Abide: Self Control / True Grit
February 24, 2019
All right. Good morning. Thank you all for being here today. I mean you enjoying the Sun and how many of you are ready? For more snow. Let me see your hands. . . good. I’m preaching to the right crowd. All right, no more snow. We’re done with that. So glad you’re here today.
Let’s start this morning. We are at the end of a series called Abide, The Fruits of the Holy Spirit. We’ve been walking through this the last 6 weeks and today we’re going to conclude the series. I’ve been talking about this word Abide. Abide simply means to remain, or connect, to be steadfast, to persevere.
Jesus said this in John chapter 15. He said, I am the vine and you’re the branch. And apart from me, you can do nothing. You can’t bear fruit without Me, Jesus says. And so I want you to picture yourself as – I know it might sound a little strange – but picture yourself as a branch that’s connected to the vine, and that as you’re connected to that vine that’s where the source of life and health and energy and joy and peace, all of these things flow. And when we’re connected to Jesus, then we bear what the Bible says is fruits of the Holy Spirit, which is love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. And today we’re going to be talking about self-control. It kind of book-ends this whole series about the fruits of the Holy Spirit. And I think of all the fruits of the holy spirit that we could talk about, I believe that probably self-control is one of the most challenging for everyone across the board.
I don’t know if you heard of this before, anybody ever heard of the Marshmallow Test? If you have, raise your hand, I’m curious to see how many people have heard of the marshmallow test. Okay, maybe half of you guys. The marshmallow test was simply this, was a test done by this Professor Michelle back in the middle sixties, and he went to Stanford University, and he asked some of the professors if he could examine some of their own children. And he got children between the ages of I think it was like, 4 all the way up to 10. He and his assistants would take these these young elementary students that would put them into a room, put a desk in the room, a chair, and a bell, and then they would set them in the room. And then while the student was sitting there, they put a nice fluffy big white marshmallow right in front of them. Remember, this is the 60s where a marshmallow was a big deal. Not so much anymore, I get that. But for, you know, a 6 year old, 8 year old, having a big fluffy marshmallow right in front of them, the professor told the students, he said listen, he said, you can have your marshmallow right now if you want, or if you wait for just a little while, we’ll give you another one, you can have two marshmallows. And so we’re going to step out of the room but here’s the marshmallow. If you want the marshmallow ring the bell then we’ll come in and you can have your marshmallow. And if you can wait long enough, then we’ll give you another marshmallow.
So he and his assistants walked out of the room, and it was interesting to find out, but a lot of the students looked at the marshmallow and without ringing the bell, took the marshmallow and stuffed it right in their face. I mean that was, what they were trying to do is look at the ability of young people to exercise self-restraint or self-control. Now some of the students were able to suppress their desire for that marshmallow. And so what they found they had this two-way mirror and they were looking at the students is that some of the students would, like, cover their eyes so they couldn’t see the marshmallow. And some of them got underneath the desk so they didn’t have to see it. And some went so far as to go into the corner of the room and put their head in the corner so they wouldn’t see the marshmallow. And so the professor waited for three minutes, 4 minutes, 5 minutes – this is an eternity in a six-year-old’s mind – 10 minutes went by. 15 minutes went by, and some of the students were still in the corner or still under the desk still had their eyes closed. And after that long of a period, he would come in and he gave them another marshmallow.
Now years later he conducted some research on those same students that went through that marshmallow test, and this maybe is not as familiar for some of you, but what he discovered blew his mind. He discovered that those who were able to suppress their desire for that marshmallow, he discovered – and he said this was the strangest result, but of all the results that we found in the survey, this one shocked us most – is that they had a lower body mass index than the other kids who couldn’t control themselves. He said they were more successful in their businesses and in their fields and he said on average those were able to say no to that marshmallow had a 210 Point higher score on there a ACTs as a result of saying no, of being able to be self-controlled.
And I find that really fascinating. Because they also did it to a bunch of college students. Now they didn’t offer a white fluffy sugary marshmallow, cuz who what college student wants that right? You know what they did? They offered cold hard cash. And this is what they told the college students. They said we’ll give you $18 now, or will give you $100 a year from now. $18 now or a hundred a year from now. And you know what a majority of the college students did? They took the money. They took the $18 and pocketed it and went to Chipotle or downloaded some app on their phone, whatever it was. And I thought, you know, I think it’s easy for us to go, what’s wrong with them? Just wait a little bit.
