As we conclude the series on the Fruit of the spirit, we reflect on the last fruit – Self-control.
In Acts 24:25, Paul talks about self-control while speaking about faith in Jesus. We know it as a fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23) and read it as a quality that is desired in leaders of the church (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8).
Self- control is the ability to regulate one’s actions and emotions in the face of temptations or impulses.
As a Christ follower, self-control goes deeper than controlled expressions of behaviour, it extends to what lies within our hearts and minds. Why? Because Jesus talks in Mathew 5:28 about sinning within our hearts.
We read in Mark 7:20-23, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
To the world we might look composed and good, but is our thought life pleasing to God?
In Titus 2:11-12 we read that it is God’s plan for us to lead lives that are not driven by our own flesh or emotions “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
This verse shows us that living self-controlled lives are aligned with righteousness and godly living. They are attributes that we as Christ followers want our lives to be characterised by. To be able to do so, we first have to say ‘No’ to a certain way of living – succumbing to ungodliness and being led by worldly passions.
We often box self-control as trying hard to do or not do something. If that was all it was, we would perfect it, in our own strength. We have to understand that self-control does not entirely come from ourselves. As a fruit of the spirit, its source is Christ and our involvement is the choice, surrender and perseverance to allow this fruit to grow and develop.
“True self-control is not about bringing ourselves under our own control, but under the power of Christ.” – David Mathis
With Christ within us, our desires realign and so does our actions. Self-control begins from HIM and is therefore learnt from Him. Learning, starts with a willingness to submit to the one we learn from. Can we learn if we do not sit at the Lord’s feet often enough or if our time with Him does not involve listening to Him? Learning also requires intention and perseverance.
1 Peter 5:8 says “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” How does being alert closely tie in with being self-controlled?
Being alert involves an awareness that Satan and his legion of demons are at every turn, looking to lead us into sin. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). Being alert also includes being aware of areas of personal weakness and learning from past situations where we stumbled before? The enemy is waiting for an opportunity to take us down the slippery slope of sin.
2 Peter 1:6 teaches us “Make every effort to add to your knowledge self-control and to self-control perseverance.” To the knowledge that we have of what it takes to walk the righteous path, what use is it if our efforts do not match to stay on said path. That is where self-control comes into play, in the choices that we constantly have to make of turning away from ungodliness.
And to self-control, we then add perseverance, to not give up when we make a mistake but turn back to God, repent and restore our fellowship with the Lord. We don’t always get it right but we have to also be cautious of whether we are getting it more wrong than right because if we are, then we are using our weakness to excuse our failure to change our ways.
The value of self-control – it aids us to better walk a righteous path but understanding its precise role expands our realisation to the depth of its importance.
Proverbs 25:28 gives us insight into what it means to lack self-control. “Like a city whose walls are broken through, is a person who lacks self-control.”
Pertaining to the time, a city’s defence depended heavily on strong walls surrounding it. If the walls were broken down, it left the city completely vulnerable to the incursions of any enemy that wished to plunder, conquer or capture. Similarly, without self-control, one’s spirit is vulnerable to slip into sin with little temptation. And without that defence, one’s spirit is at the mercy of Satan’s attack. Self-control serves as a fortified wall to protect us.
A heart that is devoted to God lives not to satisfy the flesh but to store up treasures in heaven. Self-control is an outpouring of a heart that is devoted to God. The account of Jesus’s temptation in Mathew 4, is a wonderful example of self-control. Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights and yet when presented with an easy route and comfort in the now, He chose God and the truth. Jesus used scripture to stand strong against Satan’s schemes.
Like the other fruit of the Spirit, we can grow in self-control too. Here are three practical aspects that can help us do so
Reflecting and monitoring – Be honest with yourself, including your thoughts and recognise areas that need work. Take them to God and submit to His pruning as He refines you.
Benchmark – of the desired emotional/physical response that you steer yourself towards. What is your guiding principle? Would your response grieve God, would it reflect the presence of the spirit within you to others?
Power – Take your feelings, emotions and your actions to God, let Him meet you where you are at, ask for His help and His strength, because only in the power of the spirit can we transform, put off our old self and put on the new in Christ.
Our self-control comes from walking in step with the Holy Spirit. As we walk, we strengthen, we grow and we are changed.
Blessings and a wonderful new year to you all.