Sermon: “Running to Obtain the Prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)
Listen to the Sermon:
24 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. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV
Including today, today is December 22nd, there are ten days left in 2019. Perhaps some of you at this time, or maybe you wait until after Christmas, some of you are considering your New Year’s resolutions. If you are the sort of person who makes New Year’s resolutions, you are probably sitting down to identify something that you want, but something that you don’t have yet.
You are recognizing that in order to gain what you want; it’s going to require a measure of discipline. In fact, perhaps the reason you don’t have what you want yet is due to a lack of self-control over the past year or more. Self-control, and this is what Paul is talking about in this passage, self-control means that we give up something that we want in order to gain something that we want even more.
We have these short-term desires and we recognize that they are of limited value, so we willingly give up those desires in order to gain what we actually really want. Maybe you goal is to lose a bit of weight this year; you are probably recognizing that you will have to give up food. If you want to get in better shape this year you will probably recognize that you have to give up the comfort you are enjoying in order to exercise. Maybe you want to achieve something, learn something, become skilled in something, you recognize that is going to require time and energy. You will have to give up those small short-term desires in order to gain what you really want.
What Paul is doing is saying that is true of any pursuit. He uses the metaphor of athletic competition here because athletes give up something to gain a prize. But as much as it’s true for these small goals we have in this life, Paul is saying how much more true is this of the imperishable prize of Christ?
If you want Jesus, if you want him forever and you want not just a wreath that is going to fade away and die, but you want something that you will never lose throughout all of eternity, that’s going to require you in the short term to give up a lot of things along the way. To give up perishable, worldly desires in order to gain the imperishable prize of Christ.
Our big idea today is this, Pursue the Imperishable prize.
We are going to see three parts to this.
1. Pursue the Prize
2. Persist in Self-Control
3. Persevere to Glory
We are coming upon this passage and I want to acknowledge something that you are maybe wondering right now. Paul is talking about not everyone who starts a race receives the prize. He’s talking about in verse twenty-seven about the possibility of being disqualified from receiving the prize.
Maybe you are asking yourself if Paul is talking about something we need to do to earn our salvation? Or is he talking about maybe we can’t earn it, but once God entrusts this gift to salvation to us, is he saying that we have to hold on to it tight enough to make sure we don’t fumble away our salvation before we get to the goal line? He’s using athletic metaphors, it’s okay for me to talk a little bit about football today.
So, is Paul saying that we can somehow lose our salvation? The answer is absolutely no. One of the main principles that we have when we are trying to understand any passage of the Bible is to keep in mind the principle that scripture interprets scripture. When we come to this passage where Paul isn’t giving us a detailed systematic orderly nuanced account of systematic theology. He’s giving us this metaphor rich emotional appeal to do something. When we look at this, we can’t take it out of the context of the rest of the Bible and try to interpret it on its own in a way that is contradictory to what the rest of the Bible teaches.
What the rest of the Bible teaches is that there’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. Not in the whole and not even in part is there anything of our salvation that is resting on what we do to earn something.
Paul is very clear on this in a very clear passage in Ephesians 2:8-9,
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV
So, if you’re thinking, well Paul is saying I need to do something, I need to exercise self-control or perform some work to earn my salvation, understand the clear passages teach that is not what Paul is saying here.
What about preserving our salvation? Is this sort of a handoff of my salvation and I need to make sure I don’t fumble it before I get to the goal line? Again, no Paul says in Philippians 1:6,
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:6, ESV
Jesus himself taught the same thing in John 10:27-29,
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
John 10:27-29, ESV
You can’t earn your salvation, you didn’t earn salvation, and it’s not up to you according to your strength to hold onto your salvation and make sure you don’t fumble it away. From first to last, salvation is a gracious gift that comes to us from God in Jesus Christ through faith. Any other place where we might look for salvation, Paul says is misleading us. We can’t add our own works in any part of this to earn something from God.
In order to really understand what Paul is saying, we need to lay the groundwork. Paul is saying here, and this is taught clearly in a lot of places in scripture that there are people who believe that they believe in Christ for salvation, but in fact don’t. They kind of believe in Christ, but in fact their faith is not a true living active saving faith, but rather it is what the Bible calls a dead faith.
