Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Self Discipline vs. Self Control

“Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. Colossians 2:21-23

Self-discipline seems like such a good idea. I wish we were all able to genuinely produce whatever type of change we wanted to see in ourselves. I was recently asked what the difference between self-discipline and self-control was. I said self-discipline is pushing ourselves or putting pressure on ourselves to change. This pressure is often maintained through goals or rules. The emphasis is generally on working and doing as the means to change. If we change as a result of self-discipline we feel proud of what we have accomplished. This type of pride is busy and noisy and the opposite of the gratefulness and awe the Lord wants to grow in us. Self-control, on the other hand is a fruit of the spirit. It is something God does in and for us. The way we grow self-control is to admit we lack it, long for it to change and wait for God to work in us. Self-control grows by admitting, longing and waiting. The 'work' we do in this way of changing is being honest about our failures and limitations, allowing ourselves to feel pain as we long for more and standing up to the condemnation from evil that says God will never show up for us. I believe that 'work' is actually harder than doing something. We are often fooled that activity and self-inflicted pressure leads to change more than truth, desire and relationship. In fact, in Christian circles we often think desire is bad or gets us in to trouble. However, it says "Blessed are those who hunger or thirst for righteousness for they will be filled" (Matt 5:6).
In a more 'Gospel centered' process of change we may use a 'means of grace'. There are many examples of a means of grace. We might not have dessert in the home to help with self-indulgence or use Covenant Eyes to help with lust, or have a friend we talk to about our tendency to gossip. We then pray and wait for the change to happen because the absence of dessert or the exposure of what we are doing through Covenant Eyes or the honesty of a God relationship might help us to say no to indulgence, lust or gossip but that doesn't mean we have actually changed. The freedom to genuinely say no comes not from removing the obstacle but is something God does in us. Perhaps you have heard the term 'a dry drunk.' This is someone who has stopped drinking but underlying problems that contributed to the drinking have not changed. Removing the alcohol and being part of a group that helps you to say no is a means to grace. It helps you do what you want to do but it doesn't mean you have changed. Alcohol might be the particular idol and it’s good for the idol to be removed but it doesn't mean the false worship has been replaced with genuine worship. That takes time. So in any case I think we are quieter when we aim for inner change through truth, desire and relationship with the living God and employ a means of grace as necessary. Devotion, pious self-denial and severe bodily discipline are not ways to genuinely experience life giving and God-breathed change. So as a reminder...
Self-discpline we work, push and fret
Self-control we admit, long and wait

3 comments:

Luke said...

Nice way to distinguish these. It seems the contrast between the unhelpful sort of self-control mentioned in Colossians 2 is the attitude mentioned in Colossians 3. Instead of merely suppressing desire, we are to set our affections and thoughts on Christ, on the pleasures at his right hand.

Thanks for mentioning CE as well. Stop by our blog some time:
www.CovenantEyes.com/blog

gchris said...

Yes - I don't think we are to suppress desire - I think we are to aim for the redemption of desire. If we only focus on the self-control aspect of sin I think we will end up excerbating sin. A friend of mines summarizes one of the themes from Romans 7 as "if you preach the law you inflame sinful passions." So I would say where we lack self control and feed into lust (or gossip, gluttony, etc.) we are to aim and pray for change while at the same time we are to set our affections on heaven and lavishly practice at mercy, kindness, gentleness, patience, etc.. We don't grow in holiness by merely trying to stop sinning we also thirst after, aim towards and practice at much more beautiful things

Hilary Nwakor said...

I think this is a better way to distinguish between this two. I love your article. Its very filling. May God give your more wisdom to handle problems like this.