by Doug Gouge
The last of the fruit of the Spirit is both a pinnacle and unending goal for the Christian. Christ’s perfect human example demonstrates self-control for us as believers. His ability to empty himself of his deity and suffer for our sins upon a cross is both redemptive and challenging. Self-control, or the lack of it, reveals itself in life’s most challenging situations. Let’s look at what self-control is and some attributes and strategies to harness this most powerful fruit of the Spirit.
Self-control is learning how to control one’s own sinful self. In order to control our sin nature, we first must admit that we are in fact sinful. The world would question whether we have a sin nature. It would also tell us that we need only to look inside ourselves in order to control our thoughts and behaviors. It is that very inward look that reveals that we alone are incapable of controlling ourselves. “We all have fallen and come short of God’s glory.” An internal look prompts the believer to look upward for help with our sin nature.
Looking upward reveals our hope for glory. This is a wonderful hope and such a great promise especially in times when life presses in. However, our hope for glory is available each day. As we intently try to walk in God’s will, we are being transformed from one glory to the next. What is our part in this transformation? Paul says we must die daily and pick up our cross and follow Christ. As we wake each morning, our initial pray should be that we die that day to the sinful nature that still resides within us. Self-control begins with dying before we can live in His power and strength.
All this is easier said than done. The blaring horn, the unexpected diagnosis, the curt word or unfaithful friend all awaken our sin nature, with its desire for revenge, for a fearful reaction and other self-gratifying behaviors.
We are easily mired in past behaviors and emotions that are tied to who were and not to whose we are. We must consciously give our lives over to Christ, knowing that He is more than capable to handle all of problems. He is faithful and gracious to dig into the crud of our lives and carry us through if we will only trust him. We must learn to respond rather than react. Taking every thought captive and choosing to think through our options before respond should be our deliberate, biblical process. So many times I am guilty of reacting rather than pausing, thinking and praying through what God might have me do, and acting as God would lead me.
What does this road toward self-control look like? Being a diabetic, I recently had a high A1C result which both shocked and spurred me to action. I saw my mother give herself insulin shots for the final years of her life, something I have vowed I would avoid at all costs. Before making severe changes in my eating habits, I asked the Lord to lead me in this effort to change my behavior because I had failed at this so many times in the past. I am a month into my new eating regimen and life has changed. I am logging my meals, watching my carbs, and exercising almost every day. Some days are better than others but I don’t wallow in my failures because His Spirit is helping me to fight the battle of controlling my eating. I have lost over 10 pounds and my glucose levels are 40 points below my prior levels. I have come off one of my three diabetic medicines and feel so much better. My self-control depends on God’s faithfulness and grace because I know what I want; three or four yeast rolls! This is a battle that I must rely upon Christ and His strength until He returns or calls me home. It is a comfort that He is in control rather than my sinful self!
Maybe you could join me in praying like this: Lord God, thank you for your Son Jesus Christ who laid aside his power and authority and trusted you completely as He fulfilled the perfection required to wipe away my sin. Help me to turn to you in all things that challenge me as I walk through this world filled with sin and selfishness. Guard my heart which is prone to sin, so that I might be light and salt in a world full of self-serving, prideful and pleasure-seeking behaviors. You know me better than I know myself and I ask that You direct my thoughts and actions. Transform me through the power of your Holy Spirit and hold me captive until I am able to worship You before Your throne in heaven. In Jesus Name.