Resisting Temptations.

A big part of a Christian's life, is constantly resisting temptations.

Only when we are able to do this, can we start to think we might have some self control.

Self control.

The one who seemed to write most about "self control" is the Apostle Paul, and leaves no doubt that he thought it was an important ingredient in a Christian's life. However, the Apostle Peter is the one who gives us an overview of where it fits into a Christian's growth pattern.

2Pe 1:5-7 NET.  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge;  (6)  to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness;  (7)  to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love.

Putting self control into perspective.

Let me list out the eight steps given by the Apostle Peter, with some extra comments.

1.    Faith:                 From Strong - "moral conviction of [a] religious truth". A belief in                                           God. A reliance on Christ for salvation.

2.    Excellence:       Virtue, manliness, praise-worthy.  WordWeb - "The quality of doing                                    what is right and avoiding what is wrong".

3.    Knowledge:      Thayer - "especially of things lawful and unlawful for Christians".                                           WordWeb - "Factual information that a person knows".

4.    Self-control:      Thayer - "the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions,                                        especially his sensual appetites". WordWeb - "the trail of resolutely                                                             controlling your own behaviour".

5.    Perseverance:  Thayer - 1a) in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerve                                      from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and                     sufferings.                    1b) patiently, and steadfastly [doing the right thing].

6.    Godliness:         Thayer - reverence, respect, Godliness.

7.    Brotherly            Love between brothers or sisters. 
        affection:           In a church situation, the love shown between the brethren.

8.    Unselfish love:   Joh 15:13 NET.  No one has greater love than this — that one lays                                    down his life for his friends.

Growth Patten.

If we want to grow as a Christian, then here is a pattern we can follow. Without faith in Christ, and an understanding of what He did for us, we can't really start to grow as Christians. Then as we add the features outlined by the Apostle Peter, we move towards the love that Jesus had, and we are able to put the needs of others before our own.

However, if we look at the Christian traits outlined by Peter, we see that we can't claim any of the points without having first taken on-board the characteristics preceding it. For instance, you can't have unselfish love and still not be able to love the brethren. This means that if we don't get some "self control" into our life, our growth towards a mature Christian is halted.

Of course that goes for all the first seven points, but this article is about resisting temptation - exercising our self control.

Born with it.

As humans, we are born with a strong desire to look after self. As mentioned in the growing up article, a measure of our maturity is how far we have moved away from putting the self first to putting others first. However, self control is often about the self. By doing things to help our own bodies, we bring honour to God through having a healthy body and healthy mind. If you don't look after/care for self, you are not going to be able to help/care for others.

The problem is - our mind is not always in agreement with what God, science, common sense or health experts tell us is the best thing to do.

Some examples.

Sugar.

If we are adults we should have made a study about the effects of sugar - in all its forms - has on the human body, and we should be aware that it is a negative food (it takes more nutrition out of our body than it puts in). While our bodies can cope with the little bit of sugar that is in fruit and some vegetables, men have exploited the fact that refined sugar (in all its forms - including corn syrup) causes people to become addicted. They then add refined sugar to many manufactured foods, and at one point in time, even to toothpaste.

So - a Christian, in order to look after the body given to him/her by God, should avoid - as much as possible - foods containing added sugar. Technically, I think most people if they have undertaken a study of the topic, would agree, but making it happen is a different thing altogether.

Some people have the will power to resist foods that are in the house and are loaded with sugar (and remember that corn syrup is a sugar), but for others it is a matter of throwing everything out of the house that involves sugar, and then checking the labels of every thing you bring into the house. Over time you can "train" your body to like coffee without sugar, and cereals without sugar, and so on.

Notwithstanding the need to avoid refined sugar, we also need to be balanced about it. Once a week - for the Sabbath - we have  a few pieces of chocolate with our afternoon tea (usually with the lowest sugar content we can buy) as a special treat.

Taking active steps to reduce refined sugar - in all its forms - in our diet is a great way to develop your self control.

Tobacco.

Smoking cigarettes can become very addictive. The problem is, it is smelly, dirty, very selfish, and not only bad for your health, but also bad for all the people who get the smoke second hand.

If you can't exercise self control over your smoking habit, then at least admit that your growth down the Christian path has been put on hold. While some people can kick the habit "cold turkey", others will need to seek help from professionals who understand the problems involved.

Like many sins, there is a short term "good feeling" from smoking a cigarette, but the long term "bad feelings" - such as sickness and finally death - make it something to be avoided. And it breaks the spirit of the sixth Commandment, and is very selfish.

