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When I worked in horticulture years ago, I learned an invaluable truth: “A weed is an undesirable plant.” Think about it. A weed is a plant, perhaps replete with shiny green leaves and colorful flowers, alluring in its own right—just like other plants. Yet, there is that word “undesirable.” How so? Well, a prominent attribute of a weed is that it is invasive. A weed saunters into the garden, surveys all of the beauty, and says, “I am taking over.” The prideful weed chokes out beauty and creates aesthetic chaos. A weed demands control.

This helps us when we think of all of the desires God has planted in us as human beings to cultivate as image bearers of our Creator. Food, drink, and sex are all good things in their God-given boundaries. Money is useful as an instrument in God’s kingdom. Fear keeps us from jumping off cliffs to our death. But think for a moment about the invasive nature of taking that extra plate of dessert, indulging in just one more drink, taking another lustful look, or allowing intrusive fears to set up camp in our minds and control us with anxiety. In other words, ordinarily good gifts from our Creator can become unruly thorns in the very core of our souls.

The Bible uniformly maintains the godly necessity of self-control. Proverbs 25:28 says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Living without a defense brings perilous consequences—the weeds of our impulsive thoughts, words, or actions take over all that is beautiful and good and choke it out. In contrast to the pagan philosophers, who extolled stoic restraint through effort alone, the believer’s confidence is not gained through mere arduous exertion. Rather, self-control is animated by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22–23).

Yet the Apostle Peter exhorts us to godly effort even as the Spirit is working. “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” (2 Peter 1:5–6). Lack of self-control leads to ineffectiveness and lack of fruitfulness, Peter says. Even worse, it may lead to our destruction. Remember Achan’s craving for the devoted things in Joshua 7? In stark disobedience to the Lord’s command, he coveted the beautiful cloak, two hundred shekels of silver, and a gold bar of fifty shekels, and he seized them against the Lord’s clear command. His lack of self-control proved devastating to himself and his entire family.

When we exercise self-control, we are acting in accord with God’s character.

The virtue of self-control does not win popularity contests today. In a 2012 University of Pennsylvania study, respondents ranked their own twenty-four personal skills from top to bottom and assessed self-control as dead last. We should not be surprised. Many of us came of age with the background music of Laura Branigan’s 1984 pop hit “Self-Control”: “You take myself, you take my self-control. . . . I haven’t got the will to try and fight.” No one makes grocery store tabloid headlines for saying no to adultery, addiction, or anger. The zeitgeist promotes the right of self-expression, lack of restraint, and the affirmation of Nike’s now thirty-year-old iconic slogan: “Just do it.”

Not fighting back against personal anarchy is not an option for the believer in Christ. We must be vigilant against the unruly desires triggered by the enchantments of this world. We should strive to put to death our flesh’s demand for instant gratification. We must remain alert against the wiles of our adversary (1 Peter 5:8), who seeks to deceive us into believing that self-control is denying ourselves that which we deserve. When we start believing that we are mere victims of our biology, life circumstances, or the sins committed against us, we more easily capitulate to sin’s demands. In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul writes, “ ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” To be enslaved to our desires does not befit one who is called to be holy as the Lord is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Therefore, in the Spirit’s power, we work to mortify the weeds of the flesh so that we may flourish in the fruit of righteousness (Rom. 8:13; Phil. 1:11).

The fight for self-control is suffused with great spiritual warfare. Dr. R.C. Sproul spoke candidly of this when he described in a sermon his difficulty in quitting smoking as a young believer. He said that he painted a picture of Jesus on the front side of a package of cigarettes to dissuade himself from smoking. Yet when the urge for a cigarette pressed hard enough on his willpower, he turned the package over to relieve his conscience and acted on his potent craving. If we are honest, we all have acted similarly at one time or another with our dreadful desires.

When we exercise self-control, we are acting in accord with God’s character. Therefore, let us meditate on the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us remember that Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would “set [His] face like a flint” toward Jerusalem (Isa. 50:7). In fulfillment, He refused the temptation of turning back from the suffering of the cross (Luke 9:51). In the Spirit’s strength, we can cast aside the role of passive victims to our temptations and live as “more than conquerors” in His resurrection victory (Rom. 8:37). God’s promise assures us that one day the weeds of reckless living will no longer obscure the beauty of God’s holy children, and we will shine brightly under the resplendent leaves of the Tree of Life forever (Rev. 22:1–3).

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