The Importance of Self-Control

One of the places I love to visit is the English city of Norwich, where l lived for over 28 years. An outstanding feature of this old city is that remnants of the city walls can still be seen.

The Importance of Self-Control

Nowadays these are just monuments in the landscape, valued for their picturesque character and historical interest. However, these walls, built between 1294 and 1343, served a valuable purpose for nearly 500 years. They kept the citizens safe and the enemies out. The residents of the city could sleep soundly at night knowing that the walls protected them from those that would seek to harm them. Centuries ago, to have a city without walls would have been unthinkable – the height of folly.

An undisciplined Christian, lacking in self-control, is compared to a city without walls.

“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28 ESV).

So, as believers, we need to develop and exercise self-control, something that is only possible through the indwelling Holy Spirit, but is vital for the vibrant enjoyment of the life God intends for us. Without it we are open to enemy attacks and slavery to ungodly passions.

We need to live within borders

Believers should recognise their areas of weakness. Reflection on failures from the past, wise counsel from good friends and the word of God are all resources that the Holy Spirit can use to convict us about the places where the ‘wall’ is weak or broken.

When there is a temptation to give in, Scripture calls us to exercise self-control. Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, draws from the imagery of an athlete.“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25 ESV).

Even the unathletic can understand the point that Paul makes. A successful athlete, competing for a perishable prize, will have a strategy and will exercise self-control in implementing it.

In Genesis chapter 39 we read of a young man, who had been sold into slavery by his own family, being offered a sexual liaison with his boss’s wife. If anyone deserved a bit of illicit pleasure after years of mistreatment it surely was Joseph. But we read that he had built a wall. He identified sexual sin as wicked and against God; he would not listen to her, come beside her or even be with her (Genesis 39:9-10). Doubtless, Joseph knew the wickedness of the ‘flesh’, which seeks to lure us all away from living godly lives. His wall of self-control was to use his voice to refuse what was on offer and to try to avoid a situation where he might fall. When the woman in question made further advances he did not stay but fled (Genesis 39:12).

All believers, young and old, can learn from the example of Joseph, especially in the area of sexual temptation. The wall, that enables self-control, must be built. What might ‘the wall’ look like?

  • A plan to read what the Bible says about sexual sin and bring the need for strength and wisdom before the Lord.
  • A resolve not to be alone with a member of the opposite sex.
  • An accountability relationship with a trusted friend for internet browsing.
  • A prior determination to turn off any social media or TV that has provocative imagery.

Self-control, building walls for ourselves, is not legalism but a blessing that will lead to greater enjoyment of the Lord Jesus.

We need to think correctly

A key area for developing self-control is the mind as we will always act in accordance with what we think is best for ourselves. Therefore, we need to think correctly.

Not all the thinking we do is appropriate. We could spend a long time focused on an issue, a person or a situation, and have ungodly thoughts. If I dwell on a person who has offended me then I could, with wrong thinking, develop anger towards them that would manifest itself in future conduct.

Conversely, if I think correctly by meditating upon God’s word, recalling the example of the Lord Jesus and remembering what Scripture has to say about love, forgiveness and anger, then that will be demonstrated in how I act towards the person who offended me.

So, the skill we need to continually develop is thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Self-control means thinking before we act. It means counting to ten or ten thousand rather than making an impulsive response.

We can still be passionate

Some people think that to be self-controlled means to live an emotionless life, devoid of any passion.

Thankfully, that is not the case; we simply need to be controlled by passions and desires that are in accordance with God’s will. Centuries ago, a Scottish preacher wrote about “The expulsive power of a new affection”. He was describing the believer as being controlled by affections for Jesus Christ and His things and, as a result, expelling controlling desires that were ungodly.

The question we must ask ourselves is not, ‘Should I be passionate?’ but, ‘What should I be passionate about?’ A desire to please self will ultimately lead to uncontrolled and ungodly living. James wrote about the source of anger being our hearts, the seat of passions and desires.

“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (James 4:1).

The self-controlled believer will seek to live passionately for the glory of the Lord Jesus, being resolved to have Him as their heart’s desire.

We must have Holy Spirit dependence

Some Christians have the misunderstanding that being self-controlled means being self-dependent. 

Unbelievers can sometimes succeed in modifying aspects of their behaviour, as in the case of a reformed alcoholic, but no one can conquer all their weaknesses in their own strength. Seeking to  overcome in these areas without faith in Christ and dependence on the Holy Spirit is self-serving, self-focused, man-centred and also futile. It basically says, “I don’t need God”, and neither honours God nor brings the desired victory.

In contrast, biblical self-control is produced by the Holy Spirit. It is evidence of His indwelling and power in a believer.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

As believers have the Holy Spirit within them, they are able, by God’s grace, to think and act in control of themselves.


Building and strengthening the walls of ancient cities was hard work, but it was definitely worth it.

Your spiritual health, as a believer, is of greater importance. Therefore, be resolved to build the wall. Develop godly habits, make boundaries for yourself, recognise specific weaknesses and keep building self-control. It is worth it.