But how many of you have ever had some issues with some impulse buying in your own life? How many, do you have some self-control issues? Let me see your hands, cuz I want to make sure I’m preaching to the right crowd this morning. Some of you have some self-control issues, right? I think by and large we all struggle with self-control issues.
And just so that we’re on the same page, let me define what self-control is. Self-control is simply that it’s the ability to subdue one’s impulses, or your emotions, or your behaviors in order to achieve long-term goals. In other words if we could put it in a simpler way, I think an easier way would be to say this:
Self-control says No now for a better Yes later.
Right? That’s what self-control is, we’re saying No now, because we know that there’s a better Yes to come.
And today I wanted to look at the life of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is a man who was in the Old Testament, and he grew up in a period where the children of Israel had been taken into captivity. And they had been, their City, their nation has been destroyed by the Babylonians. The Babylonians have come to Jerusalem, destroyed the the walls and the gates of the city, destroyed the temple, took the people forcibly from Jerusalem and took them back to Babylon. Well, after 70 years of captivity, God finally has mercy on the Israelites. And He begins to bring them back to their home town of Jerusalem. And as they return, the people first begin to build their homes. And then they rebuild the temple. And after they finish completion of the temple, everything just kind of goes on autopilot. And this is where Nehemiah finds himself. It’s 90 years after everyone has returned back from captivity and as he finds himself in the middle of the city, coming back from exile himself after 90 years that the children of Israel have been there. They’ve built their homes and I rebuilt the temple. He looks around, and the walls and the gates of the city are still knocked down, and they’re still destroyed. And Nehemiah is overcome with this. And he’s like, why? Why are the wall still broken down?
I think it’s interesting, as we think about this idea of self-control, that the children of Israel at this point, they were saying yes to their immediate future, instead of looking down the road to their kids and their grandkids for the security and safety of the city. They were focused on the here and now, instead of the later, instead of the future. And Nehemiah, when he finds this, when he discovers that the walls are torn down, he comes and he speaks to all the leaders of the community and he says this in Nehemiah chapter 2 verse 17, he says this:
Nehemiah 2:17 NLT
But now I said to them, “You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!”
There is a disgrace from the other cities and nations of the world that would look at Jerusalem, which was where God was living and inhabiting in the temple there, and he was like, listen, the walls are torn down. The gates are burned with fire. That happened 90 years ago. But let’s do this. Let’s rebuild the walls. And so Nehemiah, he tells the people something else as well. Just a few verses later, and I think it’s important for us to understand as well. He says this to the people. He says:
Nehemiah 2:17 NLT
But now I said to them, “You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!”
The walls of Jerusalem are not just some walls that we’re talking about thousands of years ago. The walls that I’m talking about today really are symbolic of the walls in your own life. And I think there is many of us here that have broken down walls, and gates that have been destroyed by fire – because of a lack of self-control that we have in our lives. These walls have been broken down and torn down, and it would have been easy for Nehemiah as one of the leaders in the community to come and talk negatively and badly to the people. What’s wrong with you? It’s been 90 years! You guys are idiots! What’s wrong with you? You’re lazy. You’re immature. He could have done that. But but he didn’t do that. He said let us rebuild the walls. And God will give us success.
And I would say to you today, for some of you that feel like maybe some of the walls in your own life have been broken down, I’m not here to condemn you today. I’m here to stir you up today, to say that God wants you to rebuild the walls of your own life. That you’re not experiencing the peace and the purpose and the prosperity that God has for you. That you’ve allowed things to come into your life that have torn down God’s protection in your life. And he wants for you to rebuild the walls in your life. And I and I’m encouraging you today, allow God to come into your life and get together rebuild the walls in your life. It doesn’t just come from God that his success is going to be in your life. We find this in Nehemiah chapter 4 as well, it’s not just what God does. It’s what you do.
And we find this, that Nehemiah said, as he began to work on the wall, all the people said, Yes. They began to work early and late, from sunrise to sunset. So here we have Nehemiah and he’s rebuilding the wall. And all the people are engaged in this process from sun up to sundown. They’re working, they’re laboring. And he says this, there were other people from the community that didn’t want to see the walls be rebuilt. They were enemies of Jerusalem and they didn’t want to see their city protected. They didn’t want to see their strength return. They didn’t want to see them become overcomers in life.
