Self Control - The Essence of Strength

The following is excerpted from Bill Rudge's book, "Reaching Your Maximum Potential in Christ."

From traveling and ministering throughout the U.S. and abroad and receiving thousands of letters from around the world, I have discovered that one of the biggest problems Christian adults and teens (as well as non-Christians) face is a lack of discipline and self-control. Almost all the troubles people get into and the problems they encounter, (whether it's related to drugs or alcohol; lust and sexual immorality which lead to broken relationships, unwanted pregnancies, venereal disease, or AIDS; overeating, stealing, lying, or gossiping; jealousy, bitterness, revenge, outbursts of anger, or violence) could possibly have been avoided if they only had exercised more discipline and self-control.

When I first started this ministry the Lord spoke to my heart that He would greatly use and bless me if I remained faithful. He warned that sin, especially sexual immorality or pride, would destroy my life and ministry, if I let either get a foothold. Therefore, whenever I spend time in prayer and fasting, I ask the Lord to help me by His Spirit to root out, overcome, and burn out of my life any sin, disobedience, immorality, and lust. I pray that by His Spirit, He will enable me to walk in obedience, control, and discipline, and to desire Him more than anything or anyone else — to have a hunger and thirst and passion for Him!

I Was Out of Control

Before coming to Christ, I was out of control in almost every area of my life. I couldn't control my stealing. I would walk into a store and walk out with almost anything I wanted. I stole so much it became second nature. I'd steal without hesitation and sometimes without even realizing I was doing it. Even as a new Christian, when I was in a store or situation that was very similar to something I was in before I was a Christian, my mind would flash back, and I'd still feel guilty and strange as if I was being watched because someone thought I was trying to steal something.

Eating was another area in which I was out of control. As a kid I was a junk food addict. I would steal money from my dad and oldest brother to buy candy bars and all kinds of junk food. I craved chocolate, sugar, salt, and greasy foods. One time I stole $20 from my oldest brother and took a neighbor girl to a nearby convenience store. I bought her milkshakes, candy bars, and other items. When I paid with a $20 bill, they called my parents. My brother came to get me, and smacked me all the way home for stealing from him.

When my friends and I became teens, we frequently slept out under the stars. We would load up on junk food to eat throughout the night. Usually I would buy a couple quarts of soda pop or a half gallon of chocolate milk, along with cupcakes, donuts, candy bars, and potato chips. My friend's girlfriend worked at a candy store. On Sunday afternoons she would be working alone, so we came in to eat anything we wanted, and also took bags of candy home. As a child, almost all my baby teeth were rotten, and as a teen I had teeth pulled and many fillings due to all the sugar-laden foods I had consumed.

Drinking was also a problem for me. I couldn't control my use of alcohol. I lived to get high on weekends and holidays. One night I was so drunk I almost fell through a large storefront window in my hometown. On numerous occasions I was in wrecks and near tragedies because of being out of control due to the influence of alcohol.

I loved gambling so much that it, too, began to control me. For weeks at a time my friends and I would go on gambling sprees, during which my whole life would revolve around gambling. We would play cards all night and even developed an intricate cheating system by using our eyes. This system won us a lot of money, but it eventually almost got us "lynched." Once at a local bazaar, I convinced the dealer in a poker booth to give me extra cards, with the promise that afterwards I would split the profits with him. He did, but I took off and never gave him anything.

My mouth was out of control. If I wasn't lying, I was telling someone off. I couldn't control my lying. I lied so well, I convinced myself. My mouth was always getting me in trouble. I often had older guys waiting for me after school or looking for me or sending someone else after me because of something smart I said to them or something offensive I said to their girlfriend.

Controlled by lust, I was compulsively looking for more excitement and pleasure. In the process, I used and abused a lot of people.

Addicted to adrenaline, I would try every thrill imaginable to experience a temporary high, like the time I drove down the highway at 115 mph in my dad's convertible, thinking I was god, and that if I hit something I would not be killed. The fastest I ever went down a highway was 135 mph in my friend's car. I loved the sensation of speed and thrived on jumping trains and bumper dragging cars in the snow. I jumped off train trestles into the waters of the dam even though I was afraid of heights. I forced myself to do it because of peer pressure and a desire for another thrill. Any adventurous activity became a passion.

