The Root of the Problem (Part 16): Lack of Self-Control

The Root of the Problem: Why We Sin & How We Can Overcome

It is easy to look at our society today and conclude that self-control is an old-fashioned virtue. If we desire something, we should go get it. If something feels good, do it. This is the message that our culture is preaching to us. But regardless of the prevailing mindset of society, the Scriptures teach us that we must exercise self-control.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Now for this reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in you knowledge, self-control…” (2 Peter 1:5-6).

What is interesting about these passages is that self-control is a quality that is developed as a result of living by faith and following the direction of the Spirit. If one is led by the Spirit, following the teachings in Scripture that have been revealed by Him, self-control is a fruit that will be produced. It is this quality that we must add to our faith and continue to grow in (2 Peter 1:8) so that we can overcome sin.

This goes back to the point we have been emphasizing from the beginning. To follow Jesus, we must give up sin. We must continually work to achieve this goal. Self-control is vital for this. We must learn to exercise control over our minds and hearts. If we fail to do this, we will perpetually be fighting a losing battle against sin. Struggling to overcome sin will never work unless we get to the root of the problem.

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

Sin is the result of lust. Lust originates in our heart. We must learn to control this. Just because something seems pleasant or desirable for the moment does not mean that the same will be true in the long term – particularly in view of eternity.

And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me’” (Luke 9:23).

Jesus says we are to deny ourselves. That is, we must exercise control over our minds and our hearts so that we might submit to His will and follow Him rather than follow after our own desires. He says it will require a daily effort to do this. We must remain firm in our resolve to overcome sin and to follow His will.

There will be times when we might want to quit the battle against sin. We may want to temporarily surrender and give a little bit of ground to our enemy. But we must not do this. It will not work for us to strive to overcome sin only when we feel up to the challenge or when it is convenient. We must strive to overcome sin at all times – daily, as Jesus said. So we must learn to exercise self-control – denying ourselves in order to follow Christ.

Developing Self-Control

But how do we do this? What can be done to help us develop self-control in our battle against sin? We find the answer in Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

The weapons that we have to use in this spiritual battle are of divine origin. Chiefly, we have “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Using this weapon properly, Paul says we are able to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Often we think of this as it relates to our teaching others – we teach the word to them, they obey it. But we should also direct this at ourselves. As we read and study God’s word, we should become “captive to the obedience of Christ.” We must become slaves of righteousness while recanting our allegiance to sin (Romans 6:16-17). If we are to break the bonds of sin, we must exercise self-control in refusing to become enslaved again to it.

Paul told the Romans that a sign of maturity is that we no longer live to please ourselves (Romans 15:1). While he is discussing in that context the need to bear with our brethren, the principle extends to our relationship with God. We must put Him first, rather than seeking our own selfish desires.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

If we seek God’s way first, rather than our own way, we will be far better equipped to overcome sin.

There are many external forces that can lead us into sin. But none will be able to do so unless we desire to sin. There could be many reasons why we desire to engage in a particular sin (personal gain, approval of others, etc.); but that desire must be there or else we will not sin.

Therefore, we need to add self-control to our faith and grow in it in order to reach the point that we choose to do right, rather than give in to our lusts. Eventually, we should grow to the point where the things after which we once lusted, we no longer desire. This is the goal of denying self – to be able to say as Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).


Lust leads to sin. Therefore, to overcome sin, you must learn to deny self. This must be done daily. Put God first, ahead of anything you might desire. Eventually, you need to reach the point where sin is no longer desirable to you.

This material is taken from the book, The Root of the Problem: Why We Sin & How We Can Overcome, published by Gospel Armory, © 2010.

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