We’re in the second week of our series called Selfie. And it’s been a lot of fun seeing so many different selfies from our partners here at Connect.
The selfie has quickly become part of our culture in the 21st century. A few years ago, we had never even heard of it. Now, selfies are mainstream.
In fact, the selfie has gone so mainstream that the word “selfie” was actually added to the official Scrabble dictionary. So the next time you’re playing Scrabble, you can play the word “selfie.” But it’s only a 9 point word. I checked.
You want even more evidence that selfie has gone mainstream? The word “selfie” was the Oxford English Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” in 2013. It’s now in the official “bible” of the English language.
And it has gone so mainstream that world leaders are getting into the act.
The president is taking selfies. This is just a sample of some of the selfies that he has taken. And not everyone loves the idea of the President of the United States taking selfies. In fact, it doesn’t look like Michelle was too thrilled about that one.
But not to be outdone, even the pope is now getting into the selfie craze. Now, you can argue about whether or not world leaders should take selfies, but the fact is, they are.
In fact, the selfie has become so engrained in culture that now there is a college in England that offers a selfie class. I’m not kidding. City Lit College in London offers a class on “the art of self portraiture.”
And if you think this is a joke, here is the class description that I copied straight off their website. “The course is a theory/practice introduction to photographic self-portraiture; it is conceived for students to improve their critical understanding of the photographic self-portrait, as well as a platform to develop ideas towards the creation of a coherent body of work.”
You can go to this school and get real, actual college credit by learning how to take a better selfie! Does anybody else feel like they just want to weep for humanity, because I do! I think this makes it official…we have lost our flipping minds!
The selfie is everywhere. It can show up on your Scrabble board. It’s officially in the dictionary. World leaders are doing it. And you can even go to college to learn how to do it better. The selfie is here to stay.
So with that in mind, we decided to have a little fun with it here at Connect. Throughout the month of March, we are poking a little fun at the selfie, and more importantly, we’re exploring some Biblical “selfies.” We’re opening up the Word of God and listening to what God has to say about self. And the thing is, He actually has a lot to say about it.
So let me pray for us, and then we’ll jump into the second week of Selfie.
Last week, we kicked off our Selfie series by talking about selfishness. Today, in the second week of the series, we’re talking about self-control.
Self-control is listed among what the Apostle Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” In Galatians 5, Paul wrote, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV 1984)
When I read this, self-control kind of feels a little out of place in this list. Things like love, joy kindness, faithfulness, and the rest are just awesome. But then at the very end, there’s self-control. That one sounds a lot less awesome. That one just sounds like a lot of work. And it makes me kind of feel like a loser and a failure.
And the reason it makes me feel like a loser and a failure is simple…a lot of the times, I lack self-control. And let’s be honest…so you do. We all lack self-control way more than we want to admit. It’s something that is always with us.
It’s kind of like “Pig-Pen.” You remember “Pig-Pen,” Charlie Brown’s friend? “Pig-Pen” is this guy who would go through life with this cloud following him wherever he went. It was a stink cloud. It was nasty. It was ugly. But wherever “Pig-Pen” went, that cloud just loomed around him. That cloud always went with him.
That’s a pretty good description of our lack of self-control. It’s just this stink cloud. It’s nasty. It’s ugly. But it’s with us wherever we go.
If we are honest, every one of us in this room lacks self-control in some area of our lives. But to understand why we struggle with it, we’ve got to step into that ugly, looming, nasty cloud and look around. As I step into that cloud and look around, I see something in that cloud that is universal with all of us here.
That cloud is filled with hurt and pain. One of the reasons we lack self-control is because we have some of these deep hurts from our past and in our present. And when anybody has a hurt, what do you want to try to do? You want to try to make that hurt go away. You want to feel better. So you try to control the pain to make the hurt go away.
For example, if I have a headache, my go-to medicine is Advil. I’ve never tried Excedrin. And for me, Tylenol is useless. Maybe it works for you, but it is completely useless for me. If my head hurts, I reach for the Advil. And the reason is simple…it works.
When I’m hurting, I want to feel better. I reach for medicine, a medicator, to help me feel better. Most of us do the same thing. And that principle that’s true in our physical world is also true in our inner world.
We have pain in our lives, and we want to make that pain go away, so we’ll reach for a medicator to medicate our inner world. It might be eating. Or shopping. Or drugging. Or drinking. Or sexing. Or working. Or busying. Whatever it is – to make that pain go away.
Now, watch what happens when we do that. These medicators actually become our temptations because they work so well it’s hard to not want them again. They worked before. We want to feel that way again. So all of a sudden these medicators actually become our temptations and we can’t control them. We seem to lose all self-control. That’s what we’re going to explore today.
