In Proverbs 16:32 Solomon writes, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
I take this to mean that self-control requires more strength than conquering anyone or anything outside of the self. Therefore, to be in control of one’s self is, or at least ought to be, the highest of human endeavors. But herein lies the problem. As Paul so eloquently said in Romans 7:18-24,
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
And this was written by a man who was a stellar, religious zealot who was at the top of his class, if you will! If the guy who does everything right feels this way, and sees these things in himself, then what hope is there for the rest of us? Paul answers in Romans 7:25-8:4:
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
So how, then, is one to rule his spirit? Only by being ruled by Christ. Christ has done for us what we could never do for ourselves, and therefore the way to rule over the self is to surrender to Christ, look to Christ, rest in Christ. May the Lord give us ears to hear and a will to submit to his gracious work in us.