If this is not one of your resolutions, it is a part of all of them. It is almost a dirty word, if we ponder what it demands. “Self-control.” We call it will power, self-discipline, or restraint, but it invokes those difficult life principles like commitment, duty, and drive. It’s doing a little bit more of what it takes or doing a little less of what you want in order to reach a goal (paying off debt, 10 more minutes in the workout, passing up cake, choosing Bible reading over social media or TV, etc.). The Christian understands that God has called him or her to a life of self-control. In what is really God-control—submitting our hearts and lives to God’s will—we are to live lives that call for self-denial and lead to discipleship. Our resolutions probably take that central truth into consideration.
The word used in the New Testament can seem daunting. The word ἐγκράτεια (enkrateia) means “to exercise complete control over one’s desires and actions” (Louw-Nida 750). It is daunting because it is exhausting (“exercise”), exhaustive (“complete”), and extensive (“control over desires and actions”). It leaves no part of me unexplored and unchecked. It takes in the internal and the external.
Yet, it is a mark of the redeemed. You find it in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). You find it in the Christian virtues, which speak of all that is gained or lost depending on whether those things are incorporated into our lives (2 Pet. 1:6). You find it attached to judgment and eternity (Acts 24:25). So, it is something God calls for in our lives anyway.
Pray for self-control. Identify the saboteurs of your self-control and eliminate, avoid, and address them. Be intentional, thinking specifically about the area where self-control is lacking (tongue, temper, tastebuds, etc.) and considering ways to improve there. Acknowledge times when you have succeeded or are succeeding and appreciate how good that feels.
What follows the exercise of self-control is almost always tangible results. Be patient. If you stumble, get back up and keep trying. At the end of that road is success!