Self-Control and the Battle for Our Minds
While Scripture does not say as much as we’d like about circumstance-control, it says a great deal more than we like about self-control. Scripture warns, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). Such a city, and such a person, will be left unhappy.
Without self-control on the inside, our lives are made vulnerable to innumerable assaults. That’s why God commands us, “Make every effort to supplement your . . . knowledge with self-control” (2 Peter 1:5-6). The Spirit-controlled believer is a self-controlled believer: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).
Immediately after telling his readers they should cast their anxieties on God, Peter tells them “Be self-controlled and alert” (1 Peter 5:8). Throughout the New Testament we are called upon to exercise self-control. But we cannot exercise self-control unless and until we believe we can control ourselves.
The key to controlling yourself is controlling your mind. This is why Solomon said: “Above all else, guard your heart [inner being, mind], for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
Paul says to the Romans: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5).
What is your mindset? Do you dwell on selfish, envious, jealous, bitter thoughts? Or do you dwell on what pleases God? Do you focus on God, His Word, and His mighty works on our behalf, or do you focus on woes and misfortunes and abuses suffered at the hands of others? According to Scripture, the choice is yours.
Time and time again we are told to rid ourselves of wrong thinking and the wrong behavior it leads to, and replace it with right thinking and right behavior.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor…. (Ephesians 4:22–23)
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry…. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these…since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. ….Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. …put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:5–14)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1–2)
These passages speak of putting on the new nature in Christ and putting off the old sinful nature. Would God tell us to control our minds and our actions if we are incapable of doing so? Is God so unrealistic or cruel that He would command us to do the impossible?
Peter says, “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled...” (1 Peter 1:13). The phrase translated “prepare your mind for action” literally means “gird up the loins of your mind.” In the first century, both men and women wore long robes. Confronted with a stressful situation, they would fight or flee. But first they would bend over, grab the back hem of their robe and pull it up between their legs, tucking it in at the belt. They were now prepared to do battle or run without fear of tripping over their robes.
This is what we are to do with our minds—take charge of them, get them in battle condition so we won’t trip. Going into battle takes preparation, determination and perspective. We need to set our minds on Christ, and draw on His strength: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1–2).