How do we Get More Self-Control?

Monday, I was reading along with my New Testament in a year plan, and I came across this verse: “Afterwards, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 1 Corinthians 7:5 NLT. Paul is talking about marriage here but, I realized that the sentiment applies to everything in life. The Bible talks a lot about temptation and self control. It’s what humans struggle with the most. Temptation is what usually causes us to sin. 

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Temptation has two sources. Temptation comes from within us and from the world around us. Jesus said, “What sorrow awaits the world because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting.” Matthews 26:41 NLT. James wrote, “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15 NLT. The truth is, we all struggle with self-control and giving in to temptation.

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The verse in Corinthians struck me when I read it because we deal with self-control problems every day around here. I’d bet you do too. Especially if you have children. All children seem to struggle with a desire for candy, baked goods, sweets, and all things junk food. 

Many adults struggle with this too. I struggled with it as a child. As an adult, I have put things in place so that I don’t overeat junk food. My current particular weakness is potato chips. In the past, I’d eat so many potato chips that I would feel sick and not be able to eat my dinner. So, I put things in place to make sure that I didn’t eat that much potato chips anymore. 

Many people struggle with binge-watching Netflix or other streaming apps. It’s because there’s no break between episodes, no commercials to create natural pauses. We just sit there and keep going. Hours later we realize that we’ve watched several episodes and the day is gone.  

There’s so much in life that tempts us. Paul talks about sexual temptation a lot. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “It’s better to be married than to burn with lust.” 1 Corinthians 1:9 NLT. Probably because it’s what we struggle with the most. 

We know this temptation well – sex is used to sell us almost everything in the US. From soda to soap, there’s virtually nothing excluded from the sex sells list. Television tells us sex is okay and that we should all be doing it. It’s in movies meant for teenagers. Sex is everywhere, always, it seems. 

It’s commonly said that prostitution is the oldest trade in the world. Women and men have been able to sell their bodies for almost as long as there has been humanity, I’d guess. There has always been lust and adultery.

Also there’s been greed and jealousy for as long as there have been people. Remember Cain and Abel back in Genesis? Greed, jealousy, and sex have been written about in the epic and historical writings. 

How do we handle it? It’s easy to say what we all struggle with. It’s harder to say how to handle it. This is what I was confronted with during this last week. How do we deal with temptation? I looked at what has worked for me before and what the Bible says. Temptation comes from both within us and from outside of us.

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The proper response to temptation is self-control. As we’ve reviewed before, self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Paul says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” Galatians 5:24-25 NLT. 

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Peter advises that we “make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance…” 2 Peter 1:5-6 NLT.

We all need help to handle it. We need counseling, we need to take it to God, and we need to rely on the healing power of the Holy Spirit. For many of us, our lack of self-control stems from something that was done to us that results in self-destructive behaviors. We overeat, we sleep around, we cut ourselves, etc. 

The truth is that most of the things we’re tempted by are not good for us. Often the things that we are tempted by are rooted in sin or result in sin when we give in. We don’t want to do it, but we do it anyway. “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate… I want to do what is right, but I can’t.” Romans 7:15, 18 NLT.

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Prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer, there’s a line that requests help in resisting temptation. “And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:13 NLT.  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that we be delivered from temptation. I used to smoke, and when I wanted to quit for the final time, I prayed for help every time I felt tempted. I just told God what I didn’t want to do: “God, I don’t want to smoke.” 

This works for all sorts of temptations. When we leave abusers, we eventually want to go back. When we leave a relationship that isn’t good for us, we’re tempted to reunite. When we want to eat too much, play too much, or do whatever too much. It’s hard to resist, and prayer can help us handle our desires. 

Where we are weak, God’s power is perfect. (reference) When we can’t resist, God can give us the strength to resist. 

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Redirection. We all know this method well. We substitute the thing we don’t want to dwell on with something better for us. We do it with toddlers and children who are having tantrums. We do it with our besties who are going through a job loss or a break-up. 

Instead of smoking, I took a drink of water. Instead of dwelling on the cupcakes in the kitchen, we go for a walk and talk to a friend. Instead of thinking about all the good times and returning to the ex, we call someone or review all the reasons why we left in the first place. 

Sometimes we don’t do this well. We binge-watch tv shows, eating junk food, and getting into our feelings for days when something bad happens. We’re redirecting our feelings into the shows and the foods while wallowing. 

Barriers. This is where we set up a system that makes it challenging to obtain what we are tempted with. In my example above, I don’t buy Twinkies and cupcakes often. I don’t purchase smokes because I’ll want to use them. 

Another method is to set limitations around what you’re tempted by. I put the chips on a plate with potato chips, close the bag, and put it away. This means that to get more, I have to go through a few hoops to get more. I also get more than I think is a reasonable amount so that when I want more, I can tell myself that I’ve already had more than enough. 

Self-Control is hard. In all these scenarios, we have to exercise self-control to resist temptation. But it’s not just one time and done. We have to do it a hundred times. This requires practice. We begin practicing this in childhood. We are taught self-control as children. 

Often the lack of self-control is a symptom of a deeper problem. We address the symptoms of a problem instead of addressing the problem. Most of the time, the symptom stems from something that was done to us – rape, abuse, or other trauma. 

As adults, we try to forget about them and then end up with self-control problems. The problem is exhibited when we either take too much control or too little control over what we do and say. Sometimes we do both at the same time. 

The best method of dealing with an underlying problem is to face it head-on. When we face it, handle the problem, and heal, we will inevitably lessen the symptoms of the problem. The best method of getting more self-control is dealing with our underlying problems + practice. 


What do you think? What are you struggling with right now? Do you have any of these methods in place to help you? If so, are they working? Leave a comment below and enter the conversation. I’d love to hear from you. Also, if you like what you’ve read and want to follow along, enter your email below and you’ll receive new posts to your inbox. I don’t spam you and I don’t sell your information.

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