And I think that’s an indicator of who you are as well. There’s an enemy of your life that’s trying to destroy you. There’s an enemy that wants to see you fail and falter and not succeed. And he’s going to whisper things in your life and in your heart that says you can’t do it. You’re not good enough. You’re not strong enough. You can’t do this. You don’t have the power to do this.
And Nehemiah, he said God is going to give us the success, but we’re going to work early and late. We’re going to work from sunrise to sunset. And then he said this. He said half the men are always on guard. They wanted to protect the work that they were doing. He says they were always on guard. And I told everyone living outside the walls that they should stay inside the walls of Jerusalem. And that way they and their servants could help with guard duty yet at night and work during the day. You get this idea that there’s a lot of work going on. It’s not just praying and hoping that something will happen, it’s not just praying and wishing that God will just kind of, you know, give you the silver bullet to the problem that you have.
In a sentence, you could say it this way. You got to work as hard as you can, knowing that at the end of the day, God is the one that’s going to give you the success. And you do everything that you can. But at the end of the day, He’s the one that’s seated on the throne of your life. And he’s the one that’s going to give you the success to do the things that he’s called you to do. And this is what Nehemiah understood. And then he said, during this time none of us, I mean, he drills down here, and he said – I want you to understand how hard we work – he said during this time none of us, not I, nor my relatives, or my servants – he talked about the whole Community – nor the guards who were with me, ever took off our clothes.
Nehemiah 4:21-23 NLT
We worked early and late, from sunrise to sunset. And half the men were always on guard. I also told everyone living outside the walls to stay in Jerusalem. That way they and their servants could help with guard duty at night and work during the day. During this time, none of us—not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me—ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.
That’s how committed they were to the task of rebuilding the walls. We’re going to make sure from sun up to sundown, we’re going to work as hard as we possibly can. And then he said we carried our weapons with us at all times. Even when we took a water break. And I think if you’re going to rebuild the walls in your life, it’s going to take a lot of work. But at the end of the day, it’s not your power that does it, it’s the power of God that does it. And that’s the tension that we live in. And that’s the lesson that we learn from Nehemiah.
Solomon, one of the wisest Kings of the Old Testament era said this. He said:
Proverbs 25:28 NLT
A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.
The lack of self-control that you have in your life really is an indicator to the strength or the weakness of the walls in your own life.
And in the Bible says, from from a New Testament, from a New Covenant perspective, for many of you that have given your life to Jesus Christ, that you believe that He died on a cross, and that He rose again that he gave you a new life for you – for those of you that believe that – then we’re not just called to just pray a simple prayer and go about doing the rest of our life, whatever we want to do. The Bible says that now you’re purchased, you’re bought. You’re not your own. You belong to Jesus. He owns you. You don’t own yourself anymore. And so as a result of that, God called you to live a holy life. And this is what Paul says to the church at Thessalonica. He says this:
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 NLT
God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor— not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a fellow believer in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
God’s will is for you to be holy. That’s God’s will for you. What does it mean to be holy? It just simply means to be set apart, different than the world. And I’m going to I’m going to meddle in some of your lives right now. And you’re not going to like me very much, but I’m going to meddle anyway.
This is what the Bible has to say. God’s will is for you, for me, to be holy. I’m pointing the finger at myself as well. So Paul says, he says through the inspiration Holy Spirit, he said, stay away from all sexual sin. If you are involved in pornography, if you’re involved in mental games with someone at work, or are your thinking about leaving your spouse, Stop It. I mean that, like, stop it. You’re not called to live that way as a believer of Jesus Christ. We’re called to stay away from those kind of sexual sins. We’re called to live holy lives. We’re called to be different. We’re not called to be like those that we see on social media or on the Internet or on YouTube or on TV or in the newspaper or whatever. We’re not called to be like that. We’re not called to lie and steal and cheat and do whatever we want to do, and do the things that make us feel good. That’s not who we are called to be. You, me, we are called to be different. We’re called to be humble people. We’re called to say no to our desires, and say yes to the things that God has for us. We’re called to control our body. We’re not called to be a slave to our body and a slave to our desires. We’re called to be slaves to Jesus Christ. He bought you.