Now, let’s be sure we all know what we’re talking about. Let’s look at a quick Biblical picture of what self-control actually is.
The word “self-control” in the Bible carries this kind of meaning: “holding oneself in.” This idea of “inner strength.” Why does God think it’s so important for us to have self-control?
Because self-control defends against temptation and destruction.
In the book of Proverbs, Solomon wrote, “A person without self-control is like a city with broken down walls.” (Proverbs 25:28, NLT)
In this Old Testament passage, the word “walls” means “walls of protection.” Cities would build these walls to protect the city’s residents from invaders.
In the ancient world, a city without walls was in deep, deep trouble. There was nothing to fend off an attack. The people in that city were vulnerable. The city was wide open to be attacked and plundered and destroyed. The people would be captured or killed. A city’s walls were literally a matter of life or death.
And Solomon tells us that when we lack self-control, we are a city without walls. We are vulnerable. We are wide open to attack. That’s why God’s call is for us to build these walls of protection.
Why is self-control important to God? Why does He command us to live with self-control? Because He wants us to protect something that has value. What is it that has value? Your life. Your life has value.
You can’t really even comprehend how valuable you are. So many of us struggle with feelings of insignificance. We look at ourselves and we don’t see much of anything that has value.
And if that is your struggle, I just want to remind of you this: you are valuable enough for Jesus to die for. The Son of God gave His life for you, because you are so incredibly valuable. Your life has value.
So if your life has value, what do you want to do? You want to build up walls that will protect it. You want to surround your life with walls. You want to fortify your life. Why? Because when the walls come down, the tempters and medicators begin to take over. That’s why God calls us to a life of self-control…to keep the walls up. To make sure our lives are protected.
Now, this is not the culture that we live in, is it? The culture in 21st century America is a culture of extreme excess. No rules. No limits.
We’ve been talking about how the word “selfie” is everywhere today. Here’s another word that you really didn’t hear a lot a few years ago, but now you hear all time: binge.
Binge drinking. Binge eating. Thanks to Netflix, we even have binge watching. Talk about something that didn’t exist a few years ago.
Why has “binge” become part of our everyday vocabulary? Because we live in a culture of excess to the extreme. We live in a culture without limits, and a culture without limits is a culture without walls. And a culture without walls is a culture of destruction.
I realize that in our society today, talking about things like self-control sounds incredibly lame and old-fashioned and out-of-date. It’s almost Puritanical. I get that, but I want to answer that objection with a question. How’s our culture doing? Are people who follow our culture living lives that are filled with peace and joy and fulfillment? Or do we see lives crashing and burning all around us because they bought into the lie that self-control is from their grandma’s generation? It’s old-fashioned and out-of-date. Excess is best.
You don’t have to look far to see it. People in our culture are destroying their own lives, and it’s all because they have torn down the walls in their lives. Some people might think it sounds old-fashioned, but this call to self-control has never, ever been more relevant than it is right now. People are destroying their own lives because of their lack of self-control.
And that really gets to the heart of why self-control actually matters so much.
Self-control is our defense against self-destruction.
I want to let you in on a very ugly, very uncomfortable truth. You are capable of destroying your life. You are. You have that capacity inside you. You are capable of destroying your life.
I will never forget one professor I had when I was in Bible College. He was one of my preaching professors. He had taught in Bible College for years. He had been a pastor for years. His reputation was absolutely stellar. And one day, he walked into class and said, “I am capable of adultery.”
We were obviously all taken aback by that. That’s a very strong, very transparent, very uncomfortable thing to say. But he said it: “I am capable of adultery.”
And he went on to talk about the number of pastors who have succumbed to temptation, and they’ve lost their family, their ministry, their reputation, everything. And as students who were studying to go into ministry, he wanted us to know that he was no better than them…and neither were we.
The minute that you start to believe that you’re better than that…the minute that you start to believe that, “This could never happen to me…” is the minute the walls of self-control start to come down. And they are torn down by our own arrogance.
It is so prideful to believe that you aren’t vulnerable to temptation. It is so incredibly arrogant to believe that you’re better than that…it could never happen to you. You have nothing to worry about.
Right before Jesus was arrested and crucified, He told Peter, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38, NIV)
Keep in mind, Jesus said this to Peter. The disciple, the Apostle Peter. The Apostle Peter who would preach the very first gospel sermon when the church began. The Apostle Peter who would write books that are included in the New Testament. To that guy, Jesus said, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Jesus said that to Peter, and I’ve got news for you…you’re not better than Peter. And neither am I. We can’t be so arrogant that we believe that we have nothing to worry about. Temptation is no big deal. I’ve got this. I’m better than this. No worries.
