What is the difference between personal self-control and divine self-control?
I am a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. Each year, I look forward to listing out all my big plans for the year. While my list typically focuses on my goals for the year, inevitably, a few “do better” resolutions creep on to the list. Resolutions like, “spend less time on my phone”, “reduce my sugar intake”, and “stop snapping at the kids” have made it on the list, year after year. And for a time, I am able to will myself to do these things; but I have yet to make a lasting change.
While I leave a lot to be desired in the “self-control” department (especially when brownies are involved), it is possible for me to successfully wield a kind of “personal” self-control. This is a self-control based entirely on my own strength and will. It’s the kind of self-control someone employs when they decide to stop smoking or to lose a few pounds. It’s the kind of self-control that promises “this will be the year we keep our resolutions!” and then fails us half-way through February.
Now listen, there is nothing wrong with personal self-control. The problem is, it’s not enough. Any regular Joe can keep from yelling at the slow driver in front of him, but without God he can do nothing about the selfish heart raging inside of him. Personal self-control focuses on changing our behavior so we can live a comfortable life. Divine self-control, however, focuses on transforming our hearts so we can live an abundant life.
Divinely inspired self-control, the fruit of the Holy Spirit worked out within us, is a natural by-product of our time with Christ. The more we read His Word, memorize Scripture, and live out its truths, the easier it will become to fight against our flesh. As we grow in Christ, our hearts desire more of Him and less of the world, weakening sin’s pull on us and strengthening our defenses against it. It is this divine power that makes lasting change in our lives.
Human-powered self-control may give us momentary victory over the battle of our will, but only Divinely-inspired self-control can gi ve us eternal victory over the war with sin.
Father God, as your image-bearers, we have the ability to exercise our own will. While at times this is enough to curb ungodly behavior, it will never be enough to make our hearts operate more like yours. Help us, Father! Draw us nearer to you as we pray and read your Word. Renew our minds, revive our hearts! May your Holy Spirit do within us what we cannot do for ourselves. Amen.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (CSB)