I’ll be honest, self-control is my least favorite of the fruit of the Spirit.
Maybe it’s because I’m so bad at it, or because it reminds me too much of harsh, OCD minded people who always seem to be nagging you to do better and control yourself.
But contrary to what my mind thinks, God is not an authoritarian task-master who can’t wait to drill-sergeant the sin out of us through rigid discipline and self-control.
This is the God who said “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”. (Matt. 11:30) Even when the Bible speaks of God disciplining us, it still reminds us that, “Whom the Lord loves he reproves, even as a Father, the son in whom he delights.” (Pro. 3:12)
What do you think of when you think about self-control?
I don’t know about you, but I immediately think about all the ways that I’m not self-controlled. For example, I’m currently writing this at work during an overnight shift at my hotel. I made a pot of coffee to have set out for the guests and completely forgot it. Do I think anyone besides me needs coffee at 4am? No, but I still need to have it out and ready for anyone who needs to be up this early.
However, I think the Bible was trying to get a bit deeper than my own incompetence to remember to set the coffee out on time.
When we think of self-control we always think of our behavior, the small or big things that we need to stay on top of throughout the day. Maybe you struggle to be on time for anything, perhaps you have a hard time watching what you say to people, maybe even you have a struggle with addictions such as smoking, alcohol, drugs, or pornography.
Self-control certainly will begin to stretch itself out over all these issues. Whether it’s something as small as being 5 minutes late to work or as big as an alcohol addiction.
But something that gets missed about self-control is all the fruit of the Spirit right before it. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
This obviously is my own opinion, but I personally think self-control is the one virtue we have the smallest amount of control over. I believe that biblical self-control is manifested from having the previous fruits of the Spirit flowing through us already. Someone who is without any of the other fruits entirely, but lives a very disciplined life is only that- very disciplined.
God wants self-control to be something that is a result of the other fruit in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit all have in common one thing: they are expressions that give out to other people.
The way this is expressed can be something as simple as being considerate of others. Think of when you are about to meet a good friend you haven’t seen in years. You`re very likely to be on time for whatever engagement you have planned. In that case your love of your friend dictated your ability to control being on time. Love manifested itself through your behavior, modeled through self-control.
You see, I want us to understand that self-control is not simply being more disciplined. It’s about choosing to do a different way of life.
For example, let's look at deciding to eat healthier and working out. The person who truly wants to be healthy doesn't just go on diets at different times of the year and workout sporadically. They wake up every day making the choice to become a different person and take on a new way of doing life. It means making a regular workout schedule, it involves changing their eating habits to be healthier throughout the year, not at specific times.
Of course, in this day and age our souls are hungering for more than being better about punctuality and having a healthier body.
I believe we long for control of our spirits.
Aren't we completely tired of all the stress of the day and mood swings it brings on us? There are different season of life, but sometimes we find that those seasons completely take away any peace and joy we have. Some of us find chaos coming in the form of friends abandoning us, relationships dying away, learning of a sickness that will require much treatment and money, or even financial debt that seems crippling.
When the fruit of self-control was promised, I don’t think that it was given so all the OCD people could feel smug about how they have it mastered.
It was promised because ultimately God’s peace will control our spirits in the chaos of life’s storms. God’s joy will be something that cannot be shaken by the despair of the world. Our self-control will be our ability to submit ourselves to God’s loving care no matter what the circumstance.
I don’t know many people whose biggest struggle right now is their inability to be on time for work every day. But I do know plenty of people who are anxious, worried, joyless, and adrift in life without any sense of purpose, or reassurance from God they are deeply loved and cherished by him.
Self-control for the Christian will ultimately be about surrender. It’s in our own inability to keep
things under control that we must give over control to God.
The person struggling with pornography use and always longing to be in a relationship needs to begin his healing by surrendering his desires to the will of God. That person has an attitude of taking what they think is rightfully theirs, and then sets their heart to have it no matter the cost to their soul. God intervenes by telling us that since our entire lives belong to him, so do matters of the heart and body. It’s when the person admits to their own failure to control themselves, and also admits that even the sex drive must be brought under God’s sovereignty, that true control begins.
God cannot give us self-control unless we first commit to self-surrender. We need to be honest with ourselves over how we are so unable to do what we should all the time. From the small things like being late to work or meeting a friend, to the bigger issues like an addiction, we need to understand we can’t do it right.
Through the process of surrender and admittance we learn God is the one who truly knows what we need in the moment. We’ll begin to find the lost peace and joy that we wish would define our lives. Opening ourselves up in weakness allows us to be aware of the work God is doing around us.
A biblical example of this is in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30. The nation of Israel was faced with an invading army that vastly outnumbered them. Verse 12 records the cry of the king of Israel when he said,
“O our God will you not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”After their cry for help God heard them and acted in the best way possible, destroying the enemy without Israel even needing to lift a finger in battle.
In the same way submitting our lives to God’s care will result in him giving us the control over our spirits that we long for.
By having God’s Spirit free to do His work in us, we will find our desires and attitudes changing in ways that make self-control possible.
Obviously this means the next step will be more practical ways we can start practicing self-control in areas we need it, but that requires more hands on help of other Christians around us who are personally walking with us in our lives.
So we should go forward now, surrendering our lack of self-control and other issues to God who will begin to show us the way to grow in this (and other) fruit of the Spirit.
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Victor is currently a seminary student studying biblical counseling. He moonlights as a hotel employee, as well. He unfortunately doesn't have a blog (yet. I think we can convince him to get one...).
Thank you for joining us today, Victor!
How does self-control play out in your life?
Stay tuned for the rest of our study in the Fruit of the Spirit (there's one post yet to come!)
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