Jesus talks about this in Matthew 13:1-23. He talks about the gospel as a seed that is being sown into multiple kinds of soils. On the one hand Jesus says that there is some soil is really hard and the gospel can’t penetrate it at all so the devil comes along like a bird and snatches up that seed and carries it away before there is any penetration into the heart and life of the person.
There is another kind of life or soil where this soil is soft, broken up and ready to receive the gospel. When the gospel falls on that soil, the gospel sinks deep into the heart of this person and the roots go down and it grows up and bears a hundred-fold fruit.
But then between those two extremes, Jesus says there are two kinds of soil where there is something like growth. There is not a deep, internal real true saving faith the gets all the way down to the root of someone’s heart. But the kind of growth that is merely surface level. Whatever grows up, it doesn’t have roots that sink down into someone’s heart and soul, so when difficulties come up, when riches and pleasures woo us away, that faith shrivels up and dies.
Not because it was a real faith for a time and it was fumbled away, but because it was never true saving faith. James tells us the same thing in James 2:14-26, that some have not real, living, active, saving faith, but what James calls a dead faith. Something that is not faith at all. It’s the same kind of faith, if you want to call it that, that the demons have. They believe that what God says is true, and they tremble at it, but they don’t trust themselves into it.
Pastor Andrew talked about saving faith last week, so perhaps some of this is review and that’s good because we need to be reminded of these things. What Paul is saying here is that saving faith, while faith alone saves, saving faith is never alone. It’s not by exercising self-control that we earn something from God or hold onto something that God has given to us.
Rather what Paul is talking about here is to recognize that if you have true faith you won’t live in a way that walks away from Jesus. You will instead persevere all the way to the end. You will not be snatched out of Jesus’ hand, you will in fact grow to have him in abundance.
Let me put this in a simpler way. Sometimes people talk about the possibility of losing salvation and the Bible doesn’t acknowledge that is a possibility. If you truly possess Christ by faith, you can never lose him, or better put he will never lose you. I will never take his grip off of you. No one can snatch him out of your hand.
In fact, what Paul talks about and what the rest of the Bible talks about, when people do walk away from Christ not from an internal faith but an external dead surface level sort of a faith. It’s not losing something that person once had, it’s rather, according to the words of Jesus, losing what they never had. That’s kind of a weird way of talking about it. Here are the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:29,
29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Matthew 25:29, ESV
If you truly have Christ by faith, you are not going to lose him, you rather will gain more of him over the course of time until you have an abundance of Christ. If you don’t have Jesus by a living, active saving faith, then you will lose what you never had. You never had Christ and so you will lose the external dead faith that you claim to have right now.
This then is a very sobering passage. What Paul is saying is that if you are here today and you profess to believe in Jesus Christ, Paul wants you to hear this word for one of two reasons. You may profess to believe in Jesus Christ but not actually believe in him. Not actually have trusted in him for salvation. If that is so, Paul wants you to hear this so you will be shaken from your slumber and shaken to believe in Jesus Christ and trust in him for the first time today.
Paul also wants you to hear this for if you are here today and you do know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, not for you to suddenly doubt that maybe you can be snatched from the hand of Jesus, it’s not possible. But rather so that you will be pricked and goaded and encouraged on to have more of Christ until you have an abundance.
This is what Paul is working for here, so it’s important to understand this. Paul isn’t telling us how we need to earn or preserver our salvation. He is telling us about the path to have an abundance of Christ.
What is that path? How do we have an abundance of Christ and how do we stay away from losing what we never had?
Pursue the Prize
Paul tells us first that we must pursue the prize.
24 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. 1 Corinthians 9:24, ESV
Obviously, Paul isn’t saying that only one person is going to enter into heaven. He’s clearly not saying that because scripture interprets scripture and everywhere through the Bible we read about the people of God, plural and not the person of God, singular. We don’t have to outrun everyone else in order to win the prize, that’s not what he’s saying.
He’s saying that there will be people who start the race not in the sense of having true saving faith, but in the sense of professing to believe something. In the sense of agreeing but not entrusting themselves to Jesus. They start the race in that sort of a way where they will eventually fall away.
