We are in the middle of our sermon series called “A Recipe for Fullness of Life – A Not So Secret Sauce.” It is our belief that the full life of God is available to every single person regardless of your background, social status, church attendance, or any other distinguishing factor. God wants you to know Him and to live a full life with Him. In fact, He has given us very clear instruction within His word on how to experience all that He has for us. The book of 2 Peter lays it all out for us, sort of in a recipe style, with different ingredients that when all put together turn into a vibrant faith, a full life of God.
The first week, we took a look at the first ingredient to add to our faith, goodness. We have been given everything we need to live in such a way that we bring good into the world. If we remain open to God, we will see opportunities to bless others and to do the things He planned for us so long ago.
Last week, we looked at the second ingredient which is knowledge. Our culture certainly lacks the knowledge and wisdom of God. And many times, we find ourselves in need of God’s wisdom. So when we find ourselves in that position, all we have to do is ask God for the wisdom we need. He’s ready and willing to give it so generously through His word and through the wise believers around us.
Today, we’re going to look at the next ingredient in the list, which is one of the most important ones that Peter mentions. In fact, it’s also one of the hardest ones for us. But without it, we can’t live the life God wants for us. The ingredient is self-control. “Respond to God’s promises by adding to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control…” 2 Peter 1:5-6
Every one of us have found ourselves in a situation when we have needed to exercise self-control, and every one of us have at some point failed to have that self-control. One of my weaknesses is food. To be more specific, ice cream is my weakness. It’s the creamy, sweet taste that melts in your mouth that just causes me to want to eat more than I probably should. When you eat ice cream in a ceramic bowl, it melts just a little faster and gets this smooth, creamy feel that just makes it all the better in my mouth and makes it a recipe for indulgence. I have a hard time saying no to ice cream.
Now, way beyond food, there are cravings that we experience in life which cause us to make decisions that we know are not healthy. The truth is that we crave all kinds of things, that without self-control can take us to some pretty dangerous places. We crave intimacy, we crave control, status, power, money. A craving is a powerful desire for something, and we somehow believe that that thing that we are craving will fulfill us. But I’m here to tell you today, that…
POINT #1 – WE HAVE TO CONTROL THE CRAVING
…because they are not going to fulfill you! This entire series is based on the premise that the only thing that can truly fill us is a deep and abiding connection with God. That’s where full life is found. Cravings only leave us wanting more, and when we crave, we become a danger to ourselves and/or a danger to others.
According to the scriptures, self-control is not something we have to muster up on our own. We are not that good. The ability to control one’s self actually comes from the Holy Spirit of God. God gives us the power to say “no” to things we should say “no” to, and “yes” to things we should say “yes” to. Listen carefully to Galatians 5.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
It doesn’t say you produce those things. It doesn’t say, “If you could just do this and that, then you would be able to control yourself.” Instead, it says the Holy Spirit produces these things. In fact, let me just back up a bit and read verses 19-21.
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, (disagreement that leads to disharmony), division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Self-control is one of the many fruits that are produced from a life that is connected to God. Meaning self-control is a byproduct, a result, of submitting to the way of Jesus. So rather than submitting to our own ways, wants and desires, when we submit to Jesus’ way, we actually have power from the Holy Spirit to have self-control to be better people, better disciples.
16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.
Look, I get it. When we lack self-control in some areas, it is not a huge deal. It may be more annoying than anything else. However, many times a lack of self-control can be destructive, and it can destroy you. It can destroy your family, the people around you. The book of Proverbs gives us an alarming warning about the dangers of a lack of self-control.
A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.
In the ancient days, when war and violence was always around the corner, a city’s most reliable protection was its walls. The walls would make sure that anyone entering into the city through its gates was thoroughly vetted and checked. Without walls, the city would be vulnerable to being attacked and completely destroyed. The same thing is true for our lives without self-control. When we neglect the Spirit of God working in us and through us, we are then left exposed.
POINT #2 – SELF-CONTROL IS PROTECTION AGAINST TEMPTATION
Lacking self-control shows up in our lives in so many different ways. Each circumstance is different and each situation comes with its own challenges. A lack of self-control looks like falling into temptation on the computer or cell phone and looking at explicit material that could absolutely destroy a marriage. It looks like neglecting your health and choosing to eat without restraint and avoiding any kind of exercise. It looks like an inability to control one’s tongue and starting conflict in every relationship.
Self-control is mission critical when it comes to living into the full life of God. And Paul does a great job explaining the struggle of living with self-control in the book of Romans. He wrote to a culture that had a “do as you please” kind of mentality. It was a city that was morally and spiritually empty, largely because of the inability to practice self-control and restraint.
