What does the Bible say about self-control?
The Bible has a lot to say about self-control, and it’s something that most of us need to exercise more! How do we do that? How do we develop self-control? Why is it so important in so many areas of our lives? How does our power in Christ enable us to walk in self-control? What examples from Scripture can teach us how to apply it in real-life situations? Let’s dig into God’s Word and learn about this powerful quality.
Christian quotes about self-control
“Our minds are mental greenhouses where unlawful thoughts, once planted, are nurtured and watered before being transplanted into the real world of unlawful actions… These actions are savored in the mind long before they are enjoyed in reality. The thought life, then, is our first line of defense in the battle of self-control.” Jerry Bridges
“We must have a spirit of power towards the enemy, a spirit of love towards men, and a spirit of self-control towards ourselves.” Watchman Nee
“Here is the paradox of Christian living. We must give up control of self to gain self control.” Andy Mineo
What does self-control mean in the Bible?
The Greek word used for “self-control” in the New Testament is egkrateia. It carries the idea of self-mastery, self-restraint, dominion over self, and moderation. If we are walking in self-control, we are masters over our tempers, words, emotions, impulses, spending, desires, eating habits, and many other aspects of life.
It’s important to understand that if we try to exercise self-control on our own, we’ll probably fail. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit that we must cultivate through surrendering to God’s guidance and power and listening to His Holy Spirit within us.
Some examples of self-control include thinking about what we’re saying before we say it, rather than just blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. It means controlling our emotions and not permitting anger, jealousy, or feelings of helplessness to overwhelm us. It means treating our body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, not defiling it with sexual immorality, and not destroying it through unhealthy habits. It means spending our money wisely, not giving in to impulse purchases we can’t afford, or going deeply into debt.
Galatians 5:16-18 “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
2 Timothy 1:7 “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
1 Timothy 2:9 (ESV) “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.”
Proverbs 25:28 “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. Read full chapter”
2 Peter 1:6 (NIV) “and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness.”
2 Timothy 3:3 (NLT) “They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good.”
Titus 1:8 “Instead, he must be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.”
Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Proverbs 23:20-21 (NLT) “Do not carouse with drunkards or feast with gluttons, for they are on their way to poverty, and too much sleep clothes them in rags.”
1 Corinthians 7:5 “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
How to develop self-control?
Self-control begins with self-awareness and humility. We must admit we have a problem with control in one or more areas. The next step is spending time with God, asking Him to undo that addiction in our life. But we have to work with God on this. We have to listen to the prompting and warnings of the Holy Spirit.
We have to spend time daily in God’s Word and prayer, allowing Him to speak to us. Often, we read something in the Bible and realize it reveals an area of our lives over which we need to exercise better control. That phrase – “exercise self-control” – reminds us that it’s something we get strong at the more we do it.
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:11)
We must also do our part to create situations that will enable better self-control. For instance, if you have diabetes, you don’t want a full cookie jar on the kitchen counter. If you’re addicted to porn, put porn blockers on your computer, and set Netflix and other media to a PG or lower rating. Avoid “shopping therapy” or aimless browsing if you’re a shopaholic. Only go to the store (or online shopping) when you really need something, take your list, and stick to it.
Exercising self-control means avoiding bad habits or behaviors and developing good habits. If you want more self-control with an exercise program, set your phone to remind you it’s time to work out. If you want a tidy house, have a set time and routine to pick up after yourself and do daily housekeeping. Make a schedule and a “to-do” list to exercise self-control in time management rather than frittering the day away.
Self-control equals submission to God. Self-control will be difficult if our mind, will, and emotions aren’t submitted to the Holy Spirit.
Many of us have trouble controlling our speech, whether it be swearing, hurtful words, spilling secrets, deceit, or speaking overly-negative words about everything. When we catch ourselves in uncontrolled speech (or someone points it out), be quick to apologize to the person you may have hurt and confess your sin to God. This goes back to admitting we have a problem. It makes us more mindful of what we’re saying and how it can hurt others and our Christian testimony.
Ephesians 6:11(NIV) “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
Psalm 119:105 (ESV) “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Psalm 19:8 “The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.”
Colossians 4:2 (KJV) “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.”
James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Luke 11:1 Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.
Romans 8:6 For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace.
Ephesians 6:18 “Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your prayers for all the saints.”
1 Peter 1:15-16 (NKJV) “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform 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.”
Joshua 1:8 (NKJV) “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Luke 9:23 “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
James 1:19 “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”
1 Thessalonians 5:6 “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.”
1 John 2:15-16 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”
Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
1 Corinthians 9:27 “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
What does the Bible say about patience and self-control?
“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who does not control his temper.” (Proverbs 25:28)
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
“Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 9:25)
“As God’s steward, an overseer must be above reproach—not self-absorbed, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not greedy for money. Instead, he must be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” (Titus 1:7-8)
“In the same way, the women must be dignified, not slanderers, but temperate and faithful in all things.” (1 Timothy 3:11)
“God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)
Patience is intrinsic to self-control, especially when involving issues like a hot temper, being argumentative, or even over-spending. A patient person learns to save up money for a desired item rather than impulsively buying things and maxing out the credit card.
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)
“By your patient endurance you will gain your souls.” (Luke 21:19)
“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2)
“a patient spirit is better than a proud one.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
“being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have full endurance and patience” (Colossians 1:11)
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11)
“He who is slow to anger is better than a warrior, and he who controls his temper is greater than one who captures a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)
Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is controlling us, we will exercise self-control. In our flesh, without the Holy Spirit’s power, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6). We allow addictions, hurtful words, and behaviors to enslave us. But when we are saved, we are freed from this slavery.
