In the 60s, Professor Walter Mischel began a series of experiments at Stanford University to understand the ability to delay gratification. To do this, he developed the Marshmallow Test which tested the ability of pre-schoolers to conquer the urge to eat a marshmallow placed before them, or wait for a stipulated time and instead get two. Years later and at different stages, the study found that the kids who could delay eating the single marshmallow were generally more successful – they had better SAT scores as adolescents, performed better in their careers, and had more stable relationships. The clear verdict is that self-control is a key indicator of future success.
But long before Prof Mischel began this study at Stanford, a wise man once wrote in Proverbs 25:28, A man without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken-down walls. Indeed, the bible values self-control very highly, and no where does that come out more clearly than where it lists it as a fruit of the Spirit. Prof. Mischel by the Marshmallow test sought to understand why some people had better self-control than others, but it does appear that Paul the apostle had answered this question a while back. To the Galatians, he wrote, But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control;(Gal 5:22-23a).
When the Holy Spirit controls your life, one of the outcomes is that you have better self-control. It’s as simple as that. The amount of self-control that anyone has is directly proportional to their yieldedness to the Holy Spirit’s control. To take the man most yielded to the Holy Spirit, for example, I marvel at the level of self-control that quietly endures the sneers and spit of mere mortals as they led him away to be crucified. In all the taunting the Bible says that the King of the universe and the Lord of heaven’s host “answered nothing.
Now, if as found by the Stanford team, Self-control is a key indicator of future wellbeing i.e. if people who have greater self-control generally do better in life than those who have less self-control, what might be the implication of a life lived under the control of the Holy Spirit that in addition to self-control also bears the fruit of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness and Gentleness? If Self-control alone is a great indicator of wellbeing and success, what do you think this suite of attributes that the Holy Spirit produces in the life of the believer will result in?
Here’s a chart that contrasts what the Holy Spirit does in our lives with what we might get up to when left by ourselves. I don’t think you need too much imaginative powers to see which end of the spectrum leads to the kind of life that you desire.
The thing is, man was designed to thrive, but the design requires man to be led by the Spirit of God. When he walks outside the boundaries of those design parameters, his performance inevitably drops and tends towards zero. Indeed, to paraphrase Proverbs 25:28, self-control or self-destruct, choose one.