What Does the Bible Say About Self-Control?

There are so many things competing for our attention, money, and loyalty. Modern advertising capitalizes on our human desire to have our needs met, taking things a step further by convincing us to regularly indulge and overindulge ourselves on food and drink, sex, entertainment, and more. This mindset of “more and more” elevates our physical self to an unhealthy level. In the Bible, we hear a different message – self-control. It was as counter-cultural then as it is today.

A wise pastor once told me, “you can choose your actions or your outcome, but never both”. This means that either you can choose what you will do in life and let the outcome be as it will be, or you can choose an end point and do the actions that get you there. As we explore the concept of self-control, we must decide if it is an action or an outcome. In other words, is self-control an end, or is it a means to an end?

Verses about Self-Control

Using Olive Tree Bible Topic Threads, we will isolate key passages dealing with self-control and make observations as we go.

“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” -Proverbs 25:28

Self-control keeps you protected from an enemy.
Lacking self-control makes you vulnerable.
“Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” -1 Corinthians 7:5

This verse is from a larger section about husbands and wives sexually fulfilling each other.
A lack of self-control opens the door to temptation.
Here, a lack of self-control almost seems to be assumed, due to an abstinence from sex.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

This one is a bit more subtle, but the ideas of going into “strict training” and striking “a blow to my body and make it my slave” suggest that the body is subject to the will.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” – Galatians 5:22-24

Self-control is a fruit (or outcome) of the Spirit. When we have the Holy Spirit in us, He strengthens us to be able to control ourselves.
Indeed, our fleshly desires and passions have been put to death with our sin. If we “belong to Christ Jesus”, then we must leave ourselves no room for a lack of self-control.
“Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” – Titus 1:7-8

This section is addressing the required conduct of church leaders. Those in church leadership must be self-controlled because of the importance of their responsibility – they manage God’s household (the children of God; us)!
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -2 Peter 1:6

This one is my favorite verse about self-control. It is not simply an action nor an effect – it is part of a continuum of Christian development.
At the core is faith, then goodness, then knowledge, and then self-control, then perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. This feels like a lot, but as we mature in Christ, these things naturally progress.
How Do I Get Self-Control?

The issue of acquiring self control has always been difficult for me. I eat and sleep too much. Sometimes, I can’t keep my eyes to myself. I say things I probably shouldn’t. I binge Netflix.

Galatians 5:22-24 tells us that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. We must fix our eyes on Jesus, asking Him to fill us with His Spirit. When we are full of and function in the Spirit, we will see fruit. This is not the end goal, though. Within our development as Christians, 2 Peter 1:6 tells us that self-control is built over knowledge and is a platform for perseverance. If you’re lacking self-control, make sure you first have a solid foundation of faith, goodness, and knowledge.

What is the point in developing character for its own sake? Earlier in Galatians 5, Paul says this:

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” -Galatians 5:13-15

We are called to develop self-control so that we can serve and love others. How can I love you if I cannot keep myself under control? We either choose our actions or our outcome. If our outcome is to love God and others, then one of the actions we develop is self-control.

Keep Exploring

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