God’s Training For Self-Control

The pandemic is teaching us much about ourselves. Singles may be learning more about our need for quiet to function at a higher level or our need for companionship to not slip into discouragement or depression. Couples who are spending more time together are (hopefully) learning how to live together 24/7. Family members working and learning at home together are getting to know each other in entirely new ways. Parents see the fruit of their training as children either embrace virtual learning or fail miserably (most probably falling somewhere in-between.) Online learning is challenging, even for those who are technically gifted. It requires effective time-management, writing and communication skills, and greater focus than in-person classroom instruction. Parents are either setting up the environment for their children, or children are taking responsibility for making the most of their time and energy during the COVID pandemic. In the former group, obedience to parental instructions is crucial. But, older students may have already learned to be self-disciplined—to be more self-controlled about distractions, moods, and hindrances to their concentration. These challenging times and all our earthly trials provide the means to learn essential life-skills. God provides just such difficulties for our spiritual maturity and training in godliness. 

Self-control is essential to our faithfulness. Having been regenerated, given new hearts, we begin to live for and with Christ through the work of the Spirit and his gifts. We cannot separate the purity we have from Christ from the work of sanctification. We cannot become more holy until Christ has imputed his righteousness to us, making us a particular people for himself. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14) This passage begins and ends with a proclamation of gospel truth—Christ saves by redeeming a people for his possession (vs. 11, 14). “Paul gives the theological basis for the lifestyles he has described in vs. 1–10…One cannot truly claim to be a recipient of saving grace without also being a pupil of “training grace.” This change in lifestyle is rooted in the atonement (v. 14) and the expectation of Christ’s return (v. 13).” (1) Christ died to purify and train his particular people for godly living, longing for his return.

If taken wrongly, out of context, one might think verse 11 teaches universal salvation. However, neither Paul, other New nor Old Testament writers, nor Jesus ever proclaimed that all people would be saved. Therefore my devotions and Paul’s proclamation are primarily for those given to Christ by God, the Father. (See John 6:37, 44, 65) “Now these people, for whom Christ has given himself, and whom he has redeemed and purifies, are a “peculiar people”; for whom Christ has a peculiar love, in whom he takes a peculiar delight, and to whom he grants peculiar nearness to himself, and bestows peculiar blessings on them, and makes peculiar provisions for them, both for time and eternity; these are Christ’s own, his possession, his substance, what he has a special right to by his Father’s gift, his own purchase, and the conquest of his grace…they are his peculiar treasure, his jewels, whom, as such, he values and takes care of…And they who are redeemed and purified by Christ, through the power of his grace upon them, become a people ‘zealous of good works’… [performing] them from principles of truth and love, and with a zeal for the glory of God, and the honour of his Gospel; and with an holy emulation of one another, striving to go before, and excel each other in the performance of them.” (2) “Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon in 1883 describing a weather-beaten sailor with mahogany colored skin, who looks like an aged oak, because he has been on the seas. No one looks that way by staying on the shore. Those who have developed the biblical spiritual fruit show it in a way that others don’t. They are recognized by others who also have mature fruit, developed through the work of God in the experiences of life. It is not about being old, but being mature.” (3) Since Christ died to purify and train us, his particular people for godly living, longing for his return, should we not embrace God’s plan for our training in holiness, godliness, and good works, even self-control?

Ah, but first we need training “…to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (v. 12). In the previous verse, Paul brought out the Old Testament view of a people for God’s own possession (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6). Now we see how the law of God for obedience to him is directly related to gospel salvation of us, his “treasured possession.” “What I must decide is whether or not I will agree with my Lord and Master that my body will indeed be His temple. Once I agree, all the rules, regulations, and requirements of the law concerning the body are summed up for me in this revealed truth-my body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” (4) We cannot divorce the law of God from the gospel work of God. For self-control to become the norm, one must be happily under the mastery and control of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. “…[the] lesson of self-denial, or of the denial of sinful self, the Gospel teaches, and urges upon the most powerful motives and arguments; and when attended by the Spirit of God, does it effectually.” (5) As the Spirit trains us in godly, self-disciplined living, he gives us a desire to be progressively more intimate with our Savior, which increases our desire to be like him, letting nothing separate us from our fellowship with God. 

When we long for intimacy with Jesus, we find ourselves “…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (v. 13) “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” (Galatians 5:5) “The Greek for waiting often carries a connotation of eagerness. Eagerly expecting the return of Christ is the way grace trains Christians to renounce sin and live in a godly way (see vs. 11–12). Setting one’s mind on the truth of Christ’s return impels a person to holiness (see 1 John 3:2–3).” (6) Our training in godly living begins with our salvation and continues through our fellowship with Christ, longing for even more fellowship—I can’t seem to say this enough!. As we embrace him, our ability to be self-controlled increases exponentially. We all know that we become like those we spend time with, how others’ character influences us. It is even more so with Christ since he lives in us through his Spirit, who not only trains us but empowers us to live for him in holiness and good works. No wonder James could confidently say, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27) The apostle knew the power of communing with Christ, who works all things for good for those who are called by God and love him (Romans 8:28). 

Related Scripture: Exodus 19:5-6a; Ezekiel 37:23; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Timothy 5:22; Titus 3:4-7; James 1:27; 2 Peter 3:11-14; 1 John 2:16-17.

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Titus 2:11-14, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Titus 2:14 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/titus-2.html
  3. Spurgeon, Charles, “What Saith the Scripture?” http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Text.Only/pdfs/Sermons_Spurgeon_Text.pdf
  4. Chambers, Oswald, “The Temple of the Holy Spirit,” December 5 devotion, https//utmost.org/the-temple-of-the-holy-spirit/
  5. Gill, Ibid, Titus 2:12.
  6. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Ibid.

December 11, 2020

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