Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Self-control is a crucial aspect of the Christian walk, and in the context of the passage in 2 Peter 1:5-10, it is the third quality that we - as Christians - should (1) possess, (2) increase, and (3) practice in order that we may NEVER fall. This is an amazing promise of scripture, which is why we're diving into each quality listed in this passage. To best position ourselves to receive this promise we must examine "self-control," in light of Jesus and the Gospel!
"For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall." 2 Peter 1:5-10
Painting the picture
Each of the seven qualities appear to build upon each other, in a very intentional and specific way:
We discovered that the first two qualities, virtue & knowledge, are a logical progression, and paint a beautiful picture of a balanced faith walk. In the scope of one's faith, one should make every effort to add to one's faith the mindset of reaching one's fullest potential (which is called arete), but one's fullest potential (in the scope of one's faith) must leverage the 'guard rails' provided by knowledge through - Christ centered - sound doctrine. Without knowledge of sound doctrine, one would be prone to wandering into the deceit of myths, fables, and the wisdom of men, thus falling into a less than excellent or virtuous end state. With this in mind, the passage indicates that one must add 'self-control' to one's knowledge, and this is for good reason! Before diving into 'why,' it would do us well to understand "what" Peter is really talking about as it relates to "self-control."
Word Study: "Egkrateia"
The ancient Greek word used by Peter to describe self-control is egkrateia (eng-krat'-i-ah), which is a fascinating word composed of "en" (which means 'within') and "kratos" (meaning 'power' or 'dominion'). Egkrateia literally means having power or dominion within oneself, some say that the modern expression of egkrateia, would be "getting a grip of oneself." This is not just self "control," Strong's Concordance translates this word as self-mastery! Perhaps this is why the famous ancient greek Philosopher, Xenophon, called egkrateia the 'foundation of all virtues.' The ancient Greek philosophers and stoics of the time, pursued, and admired egkrateia. A shining example of egkrateia, for the ancient Greeks, was Socrates himself (469 - 399 BC); Socrates, one of the most influential figures in Western philosophical tradition, was well known for living a lifestyle of egkrateia, or "self mastery," calling it the "examined life."
"In Plato's Gorgias Socrates states in simple terms that by self-control he means ruling the pleasures and passions within oneself. According to Socrates, the soul is divided between rational and emotional elements, and the rational elements should always prevail over the emotional." (resource here)
The influence of Socrates permeated Ancient Greek philosophy, and contributed to various aspects of Greek idealism. The ancient Greek culture was well acquainted with egkrateia, and Peter - lead by the Holy Spirit - was appealing to an ideal that would have deeply resonated with the ancient Greek culture. However, in the context of this passage, there is a notable difference that Peter is communicating. Peter is communicating that the basis of self control, is faith. To the ancient Greek philosopher, practicing self-control was an exercise of self-will; to the ancient Greek philosopher, and his followers, self-control was an age old battle to overcome the fleshly appetites in one's own strength! To the Christian, however, and what Peter is referencing in 2 Peter 1:5-10, is that self control (or 'self mastery)' is not based on the strength of one's own will, but based on the surrender of one's will to the Spirit of God. This surrender, enables the Christian to draw from the wisdom of the Lord, to enable a lifestyle of self-mastery.
"...self control or 'self mastery' is not based on the strength of one's own will, but based on the surrender of one's will to the Spirit of God..."
Where ancient Greeks propped up notable philosophical figures who exhibited self-mastery, Peter is communicating that true self-mastery can only come from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was the only one to ever utterly defeat the flesh, through the literal death of His own flesh, on the cross. This understanding of self-mastery or self-control, must be added to one's knowledge, in order that one avoid falling into the snare of thinking that one's egkrateia is a work of man. Knowlege puffs up, which is one of the reasons why self-control must be added to one‘s knowledge. One must have self-control in one’s knowledge, to understand that the Holy Spirit enables us to produce qualities that we simply wouldn’t be able to produce without Him.
Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
If humans, being fallible creatures, are prone to error and wandering, how then can one have the quality of self-control? This paradox is overcome - as all are - when scripture answers scripture! 'Egkrateia,' is actually a word rarely used in scripture, in fact, it is found only three times in the New Testament. The second occurrence of egkrateia, is used in Galatians 5:22-23:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (egkrateia); against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23
Self-control, or egkrateia, is a fruit of the Spirit, meaning, it can only be produced by our Lord! This means, that adding 'self-control' to our 'knowledge,' can only be accomplished if one has understood and believed in the Gospel, thus receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and having been filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit within the believer, convicts the believer of sin righteousness and judgment. Practically, this means that sin will not "feel" right, as the pull of the Holy Spirit guides one to follow Christ and abandon fleshly desires. The Holy Spirit, draws the individual toward a God given calling, which ultimately shapes the character of the individual, to be conformed into the image of the Son of God. This also implies that the Holy Spirit moves the believer, in a specific direction. When the believer follows the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul refers to this as "keeping in step with the Spirit." (Galatians 5:25). Following the leading of the Holy Spirit, is a surrender of one's will to the will of God for one's life, and this is at the heart of self-mastery: self denial, and obedience to the Spirit of God! The Holy Spirit will lead the believer to follow Jesus, which is the narrow path that leads to life, and includes self-control. True egkrateia is: submitting to the will and guidance, of the Holy Spirit, keeping in step with Him, to ultimately glorify Jesus Christ. Taking a look at Jesus, we can glimpse what self control looks like, through the Gospel.
