Self-Control and Avoiding Temptation—Part 1
From the Roadmap series
Have you heard that expression, “All that glitters is not gold”? Well, that can certainly be true of many of the temptations that come into our lives. Some things look good or attractive at first glance, but the immediate situation can be misleading. For example, when the desire to have a good time is coupled with a careless, “anything goes” attitude, the combination can be dangerous and have weighty consequences.
There are all kinds of ways the Devil tries to trip us up so that we lose perspective, make rash decisions, get out of balance, and then fall prey to excesses or binges, or to emotional outbursts that can have negative repercussions. But as we know from the Word of God, and from history, and our own life experiences, self-control and moderation is important if we’re going to maintain a happy, well-balanced, and centered, productive life.
The Bible tells us to “let our moderation be known.” Temperance is also one of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians. Temperance is synonymous with self-control. (See Galatians 5:22–23)
Self-control is the ability to control your behavior, especially in terms of reactions and impulses. Temperance is self-restraint in the face of temptation or desire. Temperance also has to do with having moderation in all things.—Peter Amsterdam
As Christians, we need to be on guard against things that can damage our testimony, hurt our witness, and hinder us from fulfilling the mission, by tarnishing our personal example and reputation. Sometimes little overindulgences or lacks of moderation that aren’t in line with the Bible don’t seem like a big deal. We can think it’s just a little thing. But even small actions can have significant repercussions, so it’s important to measure our actions by the standard of the Christian values we’re committed to living by. The goal is to strive to do the Lord’s will to the best of our ability and to make the right choices—to live right, and to align our actions and choices with our core values.
If we as Christians have an active relationship with God, we can count on the fact that His Spirit will faithfully speak to our conscience when we’re tempted to overreact or overindulge. But if we consistently resist the conviction of the Holy Spirit, pretty soon we won’t hear the Lord’s voice clearly.
The more someone disregards the leadings of the Lord’s Spirit, the easier it becomes to go further down that slippery path of disobedience. Hence the seriousness of failing to exercise restraint when needed, even in small ways.
There are numerous common temptations in the world today, which, when not resisted, lead to sin, including:
- failure to control negative emotions towards others, angry outbursts, jealous rages
- overdrinking or binge drinking
- substance abuse
- crossing the boundaries for appropriate sexual conduct
- gossiping, lying, or cheating
- driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
That’s just to name a few of the obvious ones.
It is, of course, much easier and safer to avoid getting into trouble with these temptations by avoiding taking steps in that direction in the first place. The Enemy wants to wreak havoc in our lives, so it’s best to take it seriously and protect ourselves from the steep downward grade that wrong decisions can lead to. It’s like the well-known saying: “It’s better to build a fence at the top of the cliff rather than a hospital at the bottom.” That “fence” is self-control, and each of us decides how strong or weak it is by the choices we make.
We can strengthen our self-control by:
- taking more responsibility for our lives.
- understanding the dynamics of choice—its repercussions and consequences; counting the cost of our decisions.
- not just living for the moment or today, but thinking about tomorrow and the future.
- being true to our convictions, and keeping our spiritual life and connection with the Lord and His Spirit strong.
- seeking professional help or counsel, if needed.
Of course, no one is above temptation. The Bible says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man, but God will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
One of the ways we can avail ourselves of that “way of escape” is through maintaining a strong connection with the Lord, which will give us a healthy fear of stepping outside of the circle of His protection through disobedience. Also, as a result of our relationship with the Lord, we will have the personal conviction to measure our actions against our values and Christian ethics.
We each decide what we will or will not do, and we’re the ones who live with the consequences of those decisions. Some people are naturally more reckless or prone to taking risks. If those risks are within reason, and we exercise reasonable restraint and ask the Lord to guide us and give us wisdom, then we’ll be able to stay on a safe path and learn as we go. Even if we make mistakes here and there, if we are walking in the fear of the Lord and praying about our decisions, we can trust that whatever He allows or brings into our lives will somehow work for our good, whether in this life or the next.
Here are some of the overall principles of self-control that come into play for leading a balanced, safe, productive life, that will help us to make good, safe decisions.
- Study God’s Word to know the Lord’s counsel on issues.
- Stay close to the Lord and strive to follow what He tells you in His Word, through prophecy, and via His still small voice.
- Avoid making impulsive or rash decisions.
- Base your decisions on the principles in His Word.
- Ask the Lord to speak to you about your decisions, personal standards, and life choices.
- Recognize when you’ve made a mistake and ask the Lord—and others, if necessary—for forgiveness and safeguarding, and then strive to not let it happen again.
- Work to develop good character. Then be true to your personal convictions and moral ethics. This is closely tied to integrity, taking responsibility for your life, and not allowing yourself to be influenced negatively by others.
Practically speaking, here are some tips:
- Choose your friends wisely. It’s an indication that you’re in good company if you “like who you are” (related to your Christian example) when you’re with someone.
- Avoid placing yourself in situations where you know you’ll be tempted to sin. For example, if you have a tendency to overdrink, avoid partying with heavy drinkers.
- Think about what you’re doing. Count the cost. Ask yourself if you might regret a decision you are making or action down the line.
- Be aware that anyone can develop addictions. Don’t think it could never happen to you.
Regarding resisting temptations, it might not be as easy as one would assume, without the Lord’s help. Research conducted by the Kellogg School of Management and the University of Amsterdam concluded that “individuals believe they have more restraint than they actually possess, which ultimately leads to poor decision-making. … The research found [those tested] … miscalculated the amount of temptation they could truly handle, in turn leading to a greater likelihood of indulging impulsive or addictive behavior. … The key is simply to avoid any situations where vices and other weaknesses thrive and, most importantly, for individuals to keep a humble view of their willpower.”
You might argue that the temptations in life are too difficult to avoid. Here is some food for thought on that topic:
Someone [once] said that the temptations in life [are] just too great! Well, too great for whom? Of course they are too great for you!—But not for the God who wants to strengthen you in your time of need. It’s only by His help that anyone can resist temptation. You were never supposed to resist it alone. That’s why you need to get in touch with God! Because you can’t have the victory in yourself!
—Virginia Brandt Berg
Temptation is the feeling we get when encountered by an opportunity to do what we innately know we shouldn’t.
Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.
Too often we think of being tempted as being enticed to do big things like stealing, murdering or committing adultery. But most often we’re tempted to be impatient, stingy, jealous, greedy, or any number of other things that we consider lesser sins.
When Christians find themselves exposed to temptation they should pray to God to uphold them, and when they are tempted they should not be discouraged. It is not a sin to be tempted; the sin is to fall into temptation.
—D. L. Moody
Every conquering of temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.
—William Butler Yeats
Temptation may even be a blessing to a man when it reveals to him his weakness and drives him to the almighty Savior. Do not be surprised, then, dear child of God, if you are tempted at every step of your earthly journey, and almost beyond endurance; but you will not be tempted beyond what you are able to bear, and with every temptation there will be a way of escape.
—F. B. Meyer
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