5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
In the end, it all comes down to a choice that we all have to make. What will we feed? Do we feed the desires of our flesh, or do we feed the desires of the Spirit? God says the way of destructive is in the mind. When we entertain sinful thoughts, then the mind can easily lead to actions of the same kind. The result of these fleshly desires is a spiritual death that robs us of the life God wants for us, but the result of the desires of the Spirit is life and peace. And it all depends on which one we feed.
An old Cherokee grandfather was teaching his grandson about life: “A fight is going on inside your mind,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, patience, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute, and then asked his grandfather: “I see, but which wolf will win?” The old man smiled and simply replied, “The one you feed, son, the one you feed.”
A renewed mind is a surrendered mind. We have a choice each and every day on what we will allow into our minds and hearts. Too many of us allow our minds to be filled with negativity, with fear, with pride, or anxiety. But we can give that all up and surrender our mindset to the leading of Jesus. What I have seen in my own life is that when I feed the Spirit and practice self-control, meaning I actually sit down and read God’s Word regularly, pray often, and surround myself with other Christians, it actually becomes easier to feed the Spirit and practice self-control.
There is a reason why this is one of the most important ingredients to experiencing your life to the fullest. It is key to limiting the negative effects of sinful choices, and increasing the positive outcomes of thoughtful choices. This is not a secret at all. It is actually pretty simple and straightforward, and yet many people never discover it.
One of the reasons self-control is so hard is because we often do not consider the long-term effects of our daily choices. We so often get fixated on the immediate, that we want instant gratification, instant pleasure. But what if we discover the power of delayed gratification.
POINT #3 – THE POWER OF DELAYED GRATIFICATION
This is a message that almost every parent in the room has tried, or is currently trying to teach their children. I would argue that as much as our children need to learn this, we need to learn it as well. And let me tell you, your children are watching you, and they are watching everyone in this room.
There was a study done by a Stanford professor in the 1960’s looking at some of the main qualities people need to be able to succeed in life. They found out that practicing self-control and delayed gratification were essential to living well.
During the experiments, they tested hundreds of children — most of them around the ages of 4 and 5 years old. They would bring each child into a private room, sitting them down in a chair, and placing a marshmallow on the table in front of them. At this point, the researcher offered a deal to the child.
The researcher told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, then they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow. So the choice was simple: one treat right now or two treats later.
The researcher left the room for 15 minutes. As you can imagine, the footage of the children waiting alone in the room was rather entertaining. Some kids ate the first marshmallow as soon as the researcher closed the door. Others wiggled and bounced and scooted in their chairs as they tried to restrain themselves, but eventually gave in to temptation and ate the marshmallow. But a few of the children did manage to wait the entire time.
When published in 1972, this popular study became known as The Marshmallow Experiment, but it wasn’t the treat that made it famous. The interesting part came years later. As the years rolled on and the children grew up, the researchers conducted follow up studies and tracked each child’s progress in a number of areas. What they found was quite surprising.
The children who were willing to delay gratification and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills, and generally better scores in many other life measures.
The researchers followed each child for more than 40 years and over and over again, the group who waited patiently for the second marshmallow succeed in whatever capacity they were measuring. In other words, this series of experiments proved that the ability to delay gratification, the ability to delay pleasure, was critical for success in life.
Life is full of distractions, trials, and temptations that can ruin your life. The only way we are able to navigate through all of it is to allow the Spirit of God to fill us, seal us, and empower us to have self-control. Yes, you can learn and practice to have some self-control. But if we want to have the full life of God, if we want to live the life He has planned for us, if we want full self-control, goodness and knowledge, we have to allow the Spirit of God to work in and through us. We do not have the power to live this kind of life without Him.
Look, when you except Christ into your life, the Holy Spirit now lives inside of you. But remember, God is not going to control you. You have a part in all of this. You have to choose to let the Spirit do His part. And the best way to let Him do His part is to connect with Him. Read scripture, listen to Christian music, pray, surround yourself with other solid Christians, come to church regularly to experience the power behind cooperate worship. When we tune in, when we show up and open ourselves to let the Holy Spirit do His work, then we are able to live a godly life.
It is no secret that a controlled life is a healthy life and leads to a full life, but living it out is not easy. But it’s necessary if we want to have the life God intends for us.
And let me add just one more thing. Self-control in one area of your life can spill over into other areas of your life. Practicing regular times in prayer and Bible study has a positive effect on other areas of your life. Practicing regular exercise has positive effects on other areas of your life. Investing in your marriage can have incredibly positive effects in other areas of your life and family, and so forth.
So today we have a choice. We can choice to try to do it all on our own, by our own power and will, or we can choice to have real power by letting the Holy Spirit be in control.