Seeking Self-Control

Desires, emotions, and passions can shape a person’s life in many ways. Many desires and passions cloud our judgment and take away our focus (the desire for instant wealth, the desire for revenge, the desire for escape, the desire for instant romance, or the desire for swift physical gratification). Other desires provide people with focus (the desire of a future Olympian to decrease her time in the 400 meters, the desire of a future surgeon to excel in biochemistry, or the desire of a violinist to master his part in the symphony).

Since desires and passions are a vital part of life, we shouldn’t be surprised that Peter addresses our relationship to our own desires and passions in 2 Peter. In addition to faith, moral excellence and mature knowledge, Peter urges us to incorporate self-control into our lives (2 Peter 1:5-6). We have the responsibility to master our desires, passions, and emotions rather than to be mastered by them. This mastery is evidence that God has been at work in our lives (1:4) and that we will enter His eternal kingdom (1:11).

A few points are important to remember as we make self-control a part of our lives. First, we need to remember that not all desire is bad. The language of desire and longing permeates the Psalms. David longs to behold God’s beauty (Psalm 27:4). Asaph desires nothing on earth like he desires God (Psalm 73:25). The sons of Korah thirst for God’s presence like deer for water (Psalm 42:1); they crave being in God’s house (Psalm 84:2). The Lord Jesus calls us to seek first God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33). Anyone who has searched his house for keys knows that desire plays a major role in seeking. What these examples show us is that self-control doesn’t mean we become stern and stoic. The goal is not to be without passion; the goal is to listen to the right passions.

This point leads us to another point: We should expect a certain amount of inner conflict in our lives. Self-control means that there is something in ourselves that needs controlling. As we seek to fulfill godly desires, we deny ungodly desires (Titus 2:12). The philosopher Plato compared the human soul to a chariot with two horses that wanted to go in opposite directions. The charioteer had the job of keeping the horses going in the right direction. For Plato, the charioteer was reason. For Paul, the controlling principle is the Holy Spirit. According to Paul, we have both flesh and Spirit at work in us, and these principles lead in opposite directions (Galatians 5:17). This conflict reminds us how self-control requires the Spirit’s work (Galatians 5:22-23). Inner struggles bring us to our knees in prayer. Because this work is ultimately due to the Spirit’s help, genuine progress in control over anger, lust or greed leads us to humility and praise instead of pride.

As we seek to become people of self-control, we need lastly to remember that this conflict is not a typical fight. Often, we don’t win through maintaining our ground; we win through running away. Eve lost the battle after gazing at the fruit (Genesis 3:6); Joseph won through fleeing (Genesis 39:12). This conflict is a conflict where strength often means leaving (1 Timothy 6:11 and 2 Timothy 2:22).

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