In previous posts I have answered two of the three questions about the self-control which Peter says must be supplied into knowledge in 2 Peter 1:5-7: Why must knowledge be supplied with self-control? and What is the self-control with which knowledge must be supplied? Here I take up the third question:
III. How can such self-control be attained?
A number of times already I have quoted you the text that says that the fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Gal. 5:23). Have you ever thought of the fact that it contains a paradox? How can the fruit of the Spirit be self-control? But this paradox embodies the essence of what it means to live the Christian life and grow in grace. What can you do practically to attain self-control?
The first thing you must do is confront the issue. In attaining self-control we must face up to the fact that we are in need of it in some area. When the Spirit convicts us of an area where we need self-control, we must frankly confess it as sin and own up to it. We must say to ourselves I am sinning by a lack of self-control in _____.
The second thing you must do is to simply realize that you do not have of yourself the will power of the strength to acquire self-control in the needed area. You must also confess your spiritual inability and weakness. You must remember the teaching of Philippians 2:12 and 13 that both the will and the work necessary to conquer sins comes from the Holy Spirit.
The third thing you must do, then, is to receive Christ for the sin of a lack of self-control. Now you notice how I put that. I did not say simply to ask God to forgive you for Christ’s sake for that sin. That is part of receiving Christ in relation to the sin, but it is not all of it. I said that you must receive Christ. Faith does not merely take something from Christ. It takes Christ himself. So receiving Christ for the sin involves receiving Him as two things. You must receive Him as the forgiveness of this particular sin. But you must also receive Christ as the one in Whom the Spirit of God dwells and who gives the Spirit of God to His people. We have seen that the Spirit alone can give a person self-control. But you do not receive the Spirit by working for Him or meriting Him or fasting for Him. You receive the Spirit by faith in Christ. If you would receive the Spirit, you must receive Him in Christ.
The fourth thing is that when you in this way put on Christ for your need of self-control, there are some unbelieving attitudes that you are putting off. You must utterly reject the unbelieving attitude that says that no matter what you will never attain the self-control you want and need. Part of believing in Christ is believing that he can give you such self-control. You must really believe that Christ can deliver you from your sinful lack of self-control. You must also reject the attitude that says that without the sin you are seeking to kill you can never be happy. Sin and Satan will try to tell you that if you really do exercise self-control in this area life will be bleak and unhappy. In receiving Christ you are rejecting the idea that you need sin to make you happy. You are accepting Christ as able to make you happy. Part of exercising self-control in any area is being happy and content in Christ and His gifts.
But having confessed your sin and received Christ, and put off these sinful attitudes, the fifth thing is that you must put your faith to work. You must in reliance on the grace of Christ refuse to indulge your sin. Your faith must work. You must work out your own salvation. You must fight the good fight of faith. You must run looking unto Jesus.
The sixth and last thing is that you must remember that Peter makes clear that this whole matter of sanctification is not attained instantly. He tells us to grow in grace. God does not promise that if we once face our sin, receive Christ, and put our faith to work, we will be forever perfectly self-controlled. No, he tells us the exact opposite. He tells that it is a matter of growth. Growth is a gradual process. I have not told you how to attain instant self-control overnight today. I have told you how to grow in self-control. Don’t forget that. Keep on facing your sin. Keep on receiving Christ. Keep on putting faith to work. Christ does not promise you that you will see plants 14 feet tall overnight. He does promise you that you will grow and the fruit of the Spirit will ripen in your slowly but surely in your life.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.