A couple weeks ago in my post about writing and its negative potency in my life, I talked very briefly on the idea of being mastered by everything but Jesus. Well, today, I’m digging into the idea and worthy goal of being mastered by nothing but Jesus.
So let’s roll up our sleeves and get going.
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. – 1 Corinthians 6:12
At the core of this post is I Corinthians 6:12, and at the heart of 1 Corinthians 6:12 is self-control. Originally, this verse was specifically about self-control in the area of sexual sin, which is important to remember, however, I think there is much to be gleaned here regarding self-control in all areas of life.
As Christians, we have great freedom because of the liberty Christ bought for us with His blood (literally, He paid for every angle of our freedom as Christians with His blood; the more I think about it the wilder and more wondrous I realize it is. So don’t breeze over the truth of the high cost of our freedom.).
Not only are we free from bondage to sin and spiritual death in this life and the next (a thrilling and freeing truth by itself), we are also free from the need of a temple to offer sacrifice in because Jesus was the last sacrifice. We are free from the need of a priest to mediate between us and God because Jesus is our high priest. We’re free from every rule and ritual of the Law because Jesus fulfilled the Law.
We are free to do anything, but not everything will help us be like Christ. We are free to do anything, but we are not to be slaves to anything but Christ. What I mean when I say that we’re free to do anything is that we are able to do anything because the grace of God doesn’t ever end and will never be used up, so we are “allowed” to do anything. However, doing absolutely anything is an abuse of grace. Paul says in Romans 6: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
So, let me say it again: under grace, all things are lawful because the Law is fulfilled and ended in Christ, but just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should. Under grace, all things are lawful because Christ set us free from the rule of the Law, but we are not to be controlled by anything. I think that’s the gist of 1 Corinthians 6:12.
Yet we so easily abuse our incredibly expensive, blood-bought freedom.
I misuse my liberty in a lot of different ways. I do things that are “allowed” but aren’t all that helpful, things that don’t spur me to be like Christ. I have habits and mindsets that aren’t forbidden but they’ve grown to a place where they rule me instead of living under my control. We can be mastered by host of different things, but I’ll just give a few examples.
I am mastered by my body when my alarm goes off and I hit snooze five times because I want more sleep and don’t have enough control to just get up (it’s a simple yet telling practice of the state of my self-discipline).
I am controlled by my cell phone when every little ding and blip and whistle has me tugging my phone out of my pocket and scrolling through notifications instead of devoting myself fully to the task at hand.
I am enslaved to my cravings and emotions when I breeze into the kitchen because my story just got rejected and I need some comfort food instead of dealing with rejection in a healthy, godly way.
I am dominated by my body when my hormones are on a warpath, and my anger comes lashing off my tongue.
I am mastered by my emotions when depression creeps up and drags me down into the mud, and instead of doing the work to haul through it, I wallow in it.
I am controlled by my aspirations when writing fills my thoughts, whips my emotions, and dictates my time use (see the post from a couple weeks ago).
And there are so many other things that so often end up controlling us: anxiety, money, sex, body-image, hobbies, possessions, ambitions, etc.; the list goes on and on.
And here’s the deal: sleep is necessary; sleep is good. But my body and however sleepy or tired it is should not rule me. My cell phone is good, but my cell phone should not control my attention. Food is necessary; food is good. Food is to be enjoyed and savored! But my desire for food for any reason should not master me. I have been created with hormones and emotions, and they do need to be processed. But that’s the things: I need to process my feelings, but my feelings should never process me.
I am free to sleep in and have a cell phone and eat yummy food and experience a full range of emotions, but not all those things are always helping my new nature slay my old one. I am free to sleep in and have a cell phone and eat yummy food and experience a full range of emotions, but none of them should ever control me.
So that leaves us with the problem of self-control. Self-control (or self-disciple or self-restraint) is one of those annoying things that’s far easier said (or written or read) than it is lived. So how can we make our bodies and emotions our servants instead of our masters?
Well, we can’t. This is the part that gets my pride all fluffed up, offended, and territorial because what in the world do you mean I can’t control myself?
Self-control isn’t a matter of self; it’s a matter of Spirit. Either we are controlled by whatever our personal vices are, or we are controlled by the Holy Spirit. There is no in between or part where we actually hold the reigns; we only get to decide who/what we’re going to pass the reigns to.
Self-control is one of the nine fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5, and it’s one of eight attributes listed in 2 Peter 1. Both lists are like the process of sanctification in a nutshell. True believers will grow in these ways, but true growth is not a matter of willpower or work. Self-control is something to strive for, but we don’t get it overnight. It’s a process. And just like every other part of sanctification, it takes humility and time and intentionality and Spirit-reliance and daily, hourly, minutely gracious refillings of the Holy Spirit.
Recognizing that we can’t do it ourselves, that we’re still so weak, is the first step, and the next is faithful pursuit of knowing Christ and being like Christ. And then it’s a cycle of choosing to take those steps again and again and again.
In the everyday life, it looks like praying, “God, I can’t do this, but I want to because I want to be like You. I will run as hard and fast as I can to You, and I will trust that Your Holy Spirit will supply everything I lack to carve me into a better likeness of Your Son.” It looks like then asking in faith and expectation for opportunities to exercise self-control, to be shown where you need self-control, and prepare to be given lots of chances to practice self-control.
So, it is in being mastered by Jesus that we become mastered by nothing else.
Let’s drop a swanky bookend on this post.
As the title of states, this is only a beginner’s guide, and since it’s been written by a beginner, take it with a grain of salt and realize that this is barely even an introduction to self-control. For further reading on grace, sin, and self-control, I recommend Romans, 1 Corinthians, Proverbs, Ephesians, and this sermon from John Piper. (I’m recommending the whole books instead of specific verses because the fullness of the text is captured within its context, and the sermon from John Piper helped me write this post. Also, there’s a lot more to be found in Scripture about self-control; these are just the books I’ve been reading and ruminating over recently which spurred the writing of this post.)
Let’s chat it up. Anything to add? Do you struggle with self-control, or is there a different fruit of the Spirit/quality that you’re working on? What do you do to grow into the likeness of Christ?
P.S. – so, about the clickbait feature image of the Lego Loki in the tiny birdcage… well, I was racking my little brain about what I could photograph to capture the idea of self-control. I decided on the birdcage, and I was going to run with it and contrive some sort of decent explanation (like, we have to “cage our old nature” type thing; so brilliant, I know). But then I saw my little Lego Loki (curtesy of my Aunt Lis!), and then I was like: “Forget trying to make this picture relevant to the post or anything in life really. Some silliness is in order.”
And that’s how Lego Loki ended up in the tiny birdcage on Penprints.