“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” –Proverbs 25:28

Throughout graduate school, my classes included issues of social psychology. How do people behave alone, in groups, and as part of a larger society? We read study upon study. And the one that sticks with me to this day speaks to doing what others have done before. I could not tell you the reference, but the study explored when people would loot a car.

The researchers put a nice car, locked, in a “bad” neighborhood and watched to see how long it would take to be broken into and broken down for parts. They were shocked—but not in the way you might think. The pristine, high-end car lasted far longer, weeks longer than they anticipated. But once the first damage was made, it did not last long at all before being left a shell of a vehicle.

The researchers tried again. They took another high-end car and put it in another section of a crime-ridden part of town. This time, however, they left it there with a broken window. The car did not last long at all.

Time after time, the researchers tried the experiment. And each time they found that once there was damage to the car, it was parted out quickly.

What causes the shift? It seemed to the researchers that even people prone to theft did not want to make the first move. They did not want to be the one to move that care from safe to parted out. But once the first move was made, it was free game.

Re-read our verse:

“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” –Proverbs 25:28

Imagine yourself, your life, as the car in the experiment above. If you lack self-control, you open yourself up to those who seek to take advantage of a situation. The key to self-control is constant awareness.

A number of years ago, I worked in a position where I needed discernment and self-control every single moment of every single day. Each night I returned home completely exhausted from the attention and work it took to be on point in every moment. The self-control part was keeping my facial reactions in check, which required monitoring every single thought. It meant measuring each and every word before it was spoken, written, or shared with another. And the one who sought to find a break in my demeanor grew increasingly frustrated that he could find no crack.

I cannot say that I have used this approach in my every day life since then. The pressures are different now. The intensity is much less. But the damage can be the same when I am not careful. For one crack welcomes others to pry away at that crack. One crack in self-control means the difference between a minor issue and a major challenge.

If there’s a crack, patch it quick. Self control is both the realization of the power you have as a follower of Jesus, and the vulnerability you have as the same. It’s delicate balance, when mastered, brings bold advancement. When not mastered, it brings destruction.

There is no coincidence that self-control is the last of the fruit of the Spirit. For effective self-control requires every single other fruit to make it work. If you’ve got a crack, take a look at your other fruit—it just may be that mending one of those will seal the crack and prevent an invasion.

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