Paul says don’t you know that some won’t receive the prize. If that’s true, then Paul gives us a very true exhortation. He says, “So run that you may obtain it.”
That’s true if this is real, if it’s possible to what you may never have had, if so then live in such a way to obtain it. Orient your life, give everything in your life to pursuing Christ, not just a little bit so that you have just enough, but so that you can have him to an abundance.
Paul is saying pursue the prize. What we really want to know is how do we do that? What does that mean on the course of life in the midst of stumbling and faltering in the midst of this race where I have to persevere when I don’t think I have the energy of strength to do it. What does that look like? What is Paul telling us to do here?
Persist in Self-Control
Paul is going to tell us here what we must do, why we must do this, and how we must do this. So, what does Paul tell us we must do? He tells us what we must do in verse twenty-five,
25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 1 Corinthians 9:25, ESV
Now, even if you don’t follow sports you probably understand a little bit about what athletes go through. This isn’t something that people in the ancient world used to do that our athletes no longer do. If anything, the point is actually strengthened by the extreme lengths athletes go to to be the best at what they do, to succeed at competition.
If you are an athlete every part of your life; from sleeping, to everything you eat, to what you drink, to how you exercise, to how you rest and have your down time and what you are doing to prepare for the competition mentally. All of this is spelled out. If you are a high enough level athlete, far beyond the levels to which I attained in my athletic prowess, every part of our life is scripted so that you can exercise self-control towards winning the prize.
Okay, that’s clear enough for athletes, but what does this mean for us? Paul uses this word self-control in a very specific way. He’s already used it once in this letter, back in 7:9 where he talked about the gift of continency, where he talked about singleness in marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 Paul said,
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, ESV
The point here is that self-control is not a superhuman, white knuckling strength where you try really hard not to act according to the desires that are raging in your heart. That is not real Christian self-control. Real Christian self-control comes from the inside out. Real Christian self-control is not my strength asserted over myself to make sure I act appropriately. It’s a supernatural grace of God to transform me from the inside out. From the depths of my soul all the way out to how I act in life.
This is why in Galatians 5:23, Paul also uses this same word to describe self-control as one of the fruit of the Spirit. This isn’t something you do in the strength of your flesh. This is what God does in you by the power of his Holy Spirit. We might then not talk about be self-controlled, but rather being Spirit-controlled. The word self doesn’t come up here, it’s just an English translation. The word literally means in power, it describes a power in me.
Not your power in you, but God’s power in you. The idea being that people are always under the influence of something that is controlling how we are acting. Either it is our power, or it is the Holy Spirit. It’s not a matter of whether we’re being controlled by some influence, but what or who that influence is.
So, the question is; is the Holy Spirit graciously in control here right now, or is my sin? What must we do? We must walk in step with the Spirit, we must be controlled by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit must be exercising control in us so that we can exercise self-control.
Well why should we do this? It’s very clearly Paul’s point that they, the athletes, do it self-control to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable prize. In those days the crowns or wreaths that you would gain for winning a prize would be a perishable kind of a thing, not precious metals. It would be some kind of vegetation that was wrapped so you would put it on your head.
The word here for wreath means a crown or something like that. Paul is saying if they do this for something that will decompose and degrade, how much more should we do this for something that will never fade away, Jesus? It is worth it. Self-control is painful, it’s a matter of giving up what you want in the short-term to gain what you want even more in the long-term.
But how do we do this? You may be thinking, Jacob understand I’m not a terribly self-controlled person. When I come to the list of the fruit of the Spirit, maybe I like focusing on peace and joy and other people worry about the self-control.
It doesn’t work that way. That is “fruit” of the Spirit, singular. We are supposed to grow in all of these areas. We don’t get to pick and choose which fruits because it’s not fruits its fruit, singular, that we are to grow in.
How do we grow in self-control? How do we do this? Paul says in verse 26
26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 1 Corinthians 9:26, ESV
Do you feel aimless? Some of you are so busy. Where are you running? Is all of your busyness go somewhere? Are you running aimlessly?
