By Donnie V. Rader
Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34). This series has been about learning to deny our-selves learning to control or master ourselves. We have seen that God demands self-denial (part 1). We saw that we must suppress our will and put God’s will first (part 2). We learned that meekness is a part of mastering ourselves and we saw how to apply it in our lives (parts 3 and 4). We looked at the principle of temperance and how it applies in so many areas of life (part 5).
In this last article in the series, let’s consider how we can develop self-discipline.
Begin With An “I Can” Attitude
The apostle Paul had an “I can” attitude. He said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). This is not an all inclusive statement. Rather, in con-text Paul is saying that he can do what God expects of him. He can live with or without some of the pleasures of life. He can abound or be abased. In application, I learn that I can fulfill any command, bear any trial, perform any duty, meet any temptation and live in any circumstance with Christ.
Since God expects me to control myself, then I can do it. I can say “No.” I can refrain. I can bridle my tongue. I can quit what I know to be wrong. I can make myself do what I know I need to do (James 4:17). I can do without some things that I may desire and want. I can overcome habits and practices that I have learned and developed.
One who begins with a defeatist attitude will not discipline self. When facing a challenge some will say things like, “I don’t know . . . I’ll try, but I don’t think I can do it.” Or, “It is hard for me to ….”
If we begin with the attitude that we can control our-selves, then that leads to an “I will” attitude (cf. Heb. 6:3). That involves determination. With those attitudes we will master self.
Refuse To Dwell On What You Need To Deny
Too often we dwell on things that we don’t need, can’t afford or can’t do. We spend time thinking about how we would like to get even with someone, knowing all the while that we cannot. We may focus on the fun we are missing by living right. We may think about things we would like to say that we shouldn’t. Ungodly fantasies may camp in our minds.
We must realize that it is hard to “window shop” without either buying something or making ourselves miserable.
The answer is simply to control our thinking. Outward sins come from our thoughts (Matt. 15:19). The point is: stop your thoughts before they lead to sin. Lustful thoughts can lead to adultery (2 Sam. 11; Matt. 5:28). Bitterness and hatred can lead to murder (1 John 3:15).
This principle includes thinking on things that are sinful. We are to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:12). It also includes things right within themselves like:
(1) material things beyond our reach (Phil. 4:11; Heb. 13:5), (2) something the doctor has forbidden, or (3) anything to the excess.
Think Before You Act
Joseph is a classic example of this (Gen. 39). When tempted by Potiphar’s wife, he thought about: (1) the sin and wickedness involved and (2) the trust that Potiphar had in him. His thinking lead to his control of self.
David said, “I thought about my ways, And turned my feet to Your testimonies” (Psa. 119:59).
Some questions need to be raised (especially in the midst of temptation) to help us learn to exercise self-control:
Is this how God wants me to respond?
Am I yielding to my own desires or to the desires of God?
Will I be controlling myself in this?
Should I say this? Does it serve any good purpose?
Is this what I need?
Can I afford this?
Can I do without this?
Will I be ashamed after I do this?
Will I regret my actions later?
Would I want my children and other family members knowing if I do this?
It follows that if all sin comes from the wrong thoughts, then the right thoughts lead to right actions (Matt. 15:19). That is one of the reasons why Paul wrote, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, what-ever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Recognize God’s Avenues For
Fulfilling Your Desires
Desires and temptations are not wrong. Jesus was tempted, but he did not yield (Heb. 4:15). Desire for some things is natural. What we must realize is that God has a proper way for fulfilling legitimate desires.
Man has the desire to eat. God’s way of fulfilling that desire is that man should work so he can have food to eat (2 Thess. 3:10). His desire to eat should not cause him to violate Bible principles. He can’t steal his food. He must not be a glutton.
Man has a natural sex drive. However, he cannot fulfill that desire any way he chooses. Rather, God’s plan is for that to be fulfilled within the honor of marriage (1 Cor. 7:1-9; Heb. 13:14).
We have desires to deal with or react to things that are said and done to us. Yet, God has a way for us to handle that. If someone has committed a crime against us, we are told, “do not avenge yourselves” (Rom. 12:19). The next chapter shows that God has a way of dealing with that through the civil government (Rom. 13:1-7).
The point is that our desires have to be controlled or channeled.
View Yourself As A Steward
We all are stewards (1 Cor. 4:2; Luke 12:42). That means that God has entrusted us with a number of things in life. We are given responsibility to properly manage them for God. We are stewards of our life, our money, and our time. If we think of ourselves as stewards who will give an account of all that we have, we can develop the self-control that we need.
Remember The Word And What It Says
This is what Jesus did when he was tempted of the devil (Matt. 4:1-11). Joseph did the same thing in recalling that fornication is “great wickedness, and sin against God” (Gen. 39:9). David considered the word as a deterrent to sin. He said, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You” (Psa. 119:11).
Thus, we must study the word and ever keep it on our minds. We should meditate on it day and night (Psa. 1:2). Our hearts need to be saturated with the word (Deut. 6:6-9). Then, as we recall what the word says on a particular matter, it helps us develop and exercise self-discipline.
We must discipline ourselves to be his disciple.
Guardian of Truth XL: 10 p. 10-11
May 16, 1996