Christian Counseling: In Search of Self-Control

Do you know well the deep peace that comes from exercising will power or self-control? There is a healthy sense of pride that comes from knowing that because we are in Christ we have the freedom from the bondage of sin and are, therefore, able to make righteous choices. 

However, sooner or later everyone comes to realize will power is no savior, but is limited to being a necessary aid and helper in righteous living. We all know that in some areas of our lives self-control is no match for the power of our sin. If it were, we wouldn't need Jesus. Although self-control has a set of weak legs, it is held up as a prime characteristic of maturity on the level of faithfulness, love and peace (Galatians 5:22). 

Here is the chief problem with will power or self-control. Research has uncovered that when people resist something it excites a region of the brain that leads to a feeling of increased temptation. The more we say no, the more we desire it. However, it is likely that denying ourselves over time extinguishes the desire to a point or perhaps even altogether. Once we have formed a habit, say six to eight weeks, we are more likely to continue to follow the established habit because it is easier.

Another solution to fostering self-control is mindfulness--cultivating awareness of thought and feeling, accepting their reality and working to change them. There are significant, but not perfect, ways of turning down the dial of desire, which puts us in control of temptations and cravings.  By way of example, consider 2 Peter 1:6. To escape the "corruption... in the world by lust," which in the Greek means a longing for what is forbidden, we are to take faith and add or nourish it with virtue or moral excellence and nourish that with knowledge and nourish that with self-control. The growth of these characteristics are dependent in part on giving the former what it needs. 

We can grow faith (the assurance of a present reality) by acting virtuously. We feed virtue or high moral standards with knowledge to ensure our standards are right and healthy, which also helps to keep faith from being blind. We nourish knowledge with temperance or self-control. With increased knowledge we need more self-control because excitement and/or misery accompany an increase in knowledge. Solomon said knowledge increases misery or pain (Ecclesiastes 1:18) and gaining knowledge can be exciting. Exciting things can lead to temptations or cravings for the exciting object, even to the point of addiction. In either case, self-control needs to work alongside knowledge to avoid responding inappropriately. 

Mastery or being in command of one's behavior can be illusive, confusing, even maddening. But the profound peace, significantly increased self-acceptance and knowing we have pleased God by growing self-control make the difficult journey overwhelmingly worthwhile. Reasonably strive to be your ideal self and you will discover a blossoming of the other fruits of the Spirit not yet mentioned--joy, love, gentleness, kindness and goodness. 

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