I think of an acquaintance, a committed Christian, who used to consume twelve cans of soda every day. I think of my own craving for ice cream years ago when I would have a dish of it at dinner and another at bedtime. In that situation, God convicted me of my lack of selfcontrol by causing me to see that a seemingly benign practice greatly weakened my self-control in other more critical areas. I learned that we cannot pick and choose the areas of life in which we will exercise self-control.
One of the ways we can exercise self-control is by removing or getting away from whatever tempts us to indulge our desires. In the case of the ice cream, I asked my wife to no longer keep it regularly in the freezer. Instead, we now buy it for specific occasions. Even though I made that decision more than thirty years ago, I still have to exercise self-control. Recently I was on my way to mail a package at a contract post office that is located in an ice cream shop. As I drove, I began to think about having a dish of ice cream. As I wrestled with that strong desire, I concluded that it was a time when I needed to say “no” to myself just for the purpose of keeping that desire under control.
I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on those who enjoy ice cream or soda pop, or even those who go to Starbucks every day for their favorite coffee drink. What I am addressing is our lack of self-control—a tendency to indulge our desires so that they control us, instead of our controlling those desires.
A second area where Christians often show a lack of self-control is with one’s temper. Some believers are known to be hot-tempered or to have a short fuse. A hot temper is a quick but intense burst of anger often followed soon afterward by a calm disposition. A person with a short fuse is a person who tends to become easily angry or irritable and who exercises little or no control over his emotions. Quite often a person who is hot-tempered also has a short fuse. Our expression for such a person is “He easily flies off the handle.”
We will take up anger as a separate subject in a later chapter, but here the focus is on one’s lack of self-control over his anger. Anger, in most instances, is sin, but with the short-tempered person, there is the added sin of a lack of self-control.
Outbursts of temper are usually directed against anyone who displeases us. It may be another driver who cuts us off on the freeway or an umpire who makes a bad call at a church softball game. Unfortunately, it is often directed toward one’s own family members.
There are a number of warnings against a quick temper in Proverbs. For example, “A man of quick temper acts foolishly” (Proverbs 14:17) and “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). In the New Testament, James admonishes us to be “slow to anger” (1:19). Remember, we are to store up God’s Word in our hearts that we might not sin against Him (see Psalm 119:11). We can store up these verses from Proverbs and James to help us exercise self-control over our tempers.
A third area where many Christians lack self-control is in the area of personal finances. Recently I heard a national radio speaker say that the average American household has a credit card debt of $7,000. Undoubtedly there are times when an individual or family may get into that kind of debt because of an emergency situation. But the fact that $7,000 is the average debt indicates that Americans are spending beyond their means. As a nation, we are not exercising financial self-control; rather, we are indulging our desires for what we want: new clothes, the latest electronic or digital devices, expensive vacations, and a host of other goods and services that appeal to our desires.
That this is a problem among Christians is attested by the fact that several Christian ministries are dedicated to the purpose of helping Christians get control of their finances. They are simply helping people learn to exercise self-control.
However, it is not just those in debt who fail to exercise self-control over their spending. Many affluent people, including some Christians, indulge themselves in whatever their hearts desire. They are like the writer of Ecclesiastes (presumably Solomon), who said, “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them” (2:10). Indulging in whatever my heart desires, even if I can easily afford it, is not the way to gain that self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit (more on this in chapter 20).
There are other areas in which we may need to learn self-control. I think of the person who spends an inordinate amount of time at his computer, even if not viewing pornography. Other areas would include watching television, impulse buying, engaging in hobbies, and playing or watching various sports. For men, a big need for self-control is over our eyes and thought lives in this age of increasingly immodest dress.
No doubt there are other areas that can easily lend themselves to a lack of self-control, so I encourage you to reflect on your own life. Are there desires, cravings, or emotions that may be out of control to some degree? Remember, this book is about “respectable” or “acceptable” sins, the sins we tolerate in our lives. And because the virtue of self-control receives so little emphasis among Christians, we may find that we, at least in certain areas of life, do lack self-control. As you seek to grow in the area of self-control, remember it is a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22–23). It is only by God’s enabling power that we can make any progress.
Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2007), 17–19.
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