16: Self-Control and the Higher Christian Life
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Learning How to Say “No” to You
In an earlier post, we discovered the importance of knowing, by faith and experience, the victory we have over the power of sin by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. And this knowledge only comes from faith. If God says, and He does, that He provided the means for you to have victory over sin, then our task is to simply believe what God has said and avail ourselves to what He has provided. Nothing else is needed. This is the key that opens the door of victory. But then, how do we maintain the victory we have won? What part do we play in the life of sanctification? Or, in other words, where do self-control and the Higher Christian Life intersect?
If you remember from Sunday, the Scriptures state Jesus not only provided for our salvation (forgiveness of sin, eternal life, heaven, etc.), but He also “became for us” attributes of God that profoundly affect our lives in real-time, right now, today, and provide for us what is required to live the Higher Christian Life. In 1 Corinthians 1:30 it says:
But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God— and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
Note, Jesus literally “became for us” by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, righteousness, and redemption. These seem like intangibles that are difficult to grasp and wrap our minds around. Like something God does for us and we reap the benefits, not fully understanding the gravity of those benefits. But He also “became for us” what we struggle with today. He “became for us” the ability to live a holy life right now, without delay. He “became for us” sanctification, which is also translated as “holiness” and means both “set apart unto God” in a judicial sense and “the power to enable us to be holy as God is holy” (2 Thess. 2:13). Jesus “became for us” both of these wondrous truths, and so much more.
And just to fully grasp what Christ has done for each of us, the word translated “became” is gínomai which means “to begin to be, to come into existence.” In essence, Jesus “became for us” or brought into existence attributes of Himself that were not previously found in us, and one of these attributes is the right and power to live holy, and “be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). This attribute is called sanctification.
Jesus “became for us— sanctification” (1 Cor. 1:30).
Why is Self-Control Vital to the Higher Christian Life?
But that is only the beginning of our journey to the Higher Christian Life. Once we understand and believe what Christ has provided for us and what it means for the Holy Spirit to live in us, especially regarding our ability to “overcome the world” (1 John 5:4) or “overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:13-14), then the question remains, What is my part in all of this? What am I to do to maintain the victory in me won by the Lord Jesus? What is my part, and what is His part? Or, where does faith end and work begin?
Let’s answer the last question first. Faith never ends. And neither does work. Once the victory is given to us by the Person of the Holy Spirit, it is our job to maintain that victory by living, day by day, even minute by minute, under the power of the Holy Spirit who provided that victory we now enjoy. This is our decision, our choice. It is ours for the losing. This is where we either maintain the victory already gained and given to us by grace, or open the front gates and beg the enemy to come and place us once again under bondage. Consider the testimony of Paul in this matter.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate (self-controlled) in (what) all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty (non-resolute, without attending to the prescribed marks or lines). Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline (subject to hardship, mortify, literally, to strike under the eye, to give a black eye) my body and bring it into subjection (to bring into servitude as a slave), lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified (unapproved, unworthy, worthless, rejected, a castaway) – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
What Paul is saying is in spite of his blessings, calling, visions, miracles, insights into the mind of Christ, or whatever great work the Lord accomplished through him, he nonetheless makes it his habit to practice self-discipline or self-control to maintain his intimacy with the Holy Spirit and his victory over his flesh. And if Paul had to be “temperate (self-controlled) in all things,” how much more for you and me?
Maintaining a holy life is always a matter of choice. We either do the things that please Him (John 8:29), or we intentionally choose to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) because we give in to our lust for some carnal pleasure that only lasts for a moment (Heb. 11:25). The choice is always ours.
But to seek and maintain the blessings of the Higher Christian Life takes some effort, some self-discipline, some self-control. It is saying “no” to sin and “yes” to God, continually. And I pray, as we strive to grow closer to Him, your choice when faced with sin or sanctification, will be easier to make.