My cheating was uncontrollable. I cheated or charmed my way through much of high school, and I thought I got away with it. Answers would be written up and down my arms, hidden under my desk, on my belt, and in my socks. I would sweet-talk girls to do assignments for me and pay or threaten guys to do them. But guess what? The only one I cheated was myself!

I expected to spend my life lifting weights and loafing on some secluded island beach somewhere. You could not have convinced me back then that God would one day change my life and call me into the ministry, that I would go to Bible college, and that I would need to apply what I learned in high school: English to write books, science and history for the research I would do, geography for the traveling I would be doing throughout the world to minister, math and algebra to understand finances, or languages when I went on missionary outreaches to foreign lands. At school, the only areas in which I applied myself were physical education and lunch.

When I went to Bible college, I had to spend time looking up words in the dictionary for spelling and meanings. It was much more difficult for me than most of the other students, because I had to learn what I missed in high school, as well as try to keep up with the information the Bible college instructors were teaching us. This difficulty was the result of the wasted high school years when I thought I was getting away with my cheating.

An additional problem was in the area of finances. When my wife and I ran away and got married as teenagers, although we were poor, we eventually followed the traditional American lifestyle of charge cards and loans. Before long we were over our heads in debt.

The Lord dealt with us, and we got rid of our credit cards and refused to take out any more interest loans. Eventually we did get more credit cards, but we pay them off each month so as not to incur any interest. We have applied the lessons we learned regarding finances to our ministry. That is one reason why it has operated so effectively on limited funds, and why we live better and happier than most people who have much more money but are deeply in debt.

I know what it means to be out of control. If God could bring my life under control, He can bring anyone's life under control.

The Scars Remain

The Bible says in Galatians 6:7,8 ––

"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."

I am a good illustration, for I am suffering many consequences from the foolish things I did before committing my life to Christ. I am not only trying to reverse some of those consequences through healthy living, but I am also letting people know that the Bible is true — you do reap what you sow.

Ecclesiastes 11:9 and 12:1 cautions us concerning how we live during our youth ––

"Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them.'"

Ecclesiastes 12:13,14 wisely concludes ––

"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."

You're free to make almost any choice you want. You can involve yourself in any kind of lifestyle you desire, but it's like being on a high roof. You can jump off if you want. You are free to make that decision. Once you jump off, however, you are no longer free. You are now a slave to the law of gravity which will splatter you on the ground below.

While you do have freedom to choose to get involved in drugs, alcohol, immorality, gambling, stealing, lying, fighting, vandalism, gossiping, gluttony, or other destructive behavior, the consequences will one day catch up to you. I've seen it 100% of the time. Maybe not overnight, but eventually you will reap what you sow; physically, mentally/emotionally, and spiritually. So, use wisdom deciding in what you participate.

God will forgive, but the scars and consequences often remain. For example, if a drunken driver kills a little child, God will forgive him if he asks, but he'll live with that memory for the rest of his life. That's why it is so important to develop self-control now!

Weakness is Lacking Self-Control

Proverbs 25:28 states ––

"Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control."

In Biblical days cities often had walls built around them, which made them strong and easy to defend fortresses. If the walls were broken down, the people were vulnerable and defenseless against the enemies' attacks. So God is saying, "If you have self-control, it's like having a wall around the city — you're strong. However, a person without self-control is weak, defenseless, and vulnerable."

Alexander the Great was a powerful man who conquered and controlled most of the known world. His empire extended from Greece to India, but he could not conquer his lusts. He died at age 33 after taking ill following a prolonged banquet and drinking bout. Is that real control? Is that strength? Is that what you want in your life?

Consider many of the rock stars, movie actors, and great athletes who are often idolized. They flaunt their out-of-control and rebellious lifestyles. Many covet their fame, money, and power. But the outcome of their lives is often tragedy. That's not the end result that God desires for you.

Proverbs 16:32 says ––

"He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city." (NAS)

You can go out and conquer a city — even conquer the world — but if you cannot tame your spirit, you have not achieved the strength that God wants you to have. Controlling your very spirit, temper, desires, thoughts, and behavior, is better than conquering other people or achieving great accomplishments.

