I kind of dread Christmas morning because I know that my kids will get gifts that will require some assembly. Rather than reading the Spanish/Chinese/English directions, I will inevitably just plunge right in. How hard can a kid’s bicycle be? Of course, this is why I always have to apologize to my daughter when her bike winds up looking like something out of a Mad Max movie complete with tassels.
Like any process, sanctification involves steps. Try to bake a cake or assemble a bike without following the steps and your kid winds looking like they are about to enter the Thunderdome. Yet, when it comes to becoming more Christ-like, many us just wing it as if we are experts who have done this a million times. For as much as I have read on sanctification, I have never tried to actually follow the process. This is inexcusable because the process steps are clearly laid in the Bible in 2 Peter 1:3-7:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”
Self-control is a step in the sanctification process sandwiched between knowledge and steadfastness. Look at the procession; through the knowledge of Christ and what we are now through Him, we can now control our desires. Due to this self-control, we can now endure temptations and fight sin. As we defeat sin, we become more Christ-like (or like God – as the term Paul uses). Then because we are more like God, we can then express love to others.
The English Post Alfred, Lord Tennyson once wrote, “The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.” Self-control is often talked in our culture, whether it’s regarding weight loss or even an addiction. It is a desirable quality even outside of Christianity. However, like Tennyson it is easy to think that self-control is simply the suppression of our desires. For the Christian, self-control is not just saying no to our self, it is saying yes to God. If we exercise and eat right in order lose weight so we can look better, then we are simply exchanging one self-desire (food and comfort) for a different self-desire (vanity). Self-control is not exchanging one personal desire for another; it’s exchanging ours for God’s desire.
Given that definition, Christian service is an act of self-control. Paul writes to the Galatians, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13. Given our need faith and knowledge in Christ, Paul says, we should now control our flesh and serve others. Control and serve.
The only way we exchange our desire to be served and instead serve others is by through the gift of self-control. Jerry Bridges writes, “As we grow the grace of self control, we will experience the liberation of those who, under the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit, are freed from the shackles of self-indulgence and are brought into the freedom of true spiritual discipline.”[i]
[i] Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness pg 144