Then he goes on to say, “I do not box as one beating the air.” He’s probably not talking about training; sort of boxing as are trying to prepare for fight. He’s probably talking about just like the idea of running aimlessly, being in the ring of competition but swinging without trying to hit the mark. When you’re running a marathon, you don’t take a scenic detour, you go toward the race. When you’re in the boxing ring you don’t swing just for its own sake, you try to hit your target.
Paul says everything in my life is organized, arranged, and oriented toward getting the prize. Here’s the important part, including things that are not necessarily objective. You might see, say Jacob there’s not a proof text against this so I can do it. Paul says while maybe you can, but by doing this thing in your life is that leading you to run aimlessly? Is that leading you to be aimless with your time and energy and talents and treasures where you’re beating the air? If so, that’s not the kind of self-discipline we are called to have.
Again, the whole context of this is written as to whether Christians can eat meat sacrificed to idols. There’s no proof text saying you can’t eat meat sacrificed to idols. What Paul is saying though is you have to think about this in a way to ask what qualifies as loving my brother. That’s the bigger picture here.
How do we do this? Paul comes to that in verse twenty-seven.
27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV
Paul is talking here about the body, not as it gets something, we have to sort of exercise this white-knuckled super control over, but he’s talking about the body as the place where our sin dwells. Sin dwells in my body. I have to not just control the actions that I do, but I have to actually exercise control over the sin that is dwelling deep body.
Christianity is not about managing behavior, it’s about being transformed from the inside out. That requires us to put to death the sin that is in us. Paul is really clear about that relationship of sin in our body in the book of Romans. Romans 6:12,
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
Romans 6:12-13, ESV
Your body does not serve the old master, so it must be under the influence of the Spirit. Then again in Romans 8:13,
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 8:13, ESV
Self-control means that by the Spirit of God. I am exercising control even over my desires, over the sin that is in me, to discipline it, to enslave my body to Christ and not any longer to my sin. To avoid losing what we never had, Paul is saying here, to avoid losing what we never actually had, the Christian lives the life of persisting in self-control.
It’s not to gain us something beyond Christ. This doesn’t save us this, doesn’t earn us anything from God, this isn’t how we preserve our salvation so that we don’t fumble it away before getting to the goal line. Self-control is a gift that Jesus Christ gives to true believers as a way that he grants them to gain and participate in abundance of blessings in Christ.
Persevere to Glory
So, Paul then in the third and final section of this passage closes with the main point. We must persevere to glory. Paul put it this way,
27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:27, ESV
The great apostle Paul wants to avoid being disqualified. What does he mean here in his third point, persevere to glory? Some would say that what Paul is talking is merely losing a reward.
We preached about this earlier in the year in 1 Corinthians 3:15. Paul talks about the idea of the church as a temple, built up with all of these materials, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw. Each one’s work was being built up on that foundation of Jesus Christ as a big temple, but that ultimately everyone’s work will be tested on the day of the Lord, by fire.
What Paul writes in verse fourteen is that if the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. But in verse fifteen Paul says if anyone’s work is burnt up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved but only as through fire. Some would argue that Paul is talking about here is the possibility of losing a reward.
But as Thomas Schreiner points out in his commentary, and I found it persuasive, that if you look at all the places where this were disqualified is used, it’s actually talking about people who do not believe, who have been disqualified from inheriting the kingdom of God. Who at the end of the day will not be saved, but will be turned away to the place reserved for the devil and his fallen angels in hell forever.
In Romans 1:28 Paul talks about how unbelievers have a depraved or disqualified mind. In 2 Timothy 3:8 Paul talks about the Egyptian magicians who did battle with Moses trying to counterfeit the plagues that God was pouring out on Egypt. John, is in John Braise, talks about those men as being disqualified regarding the faith.
Then is 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul urges the Corinthians to examine yourselves to see whether you are the faith.
5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV
If you are not in, then you are not in the faith then ultimately you will lose what you never had. You will be disqualified, and you will not receive the prize. The point here is that Paul is worried about not entering into glory. But again, it’s very important to see that he is not worried that he might right now have this faith but that he might somehow some fumble it away.
