For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good. – Titus 2:11-14
In its simplest terms, self-control is looking beyond our current circumstances and taking a longer view of our ultimate goal – our hope in Christ. Maybe that’s why Paul included self-control as the last of the fruits of a Spirit-filled life in Galatians.
Decades ago, psychologist Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiment tested the real-life challenge of self-control. He left a succession of 4-year-olds in a room with a bell and a marshmallow. If they rang the bell, he would come back and they could eat the marshmallow. If, however, they didn’t ring the bell and waited for him to come back on his own, they could then have two marshmallows.
In videos of the experiment, you can see the children squirming, kicking, hiding their eyes – desperately trying to exercise self-control so they can wait and get two marshmallows. Their performance varied widely. Some broke down and rang the bell within a minute. Others lasted 15 minutes.
How many of us live our lives like the children who broke down within the first sixty seconds?
The passage above from Paul’s letter to Titus tells us that God’s grace trains us to first reject our natural way of doing things and secondly to live self-controlled lives. Why? Christ gave Himself to free us.