The Magnitude of Self-Control

Self-control has now become a popular subject as social psychologists and behavioural scientists try to understand human behaviour and help people live healthier lives. There is increasing recognition among the experts that most of the problems that plagued us have to do to some degree with the failure in self-control. Research indicates that the average person spends three to four hours a day resisting unhealthy desires! The result of this resistance struggle has a shocking correlation to a person’s success in life. 

The Dunedin Study is a 40-year investigation into the health and behaviour of just over 1,000 individuals born between April 1972 and March 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand. It discovers that irrespective of the social background and IQ of individuals, childhood self-control strongly predicts adult success. Childhood self-control significantly predicted health issues, substance dependence, financial problems and criminal activities in adulthood. Children with weaker self-control suffer from worse health, less wealth, less parenting ability, and more crime as adults than those with stronger self-control. Furthermore, that pattern held at every point along the gradient of self-control. More devastatingly, the findings also reveal that one generation’s low self-control causes disadvantages to the next generation. 

Although many people constantly struggle with exercising healthy self-control, experts considered self-control a basic human faculty. 

The inability to exercise this fundamental capacity effectively in our fast-paced world today has disastrous consequences. Self-control is necessary not just for resisting negative behaviours but also in controlling thoughts, managing emotions, regulating performance and making decisions. The list of ills that befalls us from failure in self-control are substantial and ranges from addictions, overeating, crime, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, debt to underperformance at school and work

Hence, we should take seriously the biblical injunction to exercise self-control. All believers irrespective of age, gender, position and status are to exercise self-control  (1 Corinthians 7:5, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 2:2, 5-6). Scripture likens a person who lacks self-control to a city whose walls are broken through (Proverbs 25:28). In fact, a person with self-control is to be esteemed more than a person who conquers a city (Proverbs 16:32)!

It can be challenging to excel in self-control in today’s world of endless possibility, distraction, and temptation. How can we as believers practice better self-control? The Bible tells us that we need to yield to the grace of God. 

God knows that it is difficult for us as fallen humanity to choose self-control when we are constantly given the opportunities, and even the encouragement to choose self-gratification and indulgence. God has made his grace, his supernatural enabling available to us to resist that which would lead us down the path of regret, pain, and failure in life. 

Furthermore, self-control is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). This means that as we walk in fellowship with the Spirit of God, self-control becomes a part of our daily lives. We are enabled to make the right decisions, focus on the right priorities and find joy in righteous and wise living. 

Experts tell us that the power of self-control is found in conscientiousness, self-discipline, and perseverance. Practising these over time improves self-control. Social psychologists have found that self-control is like a muscle. The more we exercise it, the stronger our self-control becomes. 

As believers, God has not left us to marshal our will and self-discipline alone. Rather in his tremendous kindness and love, he comes alongside us and aids us through his supernatural power. As we yield to the Holy Spirit and lay hold of God’s grace, we will be better able to exercise self-control and live the successful life God wants for us! 

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