If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.
If there is one overarching theme in my life before Christ, it is that I was driven by my impulses. With my priorities out of order and my moral compass out of whack, I often acted with instant reaction instead of taking a moment to think first. This certainly applied to the words I spoke, but it also applied to my general manner of living. If I wanted it, I had to have it. If I thought it or felt it, I had to say it. Once an idea entered my mind, I was committed to taking the steps I decided without considering that perhaps there might be a better way. In finances, personal relationships, and any area in which I should have acted as a responsible adult, I found myself time and again lacking the self-control necessary to live fruitfully. Without restraint, life was wild and chaotic.
Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, which means that it is produced naturally as we submit to the Spirit and allow him to dwell within us. We will be tempted many times in our walk to step over that line and act on impulse, but we must listen to the Spirit within us and exercise restraint instead. It is like a muscle we must exercise in order to keep it from atrophy. This is a part of so many of the other disciplines by which God calls us to operate, such as meekness. We cannot be meek if we cannot control ourselves. We call it self-control, but it is not something over which we have power on our own. This is the Spirit of God working through us to deny the flesh and the call of sin. Whether we are interacting with others or simply trying to behave ourselves when we are alone, restraint must be practiced so that it can grow in us and be perfected.
In the meekness Jesus exhibited while on Earth, He also exhibited restraint. In remaining on the cross instead of taking himself down, He exhibited restraint. In completing his fast instead of turning the stones to bread, He exhibited restraint. In submitting to the Father’s will in every way, He exhibited restraint. Jesus is the perfect example because He had the power to do whatever He wanted yet He surrendered to the Father. If we are to deny ourselves as God requires, we must be able to control ourselves. Living by impulse will lead to self-idolatry and death; living by restraint will lead to life. Father, increase in us the power of your Spirit to exercise restraint in our words, thoughts, and actions just as your Son has shown us.