David Hegg | Please Control Yourself

David Hegg
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. "Ethically Speaking" runs Saturdays in The Signal.

By David Hegg

Aristotle was the first philosopher to assert self-control as a virtue in any meaningful way. He put it this way: I count him braver who conquers his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is the victory over self. I suspect that, were this great philosopher to be teaching today, his classes would be poorly attended because self-expression, not self-control, has become the battle cry of our day.  

The Greek word egkratais expressed what the Greeks understood as self-control. It simply meant “self-power” and described a state where outside influences did not shape one’s emotions, thoughts, desires and actions. Still, instead, these elements of personhood were formed and maintained by internal convictions and values.  

Self-control was not primarily about restraining hurtful thoughts and actions as much as producing and acting on thoughts and convictions that were virtuous and laudable. Self-control was, thus, indispensable to constructing meritorious character, itself essential to a life of great worth and valor.  

The self-controlled person was one controlled from the inside out rather than pushed around by the winds of external stimuli. Persons with self-control were recognized for their calm assurance, focused thinking and ability to fend off temptations to compromise. Their controlling element was the self, and the self, fueled by virtue and conviction, was a strong and competent master enabling the self-controlled individual to “conquer his desires.” That is, personal restraint came from certain beliefs and convictions that some personal desires were harmful, both to self and society.  

Today, too many have decided that self-control amounts to losing freedom. They insist that any personal desire is acceptable because it is an essential part of their humanity and ultimately good in a moral and societal sense.  

The post-modern acceptance of this “psychologized self” as sovereign in our society has created the mess we see all around us. We could rightly define these individuals as believing “whatever I desire must be applauded since these desires make me who I am.”  

They will submit to no restrictions lest society somehow diminish their rights as individual selves. After all, according to this ideology, desires are there to be fulfilled, not conquered or restrained. This testifies to the harsh reality that they have no internal moral compass or personal convictions that play the role of referee in their own lives. Their ruling principle is to jettison any restraint on their desires.  

We can chalk this up to the war on values across our nation. Traditional ethical norms are now being ridiculed at best and criminalized at worst. Values such as the sanctity of life, parental rights, sexual purity, faithfulness in marriage, living within your means, paying your debts, taking care of your neighbors, sacrificing for the good of others, hard work, telling the truth, and keeping promises are either being marginalized, ridiculed, or demolished today.  

The great tragedy in all this is that values are what form the basis for self-control. Without convictions, there can be no control. The control of self depends on the presence of bedrock convictions to which the individual is radically committed. Such rock-solid commitments to foundational beliefs will keep them from succumbing to the sinful desires of the human heart and the temptations that abound in our world. 

But, in a day when even the idea of traditional values is scoffed at, can it be surprising that self-control is so rare? Can we be surprised that many of our teens succumb to the pressures of drugs, sex, alcohol, and serial deceit when the values of chastity, abstinence, respect for the law, and honesty are no longer prized by too many of the adults around them? 

In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul used this same word — egkratais — in his list of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22,23). Paul took the Aristotelian concept and poured into it the idea that such laudable self-control was possible if God were at work in the soul. Self-control is built on the foundation of truth and conviction. America’s steady slide away from acknowledging God as the ultimate truth giver is a hazardous sign that we should expect more chaos and less self-control in the future.  

Since it is impossible to legislate and regulate the settings on an accurate moral compass, we must live ethical, self-controlled lives. Then, we can hope and pray that those around us and those coming behind us will recognize self-control’s personal and societal benefits. 

Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays. 

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