“Jesus said, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
The power of the Holy Spirit enables us to exercise self-control. But it’s also our responsibility to grow in self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
2 Peter 1:5-7 “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.”
The importance of self-control
What would our lives be like without self-control? If we don’t exercise sexual self-control, we might get involved in sexual immorality, leading to an unending list of problems, like a crisis pregnancy, STD, or broken marriage. Failure to exercise control over alcohol can cause a car wreck, loss of one’s drivers license, loss of one’s job, violent arguments, broken marriage, child abuse, and liver disease.
Failure to control our tempers can lead to strife over silly things. It can break up a marriage, lead to job loss, divide families, or cause irreparable harm to churches. Suppose we don’t control what we eat or how much we eat. In that case, we can end up obese with the illnesses accompanying obesity, such as diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. Losing control over our spending habits can plunge us into debt that would be difficult to climb out of. Mindless hours on social media robs us of more important pursuits.
Addictions are all the result of a loss of self-control. They include pornography, gambling, smoking, alcoholism, drug addiction, video games, shopping, and more. An addiction is allowing something to enslave us.
The essential element of self-control is spiritual discipline. Self-control not only means not engaging in bad habits or harmful behaviors, but it also means disciplining ourselves in good habits. Spiritual disciplines include setting aside time every day for private Bible reading, prayer, and worship as well as doing all this together as a family. It means attending church regularly and getting involved in service and ministry. Spiritual discipline is the secret to self-control in other areas of our lives.
1 Corinthians 9:25 (NASB) “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. So they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”
Proverbs 25:28 “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”
1 Peter 4:7 “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”
1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable.”
Proverbs 29:11 “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.”
Power in Christ
Self-control involves not only regulating our behaviors and words but also controlling the underlying emotions and impulses. It’s a matter of the heart and of a renewed mind. Ultimately, this means giving Christ full sway to control us. It’s like getting out of the driver’s seat and letting Him drive. Self-control in a Christian sense is placing ourselves under Christ’s control and operating in His superior power.
“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin” (Romans 6:6).
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner self, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” (Ephesians 3:16-17) NASB
“But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24)
Ephesians 6:10 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” (Ephesians 6:10)
Examples of self-control in the Bible
Daniel and his three young friends were among the royal youths that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar took to Babylon after he put down a rebellion in Jerusalem. He wanted them trained to serve the empire and gave them allotments of the royal food and wine. But Daniel decided not to “defile himself” with the king’s food and wine.
One issue might have been that the food and wine were offered to the king’s gods before being served. Some of the meat (like pork) might have been forbidden in the dietary laws in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 11) or may not been slaughtered according to God’s instructions (Deuteronomy 12:23-24).
For whatever reason, Daniel determined that he would not eat the meat and wine from the royal kitchen. He asked the steward for permission to consume only vegetables and water. When the official hesitated, Daniel suggested a reasonable ten-day trial. After ten days, Daniel and his friends looked healthier than all the other young men and continued their simple eating plan. (Daniel 1)
Daniel exercised other types of self-control. He prayed in his upper room thrice daily (Daniel 6:10) and practiced fasting (Daniel 10).
David and his men were hiding in a cave from King Saul, who had been ruthlessly hunting him down, jealously believing David intended to steal his crown. Unaware they were there, Saul went into the cave to relieve himself. David snuck behind him and cut a corner off Saul’s robe. He could have easily killed Saul, but he regretted even cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe as it was disrespectful to God’s anointed king. When Saul left the cave, David came out behind him, greeted the king, and bowed facedown in reverence.
David asked Saul, “Why do you think I want to harm you? You are God’s anointed! Look! Here’s a piece of your robe. I could have killed you, but I didn’t. My hand will never be against you.”
Saul wept and said, “You have rewarded me with good, though I have rewarded you with evil. When the LORD delivered me into your hand, you did not kill me.” (1 Samuel 24)
David continued to exercise self-control regarding Saul. He respected that God had anointed Saul as king, and he refused to harm Saul. He waited for God’s timing.
Jesus exercised self-control when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness (Matthew 4). Satan often tries to tempt us in a time of weakness. Jesus was weak from hunger but strong in the Spirit. Knowing Jesus was starving, Satan tempted Him with food, but Jesus resisted, quoting Scripture. Satan then took Jesus to the pinnacle of Jerusalem’s temple, telling Him, “Throw yourself down. Won’t God’s angels catch you?” Jesus resisted again, quoting Scripture. Finally, Satan tempted Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world. “It’s all yours, if you fall down and worship me.” But Jesus resisted again with Scripture.
The Bible says if we resist the devil, he will flee from us (James 4:7). Part of exercising self-control is resisting Satan’s temptations. When we exercise discipline in Bible reading, we will be aware of the lies he uses to deceive us.
1 Samuel 26:24 “Therefore behold, just as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the LORD, and may He rescue me from all distress.”
The Bible tells us that in the last days, people will lack self-control (2 Timothy 3:3). People will fully rebel against God. But that’s all the more reason for us to exercise self-control.
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” (1 Peter 4:7)
Peter reminds us that our most rational response, as the end draws near, is to pray with discipline and clear minds. We need to be alert, seriously consider our actions and words, and be careful how we live.