Controlling Self

We know the history of Alexander the Great who conquered much of his word, able to control armies and nations but unable to control himself, having drunk himself to death at age 32. Controlling our selves, our impulses, using self-restraint – the Bible has much to say on this topic. Proverbs 25:26 calls one without control as an undefended city, left open to invasions from outside: vulnerable to temptation and unguided by principle.

When David sees Bathsheba, he has the choice to exercise restraint, but he lacks self-control, dwells on Bathsheba, and acts on his impulse. For a time, he becomes vulnerable to temptation and forgets his principles. Solomon allows his numerous political wives to turn him from God despite his great wisdom. Judas betrays Jesus for meager wages, driven by unrestrained and uncontrolled greed. Each of these illustrate how far we can fall without the defense of self-control.

Giving God the Control

Self control may be defined as a willingness to be guided by God’s wishes rather than our own, restraining ourselves from the things we should avoid. It can also be ensuring we act upon the opportunities we have to do good. In Galatians 5:22-24, self-control is included among those fruits of the spirit we should be practicing. Paul, in Titus 1:8, qualifies spiritual leaders as having self-control, and I Peter 1:5-8 lists this control as a trait we should be nurturing in our own lives.

Why be concerned with self-control? In Acts 24:24-25, Paul teaches Christ to Felix and other officials with him. In this message, Paul links self-control with righteousness. David, Saul, and Judas fall short of the measure of righteousness when they fail to exercise self-control. In Matthew 16:21-23, Peter, after having recently professed his faith in Jesus, rebukes Him for going to His death and is rebuked in turn. Then, in verse 24, Jesus says any who follow Him must deny self and crucify self. Self control is key to sincerely following Jesus.

What Does Self Control Look Like?

Romans 12 makes it clear that living a godly living requires restraint. Romans 12:2 calls us to be transformed rather than conformed. This takes rethinking, re-prioritizing, controlling those impulses we might have once followed. Verses 16-21 encourages to avoid revenge, to live peacefully, to show kindness and mercy, overcoming evil with good. It takes control and restraint to demonstrate God’s grace to all – even those who are ungracious to us.

Philippians 4:8 tells us to dwell on honorable things in our lives, to look for the good, to consider the best around us. Self control begins with our minds. We have to control our thoughts before we can control our bodies.

  • We have to recognize our need. I have to admit I need better self-control before I can improve, being guided by God’s principles before my own.
  • We have to identify the areas in which we need more control. On what do my thoughts dwell? In what areas of my life do I struggle most?
  • We have to study. Psalm 119:9 encourages us to take heed to God’s word to cleanse our ways. Verse 105 calls that word a light for our feet. We have to know His will for it to guide us.
  • We have to weigh the consequences. In Mark 8:35-36, Jesus asks what a soul is worth. Is giving into our impulses worth losing our souls?
  • We need to pray about our struggles. I Peter 5:6-7 encourages us to call on the Lord, casting our cares on Him, so He can comfort us.


In Acts 24, as Paul studies with Felix, the governor is alarmed and send Paul away until a better time. Felix is concerned by the challenge of practicing self-control. Do we see this subject as concerning and alarming? If so, we should not follow Felix’s example, whose better time would never come. Instead we should submit to His mercy. Hebrews 5:8 discusses the self-control Jesus practices in His obedience to the Father’s plan. We should follow His example of restraint and obedience and allow God’s principles to guide us, removing self from the throne and exalting God.

lesson by Tim Smelser