Biblical Self-Control For a COVID Christmas

We are in the height of the Christmas season and COVID is raging. Christmas music is playing everywhere, lights are up, and packages are arriving. But people are tired of all the restrictions, which are increasing even as vaccinations are underway. This is the perfect time to meditate on godly self-control, while masks and self-isolation are strongly encouraged, and gathering is unwise. People who ignore this advice, leaving themselves vulnerable to the COVID virus, which may be OK with them, but they are also potentially causing others to become sick by association. In Proverbs 25:28, Solomon profoundly says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” His wise saying starts with a single man lacking self-control but then compares him to an entire city that becomes vulnerable. Such is the case with COVID. “Self-control relates to the passions (such as anger or love), the appetites (for food, sex, and the will (as illustrated by impulsive decisions). The lack of self-control is a mark of a fool. He is like a city left without walls, that is, with no means of defense against enemies.” (1) COVID is an enemy today. Our attitudes, beliefs, values, priorities, morals, and convictions are on display as we react to the virus’s danger, spread, and vaccination. Our self-control is vital for wise decisions rather than fearful or compulsive behavior or adamant disregard for others’ well-being. 

The Bible is the authority for believers; we want to be self-controlled in a world where personal freedom and liberty are highly valued. Today’s passage is 2 Peter 1:3-8 “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are self-controlled because of our faith, primarily, but also as a result of Christ’s virtue granted for believers, and our knowledge of God and his commands. Through our self-control, we are steadfast in the exercise of our faith, godly affection, and loving conduct toward others. “Now the Gospel, and the precious promises, being graciously bestowed and powerfully applied, have an influence on purity of heart and conversation, and teach men to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly; such are the powerful effects of Gospel promises, under divine influence, as to make men inwardly partakers of the divine nature, and outwardly to abstain from and avoid the prevailing corruptions and vices of the times.” (2) God gives us steadfast godliness, virtue, self-control, and love for others through our knowledge of Christ. We are to exercise our faith in and knowledge of Christ with pragmatic virtue, resolute godliness, and affection for others. 

We are no longer slaves to “the corrupt manners of the world, or those corruptions and vices which, are prevalent in the world, and under the power and dominion of which the world lies.” (3) But, we struggle to remember that our identity lies in Christ, and only through his power can we somewhat successfully live as new creatures in him. All believers struggle with sin, even our great Fathers of the Faith. Paul writes, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14-25)

John Gill addresses the conflict in his commentaries son Proverbs 25 and 2 Peter 1: “There is a knowledge of Christ which is barren and fruitless…He that hath no rule over his own spirit…His affections and passions, puts no restraint, unto them, as the word signifies; no guard against them, no fence about them, to curb his curiosity, to check his pride and vanity, to restrain his wrath and anger and revenge, and keep within due bounds his ambition and itch of vainglory…but there is a knowledge of him that is spiritual and experimental, by which a soul not only approves of Christ, but places its trust and confidence in him, and appropriates him to himself, and practically observes his commands and ordinances in the faith of him; and in love to him he performs the above duties, and exercises the above graces…he is not like the barren fig tree, or the earth that bears briers and thorns, and is nigh to cursing and burning, but like a tree planted by a river of water, and is green, flourishing, and fruitful.” (4) Our relationships with Christ yield steadfast godliness, virtue, self-control, and love for others, in opposition to our ungodly tendencies. As we continue to exercise our faith in Christ with pragmatic virtue, committed godliness, and loving affection for others, our knowledge of him also increases.

Commenting on Romans 7, James Boice writes, “What I want to commend to you as we face the fact of the war within us is what J. I. Packer calls ‘spiritual realism.’ He talks about it toward the end of his study of the various Christian views of holiness, ‘Keep in Step with the Spirit.’ As Packer defines it, ‘Realism has to do with our willingness or lack of willingness to face unpalatable truths about ourselves and to start making necessary changes.’ In light of Romans 7:14–24, I want to suggest four statements with which this spiritual realism should start.

  1. “When God called us to be Christian people, he called us to lifetime struggles against sin.
  2. Although we are called to a lifetime struggle against sin, we are nevertheless never going to achieve victory by ourselves.
  3. Even when we triumph over sin by the power of the Holy Spirit, which should be often, we are still unprofitable servants.
  4. And yet, we are to go on fighting and struggling against sin, and we are to do so with the tools made available to us, chiefly prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship, service to others, and the sacraments.”

“We are never to quit in this great battle against sin. We are to fight it with every ounce of energy in our bodies and with our final breath. Only then, when we have finished the race, having kept the course, may we rest from warfare.” (5) According to Scripture, self-control is not a single act of resisting temptation, but an aspect of our sanctified life in Christ, as we oppose what opposes God, love what he loves, and do what pleases him. How? “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:10-13) How will you remember this Christmas—as one of restrictions or one when you and others trusted in the Lord with self-control?

Related Passages: Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Ephesians 4:22-24; Philippians 4:8; Titus 3:14; James 1:3; Hebrews 13:1; 2 Peter 2:18-22

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Proverbs 25:28, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 2 Peter 1:4, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2peter-1.html
  3. Gill, Ibid.
  4. Gill, Ibid.
  5. Gill, Ibid, Proverbs 25:28; 2 Peter 1:8.
  6. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 7:14-24, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

December 18, 2020

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