Why Self-Control is Deceptive

In Titus 2:1-14 Paul writes to tell his apprentice, Titus, how to go about establishing new churches in Crete. In this particular passage he lists specific instructions for training four different demographic groups within the church.Consider for a moment which virtue would you most emphasise to young Christians in fledgling churches?

Paul tells Titus four times to teach these different groups self-control.  Older men, be self-controlled. Older women urge younger women to practice self-control. Young men, be self-controlled.

If only telling someone to be self-controlled brought the desired results. I think we all know it’s not that simple.

Let’s remember where this topic comes from… This series on Faith Unshackled spent two weeks looking at things we believe. Then over the last two weeks we looked at things God wants his people to be doing. Those things are important, but they don’t amount to much if they don’t change who we become.

While churches often refuse to fellowship with other churches over beliefs and practices I’ve never heard a congregation criticised  because the church doesn’t exhibit God’s patience or self control. Yet one of the great consequences of the cross is that is that God transforms us into his image. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [unshackled faith] And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

What we believe, and what we practice are important, because they influence who we become. But don’t lose sight that God is working in our lives, not only helping us to do or think better, but to become like Him. We shouldn’t set goals to adjust who we’re becoming if we’re unwilling to change what we believe, what we practice, and how we let God work in our lives.

Bringing this specifically back to self-control…I do want to make a couple of points about Titus 2.

  1. The key verse in this passage is v12. Verse 12 splits neatly into two halves. The first is what to avoid. The second tells what to become. Throughout this passage, Paul’s primary concern isn’t whether or not you had donuts for breakfast. (Although that may well be a secondary application.) Rather, when Paul talks about self-control, his focus is upon sin.

    Say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions. Resisting the temptation of sin is important. It takes self-control because sin is attractive.

  1. Is Paul then saying then that teaching self-control means that he expects perfection from everyone? I don’t think so. It’s the grace of God that teaches us to say No….. It’s the grace of God that’s working in our lives to mold us into the image of God. So here’s how I understand this whole thing to be working…

self control 01

The pictures above show a couple of common perceptions about self-control. Many of us get fooled by the word “self” in self-control.  We take all the responsibility upon ourselves. But that’s not God’s use of the term.

When God talks of self-control, He encourages us to let the Holy Spirit control us. As we think about the person God wants us to become, it’s not just coincidence that Paul includes self-control in his list of the Fruit of the Spirit over in Galatians 5:23.

When we face temptations, rather than struggling with that temptation ourselves, God wants us to pray, to trust Him, to ask Him to take control of our lives and guide our choices. When we take the virtue ‘self-control’ too literally we deny God a place in our lives.

Christian self-control means knowing when to concede greater control of our life to God.

Finally, self-control involves more than avoiding sin. Godly self-control will also motivate us to live in a manner that brings him glory. Self-control means loving my neighbour more than my television. Self-control helps me attend worship services regularly and invest in the lives of other believers. Self-control helps me listen when my impulse is to react. Because self-control means knowing when to concede greater control of my life to God.

One author I read summarised this perspective with this comment. Self-control is not only about the discipline to stop doing things that destroy us, but also about the discipline to do the things that build us up. When we develop a healthy discipline to engage in the spiritual practices, we speed up our growth rate.

As Paul told Titus, regardless of our age or gender, we all need self-control to recognise our need for God’s Spirit to empower us as we put aside sin and live within the kingdom of heaven. This is a crucial step in our journey toward spiritual maturity.

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