Text: Galatians 5:16-26
It sounds so simple and straightforward, perhaps even commonplace. It’s not a flashy concept or an especially attractive idea. It doesn’t turn heads or grab headlines. It can be as seemingly small as saying no to another Jammy Dodger, French fry or Favourite fast food or another half hour on Netflix or Facebook or it can feel as significant as a life of sobriety or sexual purity.
In a fallen world, it is at the height of Christian virtue but its living out is quite simply one of the most difficult things we can ever learn to do.
Self-control is simply that important, impressive and nearly impossible practice of learning to maintain control of the beast of our own sinful passions. It means remaining master of your own domain not only in the hunky-dory, but also when faced with trial or temptation. Self-control may be the embodiment of ‘easier said than done.’ but It Can Be Taught.
Alongside love and godliness, self-control serves as a major summary term for Christian behaviour in its fullness. It is the climactic “fruit of the Spirit” in the apostle’s famous list Galatians 5 and one of the first things that must be characteristic of leaders in the church 1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:8
The idea of controlling ourselves presumes at least two things: 1) the presence of something within us that needs to be bridledand 2) the possibility in us, or through us, on drawing on some source of power to restrain it.
Christian self-control like a good diamond is multifaceted. It involves both “control over our behaviour and the impulses and emotions fuelling them. So self control is not just about our outward actions but relates to our thoughts and our emotions and consequently our internal state.
Biblically, self-control or lack thereof, goes to the deepest part of us: the heart. It begins with control of our thinking and then includes our emotions as well. In scripture, Self-control is often paired with ‘sober-mindedness; 1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:8 and Titus 2:2. In 1 Peter 4:7…therefore be self controlled and sober minded for the sake of your prayers.
Self-control is physical and external as well. The apostle Paul writing 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 disciplines his body to ‘keep it under control’.
The question for the student of Jesus, then, is this: If self-control is so significant and if indeed it can be taught, then how do I go about pursuing it as a student of Jesus?
The Bible has more to teach than just raw denial and rejection. Turn your eyes and attention, yes, but not to a mere diversion but to the source of true change and real power that is outside yourself, where you can freely without guilt indulge. The key to self-control is not inward but upward.
True self-control is a gift from above, produced in and through us by the Holy Spirit. Until we own that it is received from outside ourselves, rather than whipped up from within, the effort we give to control our own selves will rebound to our praise, rather than God’s.
We may be able to trick ourselves into some semblance of self-control. We may be able to drum up the will power to just say no. But we alone get the glory for that. We want Jesus to get glory. We want to control ourselves in the power He supplies through the Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, our controlling ourselves is about being controlled by Christ. When ‘the love of Christ controls us’ 2 Corinthians 5:14, When we embrace the truth that He is our sovereign and God has ‘put everything in subjection under the feet of Jesus’Hebrews 2:8
Christian self-control is not about finally bringing our physical passions under our own control but under the control of Christ by the power of His Spirit.
Because self-control is a gift, produced in and through us by the Holy Spirit, Students of Jesus can and should be the people on the earth most hopeful about growing in self-control.
Jesus is the one who strengthens us. In Jesus, we have a source for true self-control far beyond that of our feeble selves