!

    That second to last paragraph really puts things straight! I have to admit, this new definition was certainly new to me as well. I'm glad to say that you have given me some fresh insight that has me feeling very much encouraged.

  3. Wow! What a powerful and moving post! You have inspired me beyond words. I struggle with saying no to my flesh constantly. When you think about it, all sin is a result of not having spirit control as you put it. Every sin that comes to mind is caused by one thing, a lack of ability to say no to my sinful desires and say yes to doing it God's way. It is truly that simple. Yet it is so difficult to do. Especially in this day when we are constantly bombarded by people telling us that it is important to feed the flesh. We are constantly told that if we aren't always doing what we want, or if we ever have to say no to ourselves than something is wrong and we should fight for our rights. In this day and age we have bought into this idea that a successful life is one in which we are always fulfilled and doing what we want. But a truly successful life is one in which God is put first in everything we do. No matter if we are happy or not. Joy is something that can be found in every situation because it is putting God's will above all else. And only while doing that can we find true fulfillment. By saying no to our flesh and triumphing over it we can find many blessings. This article is such a God send for me. It provided just the encouragement that I needed. If you don't mind I would love to print it out and place it in my bible study note book for quick reference.
    I would also like to let you know what an inspiration you both are in my life. I live in an area where I am often the one being looked up too. I have virtually no Godly young women to look up to and be encouraged by. So thank you for being those young ladies to me. You are both wonderful role models and I thank you for that.
    Brian Price

  4. Mrs. W--You are so right--worldview is such a huge issue! All too often Christians have a worldview that is tinged with humanism and worldliness, rather than a worldview where every aspect is carefully planted on the Word of God. Thanks for commenting!
    Victoria--I'm glad it was encouraging! When I learn something like this, I just have to share it with you all!
    Briana--That is one of the sweetest comments I have ever received! All I can say is: Praise the Lord--it was totally Him! Of course you can print the article out! I am also so grateful to the Lord that He has allowed Mikaela and I to encourage you since you don't have other godly young women to look up to near you--that's one of the things that I love about blogging! I'm praying for you, because I know what a joy but also what a challenge it is to be that role model to other girls! May God bless you richly as you seek to be Spirit controlled!

  5. I like that, Spirit-Control!!


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