Like a city whose walls are broken through
is a person who lacks self-control.
When did you last give thought to how self-controlled you are?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22–23
Self-control is last in Paul’s list in Galatians 5:22-23. This does not mean that it is less important than other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. We will consider four questions on self-control: What is it? How do we become self-controlled? How important is self-control in our lives as Christians? And in what kind of situations do we need to exercise self-control?
What is self-control?
There is something that threatens to get out of control. It needs to be restrained. If it is not restrained it will have devastating consequences. The thing we are talking about here is the self, with all its desires and ambitions. Self-control goes beyond external exercises or practises. It deals with the inner desires of the self that are opposed to the way of the Spirit. In Galatians 5:19-21, just before he talks about the fruit of the Spirit, Paul lists the works of the flesh. Among them is selfish ambition.
The self wants its own things, at its own time, with no regard to God and his people — and at times with no regard to its own resulting destruction. Left to its own devices, the self will go the way of the flesh. An example of this is when King David did not exercise self-control, but yielded to his lust after seeing Bathsheba bathing (2 Samuel 11).
Self-control is the ability to restrain or master oneself. In my isiXhosa language, the term is ‘ukuzeyisa.’ It carries with it the notion of defeating your own self. In the face of a desire, a temptation, or an opportunity to do wrong before the Lord, self-control is the ability to say no and stop yourself from following your evil desires. It is the courage to act in opposition to the demands of the flesh.
How do we become self-controlled?
Galatians 5:22-23 show us that self-control in the life of a believer is the fruit of the Spirit. This means that self-control is not something we can have by our own will power alone. There is no set of laws to be followed or routines to be practised in order for the children of God to possess self-control.
Rather, it is the result of the Holy Spirit indwelling us. A fruit tree that has life in it will produce fruit of its kind. In the same way, the Spirit who lives in us to give us life produces his fruit in us. The fruit becomes evident externally. However, it is something that has been growing internally for a period of time. Because the Spirit lives among Christians, it is inevitable that in due time the fruit of the Spirit will be evident in the Christian’s life. You cannot be indwelled by the Spirit of God and not have the fruit of the Spirit growing gradually in you.
This does not take away our responsibility to pray to God to graciously bring about self-control in us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to walk in step with the Spirit. Did not Christ exercise self-control when he resisted the devil during his 40 day fast in the wilderness? As we study and meditate on the sufficiency of Christ in our life, we will find ourselves content and joyful to exercise self-control.
How important is self-control in the life of a believer?
Can a Christian be happy with lack of self-control in his own life? The answer is no. You see, if self-control is the fruit of the Spirit, then not to possess it in increasing measure should be a cause for concern. Christians prove themselves to be Christians not by their gifts but by the fruit of the Spirit emanating from them. The godly character traits in the believer should be plain for all to see. The fruit of the Spirit, of which self-control is a part, is a sign that one is abiding in Jesus Christ who is the true vine. Self-control is among the qualifications required of a Christian leader in 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus 2. Without self-control a person would be out of control. They would please the desires of the flesh that lust against the Spirit.
In what kind of situations can we exercise self-control?
None of us is perfect. We are a work in progress. God is not finished with us. We have sometimes used these statements to avoid exercising self-control in certain areas of our life. Self-control is supposed to be practised in every area of a Christian’s life. Whenever we are tempted and we desire to think or act out of our selfish desires, we must ask God to grant us grace to exercise self-control. This kind of self-control brings glory to God.
Questions for Reflection
1. How has this passage helped you understand self-control in biblical terms?
2. How has self-control grown in you over the last few years?
3. In which areas of your life are you praying that the Lord may help you to exercise this fruit of the Spirit?
you have given us your Spirit to dwell within us:
grant us growth in self-control,
in order to resist lusts of the flesh which war against you,
and to walk in the Spirit,
through your Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ,