The key to the Christian life is turning the tough days into victorious days. The Bible tells us that “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” The Bible also tells us that we can be “more than conquerors.” One of the ways that we learn this is to study and build endurance and stamina that can “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” A Christian must learn to build walls of defense against the sinful desires that wage war against his soul. Charles Bridges has observed that the person without self-control is easy prey to the invader: “He yields himself to the first assault of his ungoverned passions, offering no resistance. . . . Having no discipline over himself temptation becomes the occasion of sin, and hurries him on to fearful lengths that he had not contemplated. . . . Anger tends to murder. Unwatchfulness over lust plunges into an abyss of misery and despair.”
The Biblical Definition of Temperance
There was once a king who desired to have it all. He desired riches more than anything in the world. One day his dream came true. You have heard of it, “The Midas Touch.” He ran to the coffee table; he ran to the chair; he ran to the bed; he could not stop touching things—the sight of gold exhilarated him. He thought of everything he could get his hands on. He sat down to eat in the evening and he grabbed an apple and it turned to gold. He laughed with glee.
It was just about bedtime when his daughter came running to him, “Daddy, Daddy!” She jumped into his arms and there she remained frozen as gold. What was so good turned out to be cursed; this is what happens to us if we do not have self-control or the Biblical term, temperance in our lives. The good in this life will be spoiled.
The Bible uses the term temperance in a number of passages. Let’s consider Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
In the list is the word temperance. According to this passage, evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working in one’s life is that there is temperance in behavior. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It is one of the Christian graces that we are to grow in. As II Peter 1:5-6 says, “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge temperance
. . . .”
Strong’s Concordance gives the Greek word for temperance as the following: egkrateia. It means simply, “self-control” (especially continence). In other words, self-discipline.
When you think about the word discipline there are probably several different things that come to mind. To a child, it probably means getting a spanking for doing something he shouldn’t have done. To a soldier, discipline means conforming to the regulations, obedience to orders, K.P. duty, and reveille on cold mornings. To a student, discipline means a class with a lot of work and exams. To a church member, church discipline means voting someone out of the church that has broken their word in their covenant or in their behavior as a Christian.
All of these are correct. All of those are aspects of discipline. But all of those things are examples of imposed discipline in which one person or group forces or pushes another person to follow or obey. A parent disciplines his child to teach him obedience. The Army disciplines the soldier to teach strict obedience. A school disciplines by making students do the work. And the church disciplines in order to encourage members to remain faithful. It’s imposed discipline. So, when we turn the idea to ourselves, we are talking about putting disciplines into place to control ourselves. It is putting disciplines into place such as a parent or school to allow “self” to be able to accomplish the work that God has given one to do.
Why is self-control so important in a believer’s life? We don’t have anybody telling us what we have to do to live the Christian life. For instance, a Christian does not have anybody telling him how many hours a week to read his Bible, nor anybody making him attend all the church services at his church, nor anybody telling him how much time to spend in prayer, nor anybody following him around making sure that his light is shining in this dark world, nor anybody telling him how much should be given to the church. The list could go on and on in regard to a believer’s personal holiness. There’s only one thing that will keep a believer from doing wrong and living a self-centered life. It is the development of temperance or self-control through the work of the Holy Spirit.
And it takes a lot more character to have the self-discipline to do something on your own than it does to be told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it!