The Apostle Peter wasn’t above temptation, and neither are we.
And that’s why we need a right perspective on ourselves. Because you and I are capable of destroying our own lives. That’s why we need to build walls of protection. Humility builds the walls of self-control in your life. Arrogance and pride tear them down.
That’s why I’m confronting you with this uncomfortable truth…you are capable of destroying your life. And I mean absolutely destroying it.
You are capable of destroying your marriage. You are capable of destroying your family. You are capable of destroying your career. You are capable of destroying your health. You are capable of destroying your reputation. You are capable of destroying your walk with Jesus.
Don’t ever think that it can’t happen to you. It can. It absolutely can. When the walls of self-control come down, you are vulnerable to attack by your enemy. We have a very real enemy named Satan, and he doesn’t fight fair. He will always hit you where you are weakest. And when he sees the walls of self-control come down in some area of your life, that’s exactly where he’ll hit you. Don’t ever, ever, ever think that it can’t happen to you.
These words just nailed me this week. This is from the little, obscure Old Testament book of Obadiah. Obadiah wrote, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says…‘The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’’” (Obadiah 1b, 3, NIV)
Pride deceives us. It can convince us that we’re safe. We’re secure. We’re so far above any of this stuff. It just can’t happen to us.
Humility is what protects us. When we are humble enough to admit that, if left unchecked, our own sinfulness can destroy us. When we admit that we are capable of a depth of evil that is unreal. That kind of humility builds walls of protection in our lives. That kind of humility leads us into lives of self-control.
But it’s not easy. I’m not trying to suggest that it’s easy. There are some problems that keep us from self-control.
One problem is that temptation is always there.
Our temptations, our medicators, are always there. Think about your medicators for a second. You can access them any time you want. Life becomes like a 24-hour pharmacy. They’re right there on the lower shelf. You can get to them at any time. You know what your medicator of choice is, and you can get to it almost anywhere you go.
If food is your medicator or your temptation, there’s always a restaurant right around the corner.
If shopping is your medicator, there are always stores, malls, and 24-hour shopping online.
If drugs are your medicator, there’s always a place to get them.
If gossip is your medicator, there’s always someone to talk to.
If pornography is your medicator, it’s just one mouse click or phone tap away.
The point is that you don’t have to search very far for the temptations in your world. They’re everywhere. And it makes self-control incredibly difficult.
But the problem is more than just the availability of temptation. Here’s our real problem with self-control…it’s deeper than I realize.
Most people in our world live their lives at a very superficial level where they pretend like they’re in total control. Most people live on the surface. A lot of us say and do things that keep our lives on the surface.
Maybe you’ve heard some of these surface-dwelling phrases: “I can handle it. If I really wanted to stop, I could. My issue isn’t that bad. It’s not as bad as others I know.” That is denial, and denial keeps you at the surface.
If you can stop, why haven’t you? How bad does it have to get before you do stop? Is it going to take divorce? Is it going to take hospitalization? Are you going to kill somebody, or yourself? What’s it going to take?
But it’s not just things that we say that keep us on the surface. It’s the things that we do. When it comes to some of these problems that we have, we try to fix the problem instead of fixing ourselves.
See if you can track with me. Let’s say my temptation is shopping. Instead of saying, “I need to fix myself,” we say this: “I’m going to fix the problem. I’m going to cut up my credit cards. I’m not going to go to sales.” You’re trying to fix the circumstances as opposed to what is broken inside you.
We do this with food. We try to fix the food and make the food work for us. We take all the taste out of the food. “I’m ok eating Styrofoam rice cakes for the rest of my life.” We want the food to work for us. That’s a superficial deal.
What about pornography? Pornography is big. Actually, it’s beyond big. Over 30% of all data that is transferred over the internet is porn. Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.
But most of the time, we don’t want to talk about it. We don’t speak about it. But it is killing men in our culture. It is killing men in this church. It’s killing them. There are men who came here to worship this morning who were surfing porn last night.
And it’s not just men. Let’s not be naïve. Thirty percent of porn users are women. And that’s not even counting erotica or “mommy porn.” 50 Shades, anybody?
It’s so incredibly dangerous. You’re always just a couple of mouse clicks away from delving into a fantasy world that is very seductive and very addictive. You can open up your phone or your computer and thousands of women are there just waiting for you. Or you can just grab your Kindle and let Christian Grey completely warp your perspective on sex and love and men and women.
People used to have to put on disguises and go to the “other side of the tracks” to get this stuff. Not any more. It’s big and it’s damaging and it’s incredibly available. And the result is that it’s destroying lives and relationships.
