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10 Key Bible Verses on Self-Control

By Koa Sinag

10 Key Bible Verses on Self-Control

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

All commentary notes adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

1. Proverbs 25:28

A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls. Read More

Self-control relates to the passions (such as anger or love), the appetites (for food, sex, etc.), and the will (as illustrated by impulsive decisions). The lack of self-control is a mark of a fool. He is like a city . . . left without walls, that is, with no means of defense against enemies.


2. Galatians 5:22–24

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Read More

The Spirit fights against sin not merely in defense but also in attack by producing in Christians the positive attributes of godly character, all of which are evident in Jesus in the Gospels.

Self-control is the discipline given by the Holy Spirit that allows Christians to resist the power of the flesh (cf. Gal. 5:17). Against such things there is no law, and therefore those who manifest them are fulfilling the law—more than those who insist on Jewish ceremonies, and likewise more than those who follow the works of the flesh surveyed in Gal.5:19–21.

Again, Christ and the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) come together as the source of the believer’s life. Christians have crucified the flesh, or died with Christ to sin (see Gal. 6:14; Rom. 6:4–6). Now that the old order of things has passed away for believers, their old sinful selves that belonged to that order have crumbled as well—so they should pay no attention to them. “Flesh” here should not be understood to mean physical bodies but rather fallen, sinful human nature with all its desires.

3. 1 Peter 4:7

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Read More

The end of all things is at hand does not mean Peter was expecting Christ to return in a few weeks or months. It means, rather, that all the major events in God’s great salvation plan—culminating in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost—had already occurred. Therefore Christ’s return could happen at any time: it was “at hand” in Peter’s day, and it still is today. But the imminent arrival of the end is not a call simply to look into heaven and wait for Jesus’ return. Instead, believers are to be self-controlled and sober-minded, so that they may be devoted to prayer and maximize their usefulness in God’s kingdom.

4. Mark 9:43–48

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ Read More

Jesus uses hyperbole (intentional overstatement) to show the seriousness of sin and the fact that nothing, even things of greatest importance to humans such as a hand, foot, or eye, can be more important than God. “Hand,” “foot,” and “eye” probably also serve as metonymies (where one thing stands for something related to it) for sins that can be committed with these body parts. (E.g., the “hand” may represent theft or murder done by the hand; the “foot” may represent going somewhere to undertake a sinful act; the “eye” may represent coveting, lust, or adultery, as in Matt. 5:27–30.) Of course, Jesus does not mean that people should literally cut off those body parts, for the literal removal of them cannot remove the root of sin in the heart (see Mark 7:20–23; Mark 9:45). Jesus’ words serve as a sober warning concerning the severity of sin, which can lead to hell (Gk. gehenna; see Isa. 66:24) and fire that is not quenched (Mark 8:35–37; Mark 9:47–48).

5. 1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Read More

will not let you be tempted beyond your ability . . . will also provide the way of escape. Even when Christians face morally confusing situations, they should never think that they have no options other than sinful ones. There will always be a morally right solution that does not require disobedience to any of God’s moral laws.

6. Psalm 141:3–5

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
keep watch over the door of my lips!
Do not let my heart incline to any evil,
to busy myself with wicked deeds
in company with men who work iniquity,
and let me not eat of their delicacies!

Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness;
let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head;
let my head not refuse it.
Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds. Read More

Keep Me from Taking Part in Their Evil. The singer may be inclined to avoid danger by joining the men who work iniquity, and this section asks God to help him avoid all such temptation. The request of Psalm 141:3, set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth, is probably to be taken in that light: it is a prayer that God would protect the faithful from playing along with schemers in speech who betray the Lord and his godly ones. While the faithful person will accept correction from others of the faithful, his prayer is continually against the evil deeds of the schemers. This prayer reveals great insight into how a person in these circumstances would actually feel.

7. James 1:19–20

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Read More

Hearing and Doing the Word. The central theme of this section is practical Christianity mandated by “the word of truth,” which is the gospel (James 1:18), and characterized by both truly “hearing” and then resolutely “doing” the truth. Obedience is the hallmark of the true child of God.

Hearers of the Word. James encourages the church to pursue hearing the word, and to avoid hasty speech and unrighteous anger.

James echoes Jewish Wisdom tradition on the misuse of the tongue and the anger that can result (cf. Prov. 10:19; 11:12; 15:1; 17:28). quick to hear. Lack of listening, combined with lack of restraint in speech, leads to ill-tempered action. Slow to anger does not mean that all human anger is sinful (cf. Eph. 4:26), but the quick-tempered, selfish anger of the world (“the anger of man,” James 1:20) betrays lack of trust in God and lack of love for others.

The self-reliant anger of man, even when directed against some wrongdoing, fails to recognize that mere human reproach cannot change another person’s heart, and thus it does not produce the righteousness of God; nor indeed is such anger fully righteous itself. God is holy and righteous, requiring that his people emulate his righteous character (e.g., Lev. 19:2; Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:16). “Righteousness” here is not Pauline legal or forensic righteousness proclaimed in God’s court of law (e.g., see notes on Rom. 3:20; 5:10) but is closer to the usage of the OT (Isa. 61:3) and Jesus (Matt. 3:15; Matt. 5:6, Matt.5:10, Matt. 5:20; Matt.6:1, Matt.6:33; Matt.21:32), in the sense of conducting one’s life by the will of God, according to his standards.

8. Romans 8:13

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. Read More

Those who give their lives over to the flesh will face eternal death, but those who slay the desires of the flesh through the power of the Spirit will enjoy eternal life. God and believers each have a role in sanctification: it must be by the Spirit and his power, but you put to death shows that one must take an active role in battling sinful habits.

9. 1 Corinthians 9:24–27

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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. Read More

Paul frequently uses athletic metaphors to describe the rigors and single-minded focus of his apostolic work to pursue the advancement of the gospel (see also Phil. 3:12–14; 2 Tim. 4:7–8). The extended metaphor is particularly apt in a letter to Corinth, which was the location of the biennial Isthmian games, at that time second in fame only to the Olympic games. Paul’s stay in Corinth during his second missionary journey (Acts 18) may have overlapped with the games in either A.D. 49 or 51. The perishable wreath was a crown (Gk. stephanos) of foliage (and therefore quick to wither) which was given to the victor in a public athletic contest. Paul thinks of his congregations as the victor’s crown that he will wear on the final day (Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19).

10. 2 Peter 1:5–9

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. Read More

supplement your faith. Peter exhorts Christians not merely to confess faith in Christ but actually to live as he taught. He is not saying that works are a prerequisite for salvation but rather is arguing that faith must take concrete form in life. All the virtues listed in 2 Peter 1:5–7 are results of faith, so faith is listed first, while love (the ultimate result of faith) is listed last (2 Peter 1:7; cf. 1 Tim. 1:5). Virtue translates Greek aretē. Godliness translates Greek eusebeia, “devoutness, piety, devotion to God” (also in 2 Peter 1:3; 1:7; 3:11; 2 Tim. 3:5).


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