An essential practice of Christ-like living is the exercise of self-control. As Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25). Self-control requires making short term sacrifices in order to achieve something greater. An op-ed in the New York Times, shared a study that demonstrated that those who exhibited the most self-control "went on to have higher SAT scores than the ones who couldn’t wait. In later years they were thinner, earned more advanced degrees, used less cocaine, and coped better with stress."
Self-discipline doesn't come easily or naturally. The goal for every child is to move from being managed by outside forces to being self-managed with Christ. Strong’s Concordance describes the Greek, “egkrateia,” as "self-control – proceeding out from within oneself, but not by oneself.” Jesus, the expert on overcoming temptation (Hebrews 4:15), has not left us to battle it out alone. He has given us guidance and a Helper. Self-control is a product of having the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23).
“Egkrateia” is also described as mastery, as in having mastery over fleshly desires and passions. Mastery over anything is not accomplished overnight, but with careful and persistent effort. Self-control is a skill that can be taught and a muscle that can be grown, but it takes time and practice. As parents, not only should we teach self-control, but model it, demonstrating the beauty and attractiveness of a holy and self-controlled life. And when we’ve pulled the plank out of our own eye, we may then see clearly to pull the splinter from our child’s eye (Matthew 7:5).
Children need instructions to help them learn how to master their impulses. Here are some lessons from scripture on how to overcome temptations.
1. Expect trials and temptations. And pray."Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you" (I Peter 4:12). This same word for trial, "peirasmon" in the original Greek is also translated as temptation, such as Jesus used in teaching us to pray "Bring us not into temptation" (Matthew 6:13).
2. It’s a battle. It can be hard and frustrating.As Paul empathizes, choosing right when faced with temptation is much easier said than done. "For I delight in God’s law after the inward man, but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, the sin’s law" (Romans 7:22-25).
3. Christ has won the battle, has set us free from the power of sin, and has empowered us to make the right choices.
"Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin” (Romans 6:6).
4. We are meant to do good things with the freedom and power we have been given."For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
5. We never have to battle alone. The Holy Spirit dwells within us (Ephesians 2:22, I Corinthians 6:19) and will help us overcome temptation.
God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (I Corinthians 10:13). "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh," (Galatians 5:16).
Jesus endured the cross, resisting the temptation to give in to his screaming flesh, by focusing on the “joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). It is encouraging to focus on the end-result of self-control. In Christ we are called to live into the best life that God has always intended for us, and to honor Christ’s sacrifice by worshiping God with our choices.