The point is not whether someone can snatch salvation out of your hand, because no one can snatch you out of Christ’s hand. That’s the point. What Paul is that he wants to make absolutely sure that he does have saving faith. That this is real for him, not just something that he knows and that he agrees with. Even the demons believe in that way and they shutter. He needs to actually trust it for himself.
The way that trust faith, that living active saving faith, will work out, is that Paul wants to see the fruit of that in the works that that saving faith produces, to give us evidence that we have a real active living saving faith. Faith alone saves us, faith, in the Westminster Confession question eleven paragraph two, is called the alone instrument of justification.
You are only justified and made righteous before God by faith. But if faith justifies the person, the way the Bible talks about works, is that works justify or validate or confirm the faith. You want to know if your faith is true? Well look at the works that it produces.
It’s not that works are somehow earning you something from God. Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone. Paul wants to make sure that he doesn’t have a dead faith that is alone, but rather that he has it so entrusted himself to Christ by true living active saving faith so that on the last day you should not be disqualified.
What application should we take from this passage, a challenging passage.
1. The first one is a warning to consider. The warning is sober and solemn. You might not inherit the kingdom of God. We will have to wrestle with this. The Bible is very clear that not everyone will inherit the kingdom of God. Go to the previous passage Paul listed a number of sins in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. He talked about all of the sins where all these people who are unrighteous who are persisting and will not inherit the kingdom of God. Or 1 Corinthians 6:9 he says,
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10, ESV
Understand if what is in control of your life is sin, not the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ, if sin is in control of your life then what the scriptures teach is that you will not inherit the kingdom of God. It’s a sobering somber warning that we need to take to hearts and to think about. Do you profess to believe in Jesus Christ but then live a life controlled by your sin? Do you really think that it’s enough to agree with the Bible without entrusting yourself to Christ, the Christ whom the Bible teaches us about?
Don’t be deceived, you won’t to inherit the kingdom of God. I say this not to mock you, I say this to show you the promise, the solution to your sin. Paul goes on to chapter six to say,
11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:11, ESV
You can come out of whatever sin you are in. You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God. The only solution and remedy to the curse of your sin the wrath that God has against all of us for our sin is Jesus Christ. He came into this world, born as a baby with a nature like ours except without sin. He grew up, lived perfectly and submitted himself in humble obedience even to death on a cross, to take the wrath of God against my sin and your sin, the sin of all those who look to Christ of faith.
Don’t just agree with this, entrust yourself to this. There’s a warning for all of us to consider, is this you? Are you still controlled by your sin?
2. The second application is a rule of life to obey. We talked a couple weeks ago about the use of the law. The first use of the law is to put a mirror in front of us, where we see us as we are in light of God’s word. It’s a word of condemnation to recognize that we fall short of the glory of God because of our sin. The first use of the law drives us to Jesus Christ to seek refuge in him and salvation through faith, but once we are in Christ by faith then we approach the law in an entirely different way.
This is the third use of the law. We approach the word of God not as people who want to be justified by how well we keep what God says, only Christ can justify us and make us righteous before God. We approach it as people who relate to the law of God, the word of God, as a friend, as a guide, as a teacher. This rule of life as the word of God teaches us and guides us, what Paul is teaching is here is to live under total self-control, to pursue the imperishable prize. Again, not as a way to save yourself, but this is what you were saved for.
So, ask this question, where are you running aimlessly? Take stock of your business. This doesn’t mean that you should leave this world and retreat to a mountain to become a monk or something. That’s not the point, that we should withdraw from this world. We have real obligations in this world; the work that we do, the families that we are a part of, the neighborhoods that we participate in. Those are good things to be a part of and to serve in the way that Christ has served us, loving our neighbor as yourself.
I’m not talking about withdrawing from that. I’m talking that within all of that is your busyness an act of love and faithfulness towards those around you or is it busyness? Are the things that you’re filling your life with detours on the course of your marathon to Christ?
I did half marathon once. I would never want to do more than that. I guarantee you I didn’t take one aimless step in that because the whole thing was torture. When you’re running a marathon, every step is purposeful. In your marathon towards glory, is every step purposeful? Where are you beating the air? Is what you were doing helping you to grow to an abundance of Christ, or you just taking swings that aren’t actually helping you to get further to Christ. Bring your life undercut total self-control.