And most people don’t get help. They say, “I’ll fix the computer so I don’t get porn into my house,” and they stay on the surface of the issue.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is a good idea to fix the computer. You need a filter, some accountability software, on your computer. But the point is that it can’t stop there. That’s surface as opposed to saying, “What’s broken inside me?” The lack of self-control that is damaging people and destroying lives is deeper than just a computer or an e-reader.
It’s deeper than I realize, which means that I have to go below the surface. And when you’re willing to go below the surface, there is hope. I realize that this has been pretty intense and probably kind of a downer up to this point, but the gospel is good news. When you’re willing to go deeper, to go below the surface, there is hope. So let’s chase after that hope.
Here’s what it starts. It starts with a phrase that you need to remember. You should probably write it down. You need to own it, because it’s a core truth of the gospel.
It’s these five words: I am not a slave.
In the midst of temptation, when we’re reaching for that medication, whatever it is to ease the pain, to fill our boredom, to take our mind off our troubles, when we’re reaching out for that temptation, what we need to do instead is grab on to this phrase that says, “I am not a slave. I am not a slave to this. I don’t have to be a slave to this.” Where does that come from?
It comes from the gospel. It comes from the Word of God. In the book of Romans, Paul says, “Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14, NLT)
I’m no longer a slave to sin and God’s grace has given me the authority and the power to win over this.
I don’t have to be dominated by a life of sin. I am free. I am no longer a slave to that sin.
I am not a slave. Remember this, next time that cycle is about to kick in…and you know the cycle that I’m talking about…the cycle that goes like this: there’s the temptation. I’m going to give in because I always give in. When I give in, I feel like a failure, which leads to feelings of guilt. Feelings of guilt lead to pain. And when I feel pain I reach for the same medicator again. It’s a vicious cycle.
Before you get into that destructive cycle, start here. Remember, “I’m not a slave to this!”
And here’s another that is essential to remember: I am not alone. You’re not in the fight alone.
This is why it’s essential to live in authentic community. This is why we’re so passionate and so committed to our new Connect Groups that Brian talked about earlier. Because in these groups, there is a safe place to be open and honest. It’s a safe place because you won’t receive judgment or condemnation. You’ll receive hope. You’ll receive help. You’ll realize that you might be in the fight of your life, but you’re not in the fight alone.
Love and grace and accountability are how addictions are broken. That’s how temptations are overcome. That’s how medicators get put back on the shelf…and get left there.
But ultimately, our battle with temptation, our fight against our medicators, our lack of self-control comes down to this truth. I need to see Jesus more clearly.
Nothing else that we’ve talked about today matters if we miss this one. I need to see Jesus more clearly. Notice, I didn’t say, “I need to be more religious.” Or, “I need to be more committed.” Or, “I need to get myself back on track.” None of those work, but this one works every time. I need to see Jesus more clearly.
In the book of Hebrews, Scripture tells us, “Because [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.” (Hebrews 2:18-3:1, NIV)
Go back and look at all the amazing truth in this passage.
Jesus was tempted. Jesus understands what you’re going through. He’s not removed from you situation. He completely understands it because He’s been there. He knows the struggle. He knows the strength of temptation.
And He is able to help. You will never be able to break the chains of addiction on your own. You will never be able to overcome the sin that has a grip on your life on your own. Never, ever. It’s not going to happen. But Jesus IS able.
So that’s where we have to look. Fix your thoughts on Jesus. Focus your eyes, your mind, your life on Jesus.
Because first of all, Jesus is where you find grace. When you fall into temptation again, when that sin that you know so well takes control again, when self-control gives out and sin-control takes over, you feel like a loser and a failure. You feel worthless. You feel like everyone else is better than you. No one struggles like you do. You might as well give up, because to be honest, you just suck.
Jesus has NEVER said that about you. Ever. Jesus loves you. Jesus died for you. And Jesus didn’t die for you just so He could give up on you. In Christ, there is grace that exceeds your greatest sin. And that’s why Scripture says to fix your thoughts on Him.
And we also focus on Jesus because He is able. Because He can rescue us. Because, in Him, we find the power to change. Power that we would never have on our own.
In Jesus, there is no such thing as hopeless. There is no such thing as a lost cause. There is no such thing as too far gone.
But it means that we have to surrender to Him. It means that we give up control. That’s the crazy thing about self-control. Self-control is actually about giving up control. That sounds wrong, but it is actually so incredibly right.
A self-controlled life is actually a Savior-controlled life.
That’s why the first core value of our church is it’s all about Jesus. Because it really is. He is not only our hope, He is also our healing. It really is all about Jesus.