Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of these do you think is unlike the rest? I wager it is self-control. When we think of self-control we think of the ability to restrain oneself – whether that is physical, emotional, behavioral, and/or motivational – we think of diet plans, spending goals, curbing habits, and staying the tongue. While those things require self-control, we may believe self-control is by our strength when it is the Spirit that empowers. Self-control without the Spirit is dangerous, misguided, and self-serving.
Up until regeneration self-control is alien, each one of us lives in sinful self-pleasing. Galatians 5:16 says we uncompromisingly carried out “the desire of the flesh” (e.g. immorality, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, selfishness, drunkenness, and disobedience). These are opposed to the Spirit and by them we pleased ourselves to death.
Now, by the Spirit’s regeneration, we have been granted new hearts. We now cherish God as holy, we want to live a holy and pleasing life unto God, and we have the Spirit-empowered ability to so so. Galatians 5:24-25 says those who belong to Christ crucify their fleshly desires and live by the Spirit in producing the fruit of the Spirit.
Christian self-control is the Spirit-empowered ability to say yes to pleasing God and no to pleasing our fleshly desires. Spiritual self-control is a partnership, God’s power and our exercise. Self-control is a great blessing to us:
We are protected from sin’s destructiveness. Proverbs 25:28 says a man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. This is a war-time image, living by the Spirit to please God is a defense against giving into the flesh and suffering the consequences. In what ways are you suffering by a lack of self-control?
We stay focused on God’s mission. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul says he exercises self-control so he can remain on God’s mission. This is a training analogy, we ought to be self-discipline in honing our drive and practice after God’s mission. Are you trying to please God in your own strength?
We love God and others. 2 Timothy 3:1-3 warns that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves and one of their hallmarks will be a lack of self-control. Spiritual self-control puts our priorities in order: God first, others second, ourselves third. Are you honoring God with your heart, mind, and strength?
If you find yourself lacking in self-control, do not double down on trying harder. Instead, admit your inability, confess the Spirit’s ability, ask God for help, and move forward in faith.