The Bible continues. It says that each of you will control his own body. And you will live in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion like the pagans. And it’s just, I think, kind of a way of saying listen, we’re, you are not like the world. And this is probably more appropriate now than it was two thousand years ago, in the culture of debauchery that we live in, that’s so wicked and so evil that you never hear this, except for maybe once on a Sunday. But week in and week out, day in and day out, you’re hearing this message: it’s okay as long as it feels good. It’s okay as long as everyone’s in agreement. It’s okay. And I’m here to tell you that the Bible cuts across that grain. And it says if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you are to live a different kind of life. You don’t live like the pagans. You don’t live like people who don’t know God. And that’s what Paul says here. Pagans, they don’t know God. They don’t know which way. You know God. You know that He loves you, that He cares. That He died for you. That He bled for you.
And then the passage goes on. It says never harm or cheat a fellow believer in this matter, by violating his wife or her husband, for – this is where Paul really gets specific – he says, for the Lord of avenges all such sins. As we have solemnly warned you. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefor, anyone – anyone anyone – who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching, but is rejecting God who gives His holy spirit to you.
Okay. Now, I hope you feel the weight of that today. And it’s not just sexual sin that we’re called to be different than the world from. Its Pride. It’s greed. It’s prejudice. It’s all of those things that we’re to say No to. We’re to live humble lives, holy lives that are different from the people around us. I hope that’s settled. That’s not just me. That’s not David talking. That’s the Holy Spirit talking to you. And the things that you’re engaged in, whatever addictions you have. You need to self control of the Holy Spirit in order to say No to those things. So you can say Yes to Him.
And I want to give you some good news this morning. Okay? Because what tends to happen with a message is at end of message like that, you would feel the weight of it, and the burden of it. Like, I got to work myself up, I got to will myself up. I got to make this happen. I got to put that stuff out. I got to walk the Narrow Path. And if you’re not careful, you put the pressure all on yourself.
And praise be to God! Self control is not willpower, it’s His power.
You don’t have to have that weight on you. Jesus said, My burden is light. He doesn’t want you to feel the weight. He wants you to understand the importance of it, but not the weight of it. He’s borne the weight for you. He gives you the power to overcome. It says this in 2nd Peter:
II Peter 1:3 NLT
By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.
It says, by His divine power God has given us everything we need.
Can you turn to your neighbor this morning and say, “God’s giving me everything that I need.”
Okay, turn your turn to your other neighbor and say, “I know, God has given me everything I need.”
Seriously, God has giving you everything that you need. What for? Why, why is He giving you everything that you need? So that you can live a Godly life. So you can say No to those things that you get tripped up on. And we have received all of this by coming to know Him, the One who called us to Himself by means of His marvelous glory and grace. In other words, it’s because of who Jesus is, that we have the power now, that comes from Him and not from us. It’s not in you, it’s because of Jesus Christ that lives in you. The power that resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead is the power that lives within you. And He gives you everything to overcome those things in your life. But you need to understand this: that He’s giving you the power, and that it’s. . . His control, right, it’s His power that dwells within you.
But I want you to know this:
Self-control is under your control.
So it’s not just His power. It’s not just His power in your life. It’s also, self-control is under your control. And this is what Paul says he says this:
I Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Don’t you know that in a race, all the runners run, but only one wins the prize? So run that you may obtain the prize! Every athlete exercises self-control. They exercise self-control in all things: in what they eat, and how they work out. . . And I mean, all of that kind of thing. They do it to to receive a perishable wreath. But we live a self-control life so that we can have an imperishable wreath. Paul says, I don’t run aimlessly, I’m not going from place to place, I don’t box as one that’s just beating the air. I discipline my body. I discipline my body. And I keep it under control. Paul says you have the power through the Holy Spirit to control your life. And he says I keep it under control lest, after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.
In other words, if we disconnect from God, if we walk away from God, if we allow the worries and the concerns of the world, if we begin to act like the world, and talk like the world, to live like the world, and we get further and further away from God, so that we don’t even recognize the difference between you and the world, what happens is, Paul is saying, you become disqualified in the race. And that’s a dangerous place to be. A dangerous place to be. There is this tension that we have, that we have God’s power working in us, but we’re also called to manage the control in our own lives.
I was reading this study that was done by this teacher. She was a middle school teacher. She was a math teacher, brand new teacher who just graduated from four years in college. She noticed a pattern that she thought was really unique and that was it something at some of the students in her class who were really really smart, like the smartest students were having a tough time and they weren’t getting A’s in her class. While on the other hand, she said some of the other students that really didn’t have the mental acuity, they were more the IQ that some of the other students had, they were acing her class. And she was like, why is that? And she began to do a little bit of research and she came up with this hypothesis that she studied as she went back to get her Master’s degree. And she studied this idea of grit. And it’s become kind of a big thing now, this idea grit. I actually I got a response back from one of our online viewers in the 9am service and she was a teacher, and she says what you were saying is absolutely true. She said, I even have a Grit song that I have my students sing. I had no idea that there was a grit song.
