The Search for Self-Control

The work of His grace in our hearts results in victory over every intemperate habit and unhealthful practice.

E. H. J. Steed is director of the General Conference Temperance Department.

ONE of the important concepts held in common among Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Moslems, and the adherents of some political idealogies is the desire and ability to secure and maintain self-control.

When analyzed, almost every religious creed is involved in some way in this basic search for self-control, even if in the process they have contributed to its continuing loss.

It is common belief that man either lost this ability and now lacks it, or must discover it and apply it before any great transformation in man will take place. The current emphasis on behavior modification illustrates this point.

As seers, philosophers, and revolutionaries have considered man and his potential either for this life or for the life to come, they have been forced to evaluate man's habits and desires in relationship to the ideal of self-control.

Alcohol, the oldest-known destroyer of self-control, has through the centuries been under indictment for this very reason. The Bhagavad-Gita of the Hindus says, "That man is wise who keeps the mastery of himself." Buddhism is a philosophy of self-control with the limiting of desire through introversion. Mohammed advocated total abstention of alcohol and other false dependencies that would weaken self-control, and Marxists see the new man for the new age as possible only as he adheres to self-control and discipline. Unfortunately, many peoples of the world do not realize that the secret of self-control is inherent in the Christian faith.

The use of fermented wine for communion by some Christian churches creates an image of acceptance of alcohol by Christianity. Add to this the endorsement of gambling, usury, and other practices of self-satisfaction, and it is easy to comprehend why there is such limited appreciation of the Christian viewpoint on this subject. Thus in the minds of many Christians temperance is unconsciously equated with in temperance.

The term temperance, however, is in reality to be equated with self-control, but the practice of spotlighting abstinence, or what we don't do, has limited its real significance. The use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, tea, coffee, and cola drinks is correctly thought of as intemperance; but what is needed is a clear picture of the meaning of temperance if we are to see it as the answer to these and any other harmful practices. What, then, is the Biblical concept of temperance?

Biblical temperance is self-control through Christ. It must not be confused with a study of wine or alcohol consumption; this would be the recognition of in temperance. Galatians 5:23 shows that temperance is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Ellen G. White indicates that temperance is a vital part of the third angel's message, a message of re form, and that in dealing with intemperance we will achieve "real success only as the grace of Christ reshapes the character and the man is brought into living connection with the infinite God. This is the purpose of all true temperance effort." —Temperance, p. 102. The word temperance as translated in modern Bible versions means "self-control." Therefore temperance—or self-control—is not to be understood in the sense of restriction, but as an act of release. God, through His Spirit, restores man to his former power—self-restoration and control through Christ.

"One of the most deplorable effects of the original apostasy was the loss of man's power of self-control. Only as this power is regained, can there be real progress." —Ibid.

Christ is the foundation of the new life—physical, mental, social, and spiritual; and through Christ we are enabled to control self. In an interesting dream given Ellen White, she saw a young man passing a paper to a large company of people for them to sign. Some refused to do so, for they were not willing to give up their intemperate habits. Finally the young man declared, "When the plagues of God shall be all around you, you will then see the principles of health reform and strict temperance in all things—that temperance alone is the foundation of all the graces that come from God, the foundation of all victories to be gained." —Ibid., p. 201.

Since self-control is "the foundation of all victories to he gained," it becomes an essential factor in every dimension of life, as well as the key to true health reform.

It is for this reason that certain tests of fellowship are associated with our living a life of self-control, such as refraining from the use of alcoholic beverages and tobacco.

It must be kept in mind that the appearance of avoiding habits of intemperance does not guarantee salvation, for our salvation rests upon Christ's righteousness alone; but the work of His grace in our hearts results in victory over every intemperate habit and unhealthful practice.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:20, Phillips,* "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of a spate of words but of the power of Christian living."

Temperance, then, is an experience that plays a major part in the sanctification of the life. "Unless they practice temperance, they will not, cannot, be sanctified through the truth." —Ibid., p. 252. (See also page 19.) With self-control through Christ's power as the foundational experience working through each of life's dimensions, His righteousness is evidenced in the life. Thus temperance has an important place in the work of the third angel's message, both in practice and in proclamation. (See pages 234, 238.)

With the abundance of intemperance in the land, our role is to give a warning and to resist intemperance, but God has given us a message to declare, an answer—indeed, "something better" to offer—thus overcoming evil with good.

All can be involved in this experience, and the church and home are challenged to action. "In the family circle and in the church we should place Christian temperance on an elevated plat form." —Ibid., p. 165.

Some may fear that recognizing in temperance as a call for a spiritual ministry of victory in Christ will limit our opposition to every evil force of intemperance. We believe, rather, the recognition will place in our hands the only weapon capable of achieving the victory against the loss of control, against lust, passion, and appetite.

If we fail to develop temperance in the life through Christ, intemperance, which "lies at the foundation of all the evil in our world," will weaken and destroy each dimension of life physical, mental, social, and spiritual, leading toward carnal living the way of death! Temperance "should be a living, working element, reforming habits, dispositions, and characters." —Ibid.

We have the choice. Will we put temperance in its right relationship to life, breaking the bonds of evil and setting the captives free through Christ? Or will we strive to elaborate only the evils of intemperance and neglect the foundation of spiritual victory, and leave the person merely better informed but still powerless to achieve victory?

The decision is yours. Why not make temperance what it should be, a spiritual evangelistic ministry, proclaiming self-control and restoration through Christ, God's urgent message for an in temperate world?

"There is need now of men like Daniel—men who have the self-denial and courage to be radical temperance re formers. Let every Christian see that his example and his influence are on the side of reform. Let ministers of the gospel be faithful in instructing and warning the people. And let all remember that our happiness in two worlds depends upon the right improvement of one." —Ibid., p. 237.

* From The New Testament in Modern English, © 3. B. Phillips 1972. Used by permission of the Macmillan Company.

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E. H. J. Steed is director of the General Conference Temperance Department.

August 1976

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