I know those who can do phenomenal, almost superhuman, feats. Yet many of those same people can't control their tongues or tempers. They are unable to control their lust, jealousy, hatred, bitterness, worry, or fear. That is weakness, not strength. Is there any real benefit in the ability to do phenomenal feats when the rest of a person's life is out of control? Far more important than external displays of power is the inner molding of our character, attitudes, and spirit.

The Essence of Strength is Self-Control

The world's view of strength is distorted. It equates strength with fighting better, drinking more alcohol, jumping from bed to bed, acting wild and crazy, robbing and vandalizing. But that's a lie. I know because I lived that lie. If you think that is strength, then you are being deceived. I have told young people and adults, including many military, martial artists, weightlifters, gang members, and prisoners throughout the U.S. and world that anyone can live a life out of control. I can teach anyone to fight, rob and steal, vandalize, swear, smoke, drink, and do drugs. Any wimp can do that. But it takes true courage, strength, and self-control to resist the peer pressure and live for Christ. Let's expose the lie that the world has been telling us about what is cool and what is strength.

Before I stopped doing demonstrations, I illustrated this point in school assemblies and detention centers by doing two back kicks. First, I would demonstrate a kick to the chest with no control, knocking my assistant back. "Anyone can do that," I'd say. "It's very easy to kick with no control."

The second kick was also at full speed, but I would stop my foot within a fraction of an inch of my assistant's face, or lightly touch his face with the bottom of my foot. I would also do about 15 hand techniques at full speed, within a fraction of an inch of my assistant's face. Because I used control, I never touched him. "To have control," I would explain, "requires far more strength and ability."

It is the controlled person who is the powerful person. In the Greek, "without self-control" means powerless or without strength — therefore, the Biblical inference is: a person without self-control is weak, and a person with self-control is strong.

Before I became a Christian, I thought Christians were weak. That's one reason why I didn't want to give my life to Christ. I later discovered it takes more strength to live for Jesus Christ than for any other lifestyle.

I equated strength with how much you could bench press, how many people you could beat up, or how much you could drink. I soon realized that is not the essence of true strength. Physical strength does not impress me now as much as inner strength. Being able to chug a six-pack of beer, bench press 400 pounds, or defeat ten others at the same time is not as powerful as having self-control. There is a power greater than physical strength, and that is the inner strength and control that comes through the transforming power of God's Spirit.

Even after I became a Christian, I had an extensive, intensive, and rigorous weightlifting and martial arts training program before God led me out. In three hours a week, I would accomplish more and achieve a higher level of conditioning and efficiency than most people did with ten hours a week. But God began to deal with me about what constitutes real strength. I still exercise to keep in shape, but I have discontinued my extensive training. I put down my desire for physical strength and power for something far more important — inner strength, character, and spiritual power.

How to Develop Self-Control

Some of these illustrations show the consequences of not having self-control and the great benefits from having it. I could have shared many more, but hopefully I have given enough to motivate you to desire the tremendous benefits that having self-control will bring. So how do you develop self-control? I am going to share some practical, yet crucial, principles from God's Word concerning how you can begin to develop discipline and self-control over every aspect of your life.

Many have made mistakes from being out of control in some area of their lives, but no matter what you've done, there is hope. As Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery,

"Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11).  

Written to believers, I John 1:9 states ––

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

You have to assume responsibility for your behavior. Many people like to blame their problems on their parents, their environment, peer pressure, God, or Satan. That should not be surprising, for from the beginning of human history, we have been blaming others. When God confronted Adam after he ate the forbidden fruit, Adam blamed Eve and said, "It's the woman you gave me, God." Eve said, "It's the serpent." So, too, many Christians today attribute their out-of-control behavior to Satan or someone or something other than themselves. If we are going to change, we must assume responsibility for our own behavior and quit blaming others.

I have cautioned many people who were abusing themselves physically by over consumption of junk food and other unhealthy practices. Most smiled at me and said, "No problem. It's not hurting me." I usually responded, "You can either choose to discipline yourself now or one day you will be forced to." Sure enough, because of health problems, many of these people have already been forced by doctors to change their diets and lifestyles. For some it was too late, and contributed to their untimely deaths.

You Have to Be Motivated

I prayed many times to overcome several sins from my past that controlled me. However, I was continually defeated because I was not really motivated. But the Lord knows how to motivate. He convinced me that my old lifestyle led to death and destruction. That motivated me to take steps to bring my life under control.

When I really wanted to be set free, and I truly repented before the Lord, He intervened and gave me the wisdom and power of His Spirit to walk in victory according to the principles of His Word.

Flee Youthful Lusts

Follow the advice of II Timothy 2:22, "Flee also youthful lusts (KJV)." Avoid movies, music, magazines, places, and people that entice you to sin. Before you let the situation get out of control — STOP! Think about the consequences. Depend on the Spirit of God to give you the wisdom and self-control to resist the temptation and to even flee the scene if necessary (Genesis 39:7-12).

When I taught self-defense clinics, I demonstrated how to avoid potential confrontations and how to deal with attack situations. "But the most important principle," I would tell the group, "is to use wisdom in avoiding places, people, and situations in which you know a confrontation or an attack is likely to occur." Likewise, to overcome temptation that controls you, avoid places, people, and situations that would entice you into sin and into compromising circumstances. I Thessalonians 5:22 wisely admonishes us to

"Abstain from all appearance of evil" (KJV).

Jesus knew how important it is to deal with and remove our source of temptation. He said in Matthew 18:8,9 ––

"If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell."

Jesus did not mean for you to do this literally. If that were so, the disciples and New Testament believers would all have been maimed and crippled. Rather, He wanted to emphasize the importance of using wisdom in removing and avoiding sources of temptation.

Stand faithfully on I Corinthians 10:13 which promises ––

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

Do not purposely place yourself in a tempting situation and expect this principle to come to your rescue –– that's flirting with failure and tempting God.

When you sin, quickly go before the Lord and confess your sin, realizing that He is now our great High Priest as shown in Hebrews 4:14-16 ––

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are –– yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

Mental Discipline

If you want to change your behavior, you have to change your thought life. Mental discipline is crucial. If you want to control your words and actions, learn to control your thoughts and attitude.

Coaches tell players, "You give up first in your mind, then your body quits." When I was totally exhausted from working out on the trampoline, my gymnastic instructor would say, "You're not really tired. You can keep going. It's all in your head." I would think, "That's easy for you to say. I can't; I'm going to die." Then some girls would walk into the gym, and I would quickly revive. He was right, it was all in my mind.

Whether you're at work, on vacation, watching TV, driving down the road, walking at the mall, or even sitting in the pew, there are constant sources of temptation. We're all exposed! Billboards, advertisements, magazines, books, TV, music, and scantily clad people constantly stimulate the mind into lustful thoughts and lure us with temptations of pride, greed, and self-indulgence. It's only by the grace of God anyone survives unscathed in this decadent society.

Everyone has tempting thoughts, but you can control what you do with them. Your thoughts and temptations are not sin, unless you dwell on them or give in to them. What you do with those thoughts and with those temptations determines whether it is merely a temptation or actual sin.

In Matthew 15:19, Christ reveals that sin begins in the heart. He states: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality ...." Sin first begins in our hearts and minds. Therefore, if we are going to overcome the temptations we daily face, we must effectively eradicate these thoughts before they can control and enslave us.

What you program into your mind will eventually manifest in your thoughts, attitudes, words, and behavior. Your thoughts lead to attitudes. Your thoughts and attitudes produce an emotional response. Your thoughts, attitudes, and emotions lead to actions. Your actions lead to habits and patterns. Your habits and patterns lead to a lifestyle. Your lifestyle effects your destiny.

That's why God puts so much emphasis on the heart and the inward man. He knows that if you are going to gain victory over your behavior and actions, you must control your thoughts and attitudes.

If you fill your mind with jealousy, you'll eventually end up with bitterness and gossiping. If you fill your mind with hatred and revenge, you'll end up verbally and/or physically abusing people. If you fill your mind with lustful thoughts and sex-oriented movies, books, and music, your involvement in sexual immorality is inevitable.

It is not surprising that so many people have lustful thoughts and sexual problems. No wonder so many can't control their tongues, tempers, or appetites, or are controlled by worry, fear, jealousy, and bitterness. Their minds are programmed with degenerate materials.

The Lord has taught me that I must not tolerate certain thoughts. Thoughts of lust, worry, fear, jealousy, anger, revenge, pride, and greed that come into my mind are intruders that will destroy me. God says, "Resist them!" Fight against them as though you were fighting against an intruder in your house who was attempting to rape and kill your family. In such a situation I am sure you would stand and fight, and endure until every ounce of strength was gone.

Those thoughts of jealousy, bitterness, lust, or pride are intruders in your mind that will eventually destroy you if allowed to stay. You must say, "I will not tolerate these thoughts. I choose right now by an act of my will to resist them. I will not let jealousy, bitterness, fear, worry, anger, pride, and greed control me. I choose to show love and forgiveness, to walk in courage, faith, and meekness."

We must persistently say, "No!" to our temptations. James 4:7 says,

"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."

Titus 2:11-13 says ––

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ."

II Corinthians 7:1 says ––

"Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God."

We must develop discipline as the following Scriptures indicate.

II Corinthians 10:5 encourages us to

"take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Romans 12:2 says –– "

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — His good, pleasing and perfect will."

Psalm 119:9,11 asks, and then answers a very relevant question ––

"How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word. I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You."

Philippians 4:8 tells us ––

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things."

Most Christians think all they have to do is avoid watching, reading, or listening to things that are bad for them. Scripture is telling us to not only do that, but to also watch, read, listen to, and associate with that which will be a positive influence in our lives and conform us to the likeness of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

Live by the Spirit

We have freedom in Christ. However, if something controls you, you no longer have liberty, but enslavement. God wants you free.

The choice is yours — will you be controlled by the lusts of the flesh that eventually lead to destruction, death, and eternal separation from God, or will you be transformed by the Spirit of Christ, the fruit of which leads to tremendous victory, blessing, peace, and joy?

Galatians 5:16-25 states ––

"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with it's passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with [walk in] the Spirit."

Galatians 5:22,23 reveals that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, not of will power. If you try to develop self-control merely with your own strength and self-effort, you will be continually frustrated. You need God's Spirit to help bring your life under control. He will enable you to apply the Biblical principles necessary for developing self-control.

I tried to quit stealing. I tried to quit drinking. I tried to live by the Ten Commandments. But I was continually defeated. I was out of control. Although I could gain control for a few days or a few weeks at a time, it didn't last.

When I surrendered my will to Christ, He changed my life. As I sought the Lord with all my heart through studying His Word, prayer, and fasting, His Spirit continued transforming and empowering me. I was able through Him to develop the fruit of self-control.

The closer we draw to the Lord, by getting into His Word and allowing His Spirit to work in our lives, the more we will be conformed to His likeness, and the more we will manifest the fruit of His Spirit in our lives and walk in victory over that which controls us.

Controlled by Nothing but the Lord

Paul said in I Corinthians 6:12 ––

"All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered [or controlled] by anything." (NAS)

I don't know about you, but I do not want to be controlled by my temper or my tongue. I do not want to be consumed with lust, greed, or fear. I do not want to be a slave to destructive habits such as drugs, alcohol, or stealing. I do not want to be victimized by peer pressure. I do not want to be mastered by sinful thoughts, attitudes, emotions, or actions. I only want to be controlled by my Lord. I want to bring every area of my life under His control and walk in His wisdom, strength, and empowerment.

It Takes Time

People often say to me, "Bill, I want you to pray for me. I want self-control from God and I want it now!" I wish I could lay hands on you and zap you so you would have all your problems removed and have instant self-control over every area of your life, but that's not the way it works. It took me years to obtain the self-control I have developed from walking with the Lord and applying the truth of His Word.

What is needed more than instant deliverance or some easy technique or formula that only deals with the symptoms, is a consistent life of discipline and self-control. Never forget, the essence of true strength, is self-control –– being under His control!

As a person who was totally out of control, I'm telling you that if God can change me and bring my life under control and give me the physical, mental, and spiritual discipline and victory that He has, He can do it for anybody. If you persistently apply the principles I have been sharing, you will reap some fantastic benefits and blessings.