Speeding.

Keeping to the speed limit gives Christians an excellent opportunity to practice self control. The higher the speed in an accident, the worse the injuries are likely to be. Putting someone - including yourself - at the risk of dying, breaks the spirit of the sixth Commandment, which is about preserving life, not taking it.

The human mind will come up with all sorts of excuses as to why it is "OK" to break the speed limit, so this is a good chance to develop some self control, and override the urges because you want to keep God's law in the spirit.  I know, that in some countries, just staying in the line of traffic is considered to be an acceptable speed limit. Just make sure you are not the one in front driving over the legal limit.

Sex.

The Apostle Paul has something to say about this.

1Co 7:9 NET.  But if they do not have self-control, let them get married. For it is better to marry than to burn with sexual desire.

He was addressing a particular question, and his answer was relevant to that point in time - but the principle applies. We need to have self-control over our sexual appetite. The rules about when and with whom you can have sex is clearly spelt out in the Bible. This is covered in more detail in the article "The Role of Men and Women".

Lying.

When we are "caught out" doing something wrong, there is a strong human tendency to lie about what we were doing. Naturally we want to "look good", and when we are caught doing something wrong, we want to soften the impact. Again we need to exercise self control and cop the penalty of our wrong doing "on the chin". Looking bad to one or more humans is much more preferable than looking bad to God by breaking the spirit of the ninth Commandment.

It is a good idea to install this concept (of admitting guilt) in our children from a young age. This can be done by making the punishment more when they lie, than if they told the truth. Many judges today follow this rule - those who admit guilt getting lower sentences than those who don't.

Alcohol.

This is a substance that certainly needs our self control.

Different people react differently to alcohol.  The same person in different moods or state of mind, will also react differently. On top of all that, the source of the alcohol is also a factor. If you "react" to a certain source of alcohol, then you need the self control to stay clear of it. 

So - getting on top of what is happening around us, and what is going on in our mind, can be difficult for some people.

From what I have read, I can make the following points - but please do your own research as well.

Excessive alcohol has caused a lot of people a lot of problems.

Rom 13:12-14 NLT  The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.  (13)  Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don't participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy.  (14)  Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don't let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.

Certainly the right use of alcohol gives a Christian a great opportunity to practice self control.

Perceived hurts.

In long form, the condition that exists when we feel that someone has "invaded our space", or we feel that someone has wronged us.

Road rage happens when people can not control their anger over someone "cutting in" or getting too close, or breaking the road rules, or tooting their horn, or .... .

As Christians we need the self control to never "attack" - verbally, emotionally or physically - someone who we perceive as "breaking the rules", or are highlighting our problems.

Rom 12:16-20 NET.  Live in harmony with one another; ... 
(17)  Do not repay anyone evil for evil; ... . 
(18)  ...  live peaceably with all people. 
(19)  Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God's wrath, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord. 
(20)  Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head.

Comment: This last phase "... heaping burning coals ..."  is an example of how the meaning of common phases have become lost over the centuries.  Most Biblical commentators explain the phase along the lines of "by doing good we will give him a guilty conscience". However, I feel that when this was originally written, it had a different meaning.

It helps if we go back to where Paul picked up the quotation.

Pro 25:22 NET.  for you will heap coals of fire on his head,
    and the LORD will reward you.

Here the reason for "heaping the coals" has nothing to do with a "guilty conscience" - but with the reward God will give us for having the self control to do good for our enemies.

One explanation that I have read (but can't remember where) is that in a world without matches and cigarette lighters, to be given some hot coals to take home and start your own fire was a valued gift. These hot coals were carried in a bowl (first filled with some ash) on the head. To be given a "heaping" of hot coals is saying that the gift was in a generous amount.

So - in giving our enemy food and drink (fulfilling his needs), we are giving him a much needed gift, and for which, God will reward us. However we take the last phase of  v20, it does not affect the command not to take vengeance.


Pro 20:22 NET.  Do not say, "I will pay back evil!"

    Wait for the LORD, so that he may vindicate you.

Nothing pricks the heart quicker than an insult. Learn the art of self control to the point that you refuse to take action over perceived hurts and insults.

Gal 5:22-23 NET.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  (23)  gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

A fight you never win.

As a human, we will never come to the point when we no longer have to exercise self control.

However, the more we do it, the more natural it will become.

And once we have self control operating in our daily lives, we will find it much easier to go on and add perseverance, Godliness, brotherly love, and finally unselfish love.

 


Bob Orchard Oct 2013

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