A young girl was learning the fruits of the Spirit, so her father asked her to recite them to him. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and remote control,” was her reply. That’s not exactly right, but it is much closer to the truth than we may realize. You see, ‘self’ control doesn’t mean that self is IN control. It means that self is UNDER control – under the control of the Holy Spirit.
We are born without self control. Babies can’t control their muscles to walk or to feed themselves, they can’t control their bowels and they certainly can’t control their emotions. Control needs to be learned – physically, emotionally and even spiritually. This fruit really should be called SPIRIT control, not self control.
So what does Spirit control really look like? It is the ability to rule your personal life so that you are not dominated by sin (Romans 6:12). It is the ability to control your self life from within by spiritual means (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).
For the Christian self-control is a spiritual grace. In the secular world we often associate self-control with willpower. Self-control or willpower would embrace such things as dieting, quitting smoking, exercise, gambling, alcohol, work habits, ethics, and living within your means. These are only just a few; each of you can add many others to this list. In our Christian walk nothing is ever accomplished by our own personal works, efforts, or merit. The entire Christian life is a walk of grace in total surrender and dependency upon the Holy Spirit. It comes by grace through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, not by any personal effort on my part other than total surrender and obedience to Him. Christian self-control always honors Jesus, not myself.
Remember, self control (really Spirit control) starts within, not without. It is not just controlling our actions, for it starts with controlling our thoughts. What is in our heart comes out through our mouth. Spirit control doesn’t just help us keep our mouth shut, it shows us how to have a proper attitude in our heart.
Imagine if you started your car and noticed white smoke coming out the tailpipe. You wouldn’t get a new tailpipe because that isn’t the problem. The tailpipe only reveals the problem. Rather, you would do some engine work. In the same way, your habits only reveal what goes on in your heart.
If you have a habit of gossiping, the problem isn’t gossip; the problem is malice or envy. If you have a habit of blowing up, the problem isn’t your temper; the problem is rage, hatred, and bitterness in your heart. If you have a problem with pornography or infidelity to your spouse, the problem is lust in your heart. The base sin in all these is pride which is idolatry. Any time something is put before God it is idolatry, and idolatry begins in the heart.
Everyone needs the fruit of self control. Paul needed it as well (Romans 7:19-21). Victory came when He let the Spirit control him (Romans 8 follows Romans 7). And we need it daily, even hourly (2 Corinthians 4:16). It isn’t just for the ‘big’ things in life but for everyday things like our actions and speech (James 1:26). Spirit control – don’t leave home without it.
1 Cor. 9:24-27 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is self-controled in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. . Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. . But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
II Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
Think of some areas in life where you need God’s Spirit control. Pray specifically for each area and the control you need in it. Remember to pray throughout the day as these issues arise in life.
(If I can answer questions or offer personal counsel, or if you would like a free copy of my Spiritual Warfare Handbook, email me at Jerry@ChristianTrainingOrganization.org or download it from http://sw.christiantrainingonline.org/. My next book, Spiritual Warfare in the Bible, which is a more advanced treatment of spiritual warfare, is also available there for free.)