Sentinel of the Soul (7)
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord God,
That I may declare all Your works. Psalm 73.26-28
Self-control is the virtue which enables us to postpone immediate gratification for more long-term benefit. It is an especially important virtue to have in place for dealing with temptation. The role of conscience is to rally the mind and the heart for self-control, so that our soul may be entirely and perfectly inclined to obey and follow the Lord in every situation.
When presented with an opportunity to sin, self-control alerts us to recognize temptation and engages our soul to resist it, so that we grow through temptation unto greater maturity in the Lord, rather than fall through it into rebellion and sin. By practicing self-control, we decline the short-term and deceitful enjoyment of sin to preserve and enrich the long-term delight of living in the favor of the Lord. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit which He works in all those who love the Lord Jesus sincerely.
Thus it stands to reason that the more we love Jesus, and delight in Him, the more our entire soul – heart, mind, and conscience – will be ready to exert self-control when temptations arise.
Loving Jesus is the way to renew and strengthen the virtue of self-control, and all the other virtues and disciplines as well.
Finding the way of escape
Asaph found the way of escape by remembering that we never sin alone and that sin is a slippery slope, and by fleeing to the Lord in prayer and meditation. At the end of his psalm, the temptation to covet averted, he rests in his relationship with the Lord and is renewed and strengthened for whatever he may have to confront next.
As Asaph continued along the way of escape, he refocused on the Lord, and his soul was filled with the delight of contemplating God and resting in Him. Thus more firmly ensconced in the Lord than ever, he was strengthened in soul and body to continue in Him for His Kingdom and glory.
David had written that, in the presence of the Lord are fullness of joy and pleasures forever more (Ps. 16.11). He also declared that if we delight in the Lord, the Lord will give us the desires of our heart (Ps. 37.4), which, if we delight in Him, will certainly be more of Him.
Sin may be appealing, as it winks and beckons at us from the other side of temptation. But, as we have seen, sin separates us from the Lord, thus robbing us of the joy and pleasure we can know as we delight in Him. If, when temptation comes, we focus on the short-term but ultimately unsatisfying pleasures of sin, we will lose sight of, and then contact with, the eternal and gloriouspleasures that can be known in the presence of the Lord.
But if, as temptations arise, we turn our minds to the Lord and contemplate His beauty and goodness and draw near to His Presence, our delight in Him will light the way of escape through temptation to a deeper relationship with the Lord.
Knowing the Lord
It’s clear that Asaph enjoyed a deeply personal experience of the Lord. He talked about the Lord as holding his hand, guiding him with counsel, being present with him on earth, as the strength of his heart, and the portion of his daily life. Asaph delighted in being near to the Lord and taking refuge in Him. It’s clear that Asaph’s faith was more than just a kind of intellectual assent. Asaph knew the Lord, and knowing Him, he delighted in God – he would not allow some short-term enticement to create any interruption in his fellowship with God.
Is this how you would describe your own relationship with Jesus Christ? Do you merely believe in Jesus, or do you truly know and delight in Him? Do you enter His Presence, gaze upon His glory, fill up with His Spirit, and soak in His Word? Knowing the Lord and delighting in Him are the privilege of all who name the Name of Jesus as Savior and King. That so few who profess to believe in Jesus truly know and delight in Him is surely one of the greatest scandals of the contemporary Church.
Knowing and delighting in the Lord is the forge in which self-control is strengthened – in the Presence of the Lord, relishing His beauty, drinking in His goodness, resting in His Presence and power, contemplating His good and perfect will, singing with joy in your soul together with departed saints and angels. They who will not nurture this kind of relationship with the Lord are certain to be vulnerable to every temptation that crosses their paths. Unless we discipline our mind to focus on, our heart to delight in, and our conscience to prefer the greater and eternal good of the Presence and pleasure of the Lord, we will too easily be drawn aside to the cheap thrills and deadly distractions of every passing temptation.
A good conscience is anchored in knowledge of and delight in the Lord. Make it your highest priority to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3.18), and you will find the self-control you need to discover the way of escape through every temptation.
1. What does it mean to delight yourself in the Lord? How should a Christian practice this?
2. What warning would you offer someone to encourage them to fight against falling through temptation into sin?
3. What counsel would you give a new believer to help them learn to recognize and grow through temptation into a greater likeness to Jesus?
Next steps – Transformation: How would you assess the state of your delight in the Lord? Is He truly the greatest joy of your life? What can you do to increase delight in Him?
T. M. Moore
All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.