The Gospel & Self Control
God instituted a law which would define perfect righteousness. No man, before Jesus (who was fully man, and fully God), had ever kept the law. Anyone who broke one of the commandments in the law, would be guilty of breaking the law in its entirety: no man could claim perfect righteousness.
Jesus's Sinless Perfection
The Bible defines sin as breaking God's law, which earns a "wage." Much like going to work earns a paycheck, we earn a wage through our sin. The Bible says the "wage" of sin, is death, and that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Every single person has EARNED death - all of us are guilty - because nobody is perfectly righteous, nobody, that is, except for Jesus Christ. Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit through a virgin girl, named Mary. No man had seen God, at any time, until Jesus came into the world. Jesus was God, manifested in the flesh. Jesus had every divine expression of God, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, yet he was born as a man: entering into time with a distinct starting point and distinct ending point, though Jesus existed eternally, before time began, as the Son of God. Jesus, being a man, exercised self-control on a level beyond any person who had come before him, or anyone who would come after him. Jesus lived a life of perfect egkrateia, or self-mastery, being tempted in every way that man can be tempted, but having never sinned.
"...Jesus lived a life of perfect egkrateia, or self-mastery, being tempted in every way that man can be tempted, but having never sinned..."
Jesus was likely about 33 years old when He was crucified - meaning - He lived a life of perfect obedience and self control for 33 years. Jesus's sinless perfection can be an easy truth to 'gloss over' without empathizing with our Savior. To illustrate, for example, Jesus never had an envious, self-seeking, greedy, or hateful thought or action. A Saturday morning drive to the grocery store may trigger a number of these thoughts or actions within minutes of entering one's car! Jesus, for about 33 years, lived in perfect righteousness, in order to fulfill God's law, and ultimately, destroy the works of the devil.
The Reception of Perfection
You would have thought that a sinless, perfect, man would have received welcome praise, but it was not so! Jesus's perfection, lead him to His death on the cross. Even His closest friends and followers had abandoned him, the night he was handed over to those who would put Him to death. Nobody could understand the purpose to which Jesus was sent, which was to die on the cross as a propitiation for the sins of the world. Jesus paid the wage that we earned, with His own life! He died the death that every sinner deserved to die, in total agony, deprived, abandoned, and forsaken. Jesus, exercised complete self-mastery, or egkrateia, through His surrender to the will of God, ultimately dying on the cross for our sins.
The Resurrection Life
Jesus didn't stay dead on the cross, after His burial as He was raised to life three days later, by the power of God! Jesus's resurrection was indication that all of the claims that He made, were truth. Jesus has the power to forgive sins, and is the only way to the Father, because Jesus is God. Jesus, being God, was the one who gave the law, and Jesus - being man - fulfilled the Law. Jesus is - therefore - the judge, able to extend mercy through the one way that He has offered through himself, through His atoning sacrifice on the cross. For all those who did receive Him, He gave the power to become the sons of God.
The good news, is that Jesus did the work of salvation for us, even though we abandoned and rejected Him, He still loved us enough to die on the cross for us, in our place; by faith, we believe that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross atoned for our sins, that He was raised from the dead, and that He is Lord! Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are saved, from the wrath of God, which we had earned through our sin. By faith, we believe that the wrath of God, which was owed to us through our sin, was poured out upon Jesus Christ. By faith we believe that He who was without sin was made to be sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God. By faith we receive eternal life, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, enabling us to live a self-controlled, upright and godly life, in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Self-Control is one of the seven qualities listed in 2 Peter 1:5-10, that we - as Christians - should (1) possess, (2) increase, and (3) practice in order that we may NEVER fall. We must add self-control to our knowledge, if we are to receive the promise of never falling. This means that we must be born again, in order that we may be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Only through the Holy Spirit can we exercise the type of self-control that Peter is referring to, in his letter. Self control, or egkrateia, is not accomplished by the strength of one's will but by the surrender of one's will to the will of God, for our lives. God's will for our lives, is to have each believer conformed into the image of His Son. This can only be accomplished by the power of His Spirit dwelling within us, leading us to exercise Spirit lead, self-control. Only by believing in the Gospel, will we ever hope to add to our knowledge, the self-control that Peter says will lead a believer to "never fall." I hope this message has encouraged, and added to your understanding, that Jesus Christ & the Gospel are central to self-control !
Grace and peace,