Biblical Self-Control pt. 1 – Its Definition

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Of all the Bible verses we Christians have memorized, near the top is probably Galatians 5:22-23 — the Fruit of the Spirit. If you are like me, the reason you know these verse so well is because when you were at camp, you sang a silly song that went like this: “The fruit of the spirit’s not a coconut” (tap your head while making a hollow sound with your mouth to imitate the sound of coconut). “The fruit of the spirit’s not a coconut” (sound again). “If you wanna be a coconut, you might as well hear it, you can’t be a fruit of the spirit. Cause the fruit is (shouting!!) love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control-ol-ol. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control ” From here, you just replace the coconut with other fruits and other actions that match that fruit, and the song can go on forever (and sometimes, it can); all the while helping memorize Galatians 5:22-23.

Well, early on in my Christian life, I thought this was a list to build on, sort of like the list in 2 Peter 1:5-7. I also figured that this list was a hierarchy; that is, love was the first priority and when you got that, then joy, then peace, and so on. It was only later in my Christian life that God graciously illuminated to me that the “Fruit of the Spirit” was only ONE fruit (not multiple) and that all 9-traits were happening in the person who is of the Spirit. This is not a list to work on, but a guide for self-examination to see if I truly have the Spirit or not (see. Gal 5:19-21).

Now because I did this, guess which part of the Spirit’s fruit never got much attention? The last one: “self-control.” And of course not focusing in on self-control, I have made huge sinful decisions throughout my life.

Well, recently, I had a Bible study with some of my youth guys and when thinking and praying about what to talk about, I came across self-control and thought that this is needed for myself and for my guys. I would like to spend a few blogposts showing you what I discovered.

Let’s start with defining “self-control” in the life of a Christian.

Note upfront: since we are talking about a “Fruit of the Spirit,” self-control cannot be defined in non-biblical terms. If we do this, then self-control can be accomplished by unbelievers (who are void of the Spirit) and then can be simply defined as restraint exercised over one’s impulses, desires, and emotions. But, this kind of definition downplays the biblical understanding of what the Holy Spirit is actually doing in producing self-control in the Christian.

Biblical self-control is the power to keep your sin in check or the power to restrain your sin in thought, in word, in deed. This definition make self-control exclusively by the Spirit and is very different from the unbeliever, who may exercise a form of self-control. However, their self-control is merely a means to their own selfish gains. They assess the situation they are in and restrain doing something in order to gain something else. For example, an unbeliever may hate their job and their boss, but they avoid saying anything negative out loud because the job pays well. They could not find work for this pay anywhere else. So, to keep their job (and maybe get that promotion in 5 years), they do their work while keeping their mouth under control.

Do you see the problem? The unbeliever has a different heart attitude that is self-focused and self-control is only as good as it benefits them.

But this is not the way of a Christian. A Christian exercises self-control over their sin; something unbelievers cannot do (Rom 3:10-18; Eph 2:1-3). So, take the same workplace and same job and same pay and same possible promotion, but with a Christian who exhibits self-control. They know their boss is unfriendly and they know the job can be tedious and mind-numbing. But, they are thankful that God has provided them with a job to earn a living, provide for their family, and a workplace where they can evangelize the lost. They are friendly to their unfriendly boss because the boss is also made in the image of God and needs to the gospel as much as everyone.

You see, a person who is exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit of self-control sees his workplace as a provision from God and a place of ministry to those around him. This is biblical and Spirit empowered self-control.

Now, how do we do self-control and why is it necessary? These questions I will answer in the weeks to come.

Until then, pray that God will work self-control into you and consider the following

proverb that I will look at next time: “Like a city that is broken into and without walls, is a man who has no control over his spirit” (Prov 25:28).

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