Discipline and Self-Control

This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.

This AG Perspective reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.

Why do Christians place such great emphasis on living a life of discipline and self-control?

The importance of discipline and self-control confronts us in two ways. First, the Bible requires it. Second, the out-of-control and over-indulgent, self-centered nature of our society clamors for the correction that comes only through a return to personal discipline and self-control.

As we observe the daily news reports, the anti-Christian themes of movie entertainment, and the subtle moral erosion of TV sitcoms, the Christian can’t help but ask, "What is this world coming to?" The Bible tells us clearly what it is coming to, especially as it describes the moral conditions of the last days of society as we know it.

It all comes down to a society out of control, without inner discipline. Second Timothy 3:1-5 goes on to say, "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power." If you skipped hurriedly over the list, thinking you knew them all, you might have missed "without self-control." All the other evil behaviors in the list are examples of the absence of self-control.

Christians should stand out as different from the evil ones who are fulfilling biblical prophecy. Jesus said, " By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).

Love, of course, is first in the list of the nine fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22,23). Self-control is last in the list. It regulates all the preceding fruit or virtues of the Spirit. Love without restraint becomes passion. Joy taken to excess is shallow frivolity. Peace without self-control becomes idleness. Patience without balance becomes apathy. Gentleness becomes weakness; goodness becomes self-serving. Faith completely without reason becomes blind superstition. Meekness taken to an extreme becomes timidity. The world speaks of love, joy, and peace, but its darkened mind knows only a false shadow of the divine reality. Christians should be examples of self-control before an out-of-control world.

In a depraved and evil world, self-control means complete abstinence from the ways of the ungodly (Psalm 1). The works of the flesh listed just before the fruit of the Spirit—"sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like" (Gal. 5:19-21)—must be eliminated from our lives by letting the Holy Spirit purify our walk before our Lord.

Discipline and self-control are marks of character. Persons who make no profession of Christian faith know that leisure and pleasure must be contained so higher goals and achievement can be attained. How much more should Christians balance employment and needed relaxation with the essential Christian disciplines of prayer, fasting, Bible study, and meditation on noble things.

Self-control is not a luxury to be added to other Christian virtues if one finds it convenient to do so. It is an identifying sign of the Spirit-filled Christian. Peter lists it among the seven virtues which, with all diligence, should be added to faith (2 Peter 1:5-7). "For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins" (2 Peter 1:8,9).


Self-control is an essential quality of good leadership. Not only should spiritual leaders be examples of self-control, but they should also encourage youth in the learning and practice of self-control. Not only are pastors to be examples of self-control, but Sunday school teachers and parents have an obligation to inculcate self-control in those for whom they have a spiritual responsibility.

This is an age of youth. By sheer weight of numbers, the voice of those under 20 is demanding to be heard. Yet by the very nature of youth, self-control is scarcely beginning to develop, either through natural experience or through the work of the Holy Spirit. Leadership that models self-control is needed today more than ever before.

The example of self-control must be consistent in the life of the one teaching it in order to have a positive influence. For instance, the appeal for abstinence from alcohol, would be greatly diminished if it was made by someone obviously intemperate in eating. Someone who loses his or her temper would not have much impact teaching on the evils of profanity.

It is indeed significant that self-control is one of the fruit of the Spirit-filled life.

The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.

All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.