But here’s what grit is. She discovered this. She said grit is perseverance. Right? This stick-to-itiveness attitude, which I think most of us would understand, the more we be able to stick to something, the better that you can be. But then she said there was something else: that they also had a passion for it as well. And when you combine passion with perseverance, you have grit. You’re able to stick through things even when it gets difficult. And she said what I noticed is that these students had the same grit that – she did some exercise and as she did some research, that Green Berets have, that Girl Scout leaders have, that leaders in fields of Industry have. There is this grit, there’s this determination, and there’s passion. And when you marry those together and enables you to have greater self control in your life.
And I think how interesting that it is, for us as believers in Jesus, that were called to persevere, but we’re also not only just called to persevere but to have passion because God has apprehended our heart.
In Titus, Paul talks, he says this:
Titus 2:11-13 ESV
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. . .
You see I could put it this way:
Self-control is fueled by the grace of God.
We don’t work it up. It’s the grace of God. It’s his power flowing through us. But I would put it this way: Grace is the fuel but Grit is how we walk it out. Grit how the car is on the road. And it takes off. It’s fueled by grace. Maybe I can put it in a different context. I can say it this way:
Grit and Grace are needed for your faith Journey.
If you’re going to overcome the issues and the problems, if you’re going to overcome the challenges and the difficulties, if you’re going to overcome the addictions in your life, you’re going to need all the Grace that God has for you. And you’re going to need some Grit to persevere through it.
I want to go back to that marshmallow study that was done. They did that with all these students that were kind of living in a middle upper class area, and they took the same study and they did it in an impoverished area. And they have the same young kids come, the same marshmallows, and what they noticed and discovered is that almost all of them, all of those students that lived in an impoverished area took the marshmallow right away. Very, very very few of them could wait. At what the research discovered was it wasn’t because they had a lack of self-control necessarily. It was more because of the context in which they lived. And here’s what they discovered: is that they had no faith in the future. They didn’t know where their next meal is coming from. They didn’t have any Security in their lives. They didn’t know if their Mom or Dad was not going to show up, or if they’re going to show up drunk, or if they were not going to have a job, or meal, or Christmas present. They weren’t sure about the future. And as a result of that, they couldn’t have self-control because they needed it now. The future was not secure for them.
And I thought to myself. Oh my goodness. How is that a picture of the Church of Jesus Christ?
That really self-control is a Faith issue at the end of the day.
Do you believe that Jesus is who He says He is? Do you believe that heaven is real? That death is a lie? That Jesus is your inheritance? if you can understand that and know that you have a future, an eternal future, you can have greater self control in your life because you know that your future is still to come.
But when you don’t recognize and understand that you have a future, when you don’t have the power of the Holy Spirit living in you, then it’s really hard to live a self-controlled life. And I want you to understand that Jesus Christ has a future for you. Heaven really – it’s real. That this world that we’re living in right now, it’s temporary. The Bible says it’s going to burn away. Jesus says that He’s preparing a place for you. And he’s been preparing it for over 2000 years. He’s preparing a place for you so that you can live with Him forever and ever. And if you have that perspective in mind, it changes everything.
I hope I’m preaching today to some people that understand that their future is bright. That you might not know what tomorrow looks like, but you know what your eternity looks like. That God’s got a plan for your life. And his plan is for you to have walls around your life that are thick, and high. So that you can live a self-controlled life, that you can live a life that’s holy, that’s set apart, that’s different than the world. That you can say No to those impulse buys. That you can say No to debt. That you can say No to pornography. You can say no to Pride. You can say no to greed. You can say no to all of those things that we all invariably struggle with. But we have the power of the Holy Spirit; that enables us to control our own desires.
Would you mind lifting up your hands is the way of receiving God’s blessing in your life? Father, I pray that You would bless your people – that they would have Grit and Grace in their life. And as a result of that, they would be able to have self control and strong walls in their life. Lord, may we love You and walk with You all the days of our life in Jesus name. And the church that wanted that said, Amen. Amen.
God bless you! Have a great Sunday!