A warning to consider, a rule of life to obey. The third, and we’re going to close on this point, a promise to belief
3. It’s not a matter of you summoning up some hidden strength in your flesh, in your body. Self- control is about you learning to depend upon the grace of God and the Holy Spirit. The way that you get the grace of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of self-control through the Spirit, is to pray for it.
Pray for it. This is simple, but how often do we overlook it? Earlier today we prayed The Lord’s Prayer and in that in the sixth petition we prayed, “lead us not into temptation but deliver ss from evil.”
I made some photocopies of what the Westminster Larger Catechism question number 195 teaches us about this. The Westminster Larger Catechism is so wonderful because it’s taking apart the Lord’s Prayer and working through it. It’s saying okay, Jesus gives us the summary of things to pray for. Yes, we can pray the Lord’s Prayer, it is good and right to do that, but really what Jesus is doing is teaching us to pray.
So you can look at all of these petitions in the Lord’s Prayer and you can take them out and you can compare them, scripture with scripture, to see the fullness of what Christ means when he teaches us to pray to be led not into temptation but to deliver us from evil.
So, I want to read this to you to think about all that the Bible teaches about this in a way that is clearly laid out.
Q195. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?
A. In the sixth petition (which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil), acknowledging, that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations; that Satan, the world, and the flesh, are ready powerfully to draw us aside, and ensnare us; and that we, even after the pardon of our sins, by reason of our corruption, weakness, and want of watchfulness, are not only subject to be tempted, and forward to expose ourselves unto temptations, but also of ourselves unable and unwilling to resist them, to recover out of them, and to improve them; and worthy to be left under the power of them: we pray, that God would so overrule the world and all in it, subdue the flesh, and restrain Satan, order all things, bestow and bless all means of grace, and quicken us to watchfulness in the use of them, that we and all his people may by his providence be kept from being tempted to sin; or, if tempted, that by his Spirit we may be powerfully supported and enabled to stand in the hour of temptation; or when fallen, raised again and recovered out of it, and have a sanctified use and improvement thereof: that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected, Satan trodden under our feet, and we fully freed from sin, temptation, and all evil, forever. Westminster Larger Catechism
If you want to grow in self-control, the way to do this is to maintain a posture of prayer. You can’t summon this strength up and you can’t lift weights that will give you this kind of strength of your character. There aren’t mental exercises that you can use as training and discipline your mind to the kind of self-control by the Spirit. It is a grace, it is a gift, it’s what the fruit that the Spirit gives birth to.
So, because of this we are called to grow in self-control, constantly looking to the Lord every time the corruption of our sin flares up. Every time we are led away by our own desires. When we see those temptations in front of us and we want them, we give up what we want in the short-term in order to have what we really truly want in Christ, by the power of the Spirit. We say Father forgive me that I’m so sinful, that I want this. Father cover me and cleanse me with the blood of Christ your son who died for me. Father renew a right spirit in me by the work of your Holy Spirit, to give me a self-control that I am so woefully lacking in.
That’s how you grow in self-control. It’s not going to happen all at once, but for the rest of your life it will be short of perfect and there’s always more room to grow. However, the promise of the gospel is that even though we are in a war and the remains of our corruption of our sin may for our time much prevail, the promise of the gospel is that there is continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ .
The regenerate, the new, the godly part of us eventually overcomes and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. That’s the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter thirteen, paragraph three, summarizing the teaching of all the scripture and summarizing this passage that you will persevere not by your strength, but by the strength of the Spirit of God. So, run that you may obtain the imperishable prize.
Pray with me.
Lord we need self-control so that we don’t have, self-control that we can’t manufacture. We needed it as grace, as a gift from your Spirit. Thank you, Father, that you have poured all of the treasuries of your graces into your son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit takes what is Christ’s and gives to us by the work that he does in us, to apply everything that Christ has accomplished for us. We pray not that we would find ultimately that we were disqualified, never having truly possessed Christ by faith, but we pray that in this life we would grow to have an abundance of Jesus. An infinite satisfaction of Jesus throughout all of eternity. It’s in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.