Last time I wrote, we began to look at that oh so lost Fruit of the Spirit, self-control. Because it sits at the end of the list in Galatians 5. I think we (including myself) thing of this list as a hierarchy, where love the most important fruit of the Spirit, followed by joy, peace, etc., leaving self-control as the last and therefore least important. But this list Paul gives us in Gal 5 is not a list of fruits (plural), but one fruit that the Spirit works in each of us. There is no hierarchy here, but a list of what describes a person who is walking by the Spirit. A true Christian is one who exercises all 9-actions because the Spirit is working in them.
Now, I began with defining self-control. Simply: 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. Biblical self-control cannot be accomplished by non-believers—Romans 1-3 and Galatians 5:19-21 makes that crystal clear. Unbelievers may exercise a form of self-control, but it is merely a means to their own selfish gain. They have no desire to put off sin and put on Christ because they do not have Christ, and therefore have an unbroken, habitual character of sin.
Now, with the definition in place, I want to take today to show the necessity of self-control in the life of a Christian. Self-control should be a necessary pursuit of every believer and not a day should go by that is without the pursuit of self-control.
So, why is self-control necessary? First, consider Proverbs 25:28, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls, is a man who has no control over his spirit.”
Word pictures are very helpful, and Solomon has given us a gem here. Think about it: how strong is a city without walls to defend itself? Not strong at all. In fact, a city with no walls is vulnerable to any attack from any enemy (this, by the way, was the concern of Nehemiah in Neh 1-2 about Jerusalem post-exile). That is exactly the point. If we lack self-control, we are highly and easily vulnerable for any and every sinful attack that comes our way. So, this verse alone gives us why self-control is so necessary. Without self-control, you are a sitting duck, with no wings, and hordes of hunters and dogs ready to devour you. This should be enough to make self-control so necessary for the life of a Christian, because we have strong enemies that are seeking to devour us.
Consider our foes:
- The world = sinful humanity hates God & Christ and therefore the followers of Christ (John 15:18-25).
- Satan = our spiritual enemy who has immense powers (though not divine power) to destroy whom ever God allows (see Job 1-2 & Luke 22:31 & 1 Cor 5:5) and is seeking to specifically attack Christians (1 Pet 5:8), with a demonic horde that only does harm (Mark 5:1-13).
- Our flesh = our sinful nature that still lives within us continues to rage and make war with us in our pursuit of holiness (Rom 7). It is an enemy within us that we will continue to battle until the day of our glorification.
These are really tough enemies and all of them would love to see us in a constant state of stumbling and as perpetual weak Christians, who do not walk by the Spirit and are therefore not strengthened by the Spirit of Christ. And the area that I think they aim at is the least focused on: self-control, because self-control takes hardwork, gritty determination, and humble accountability to achieve.
And so because we have enemies that are looking to bring us down, we must seek to get the walls of self-control up so that these attacks are easier and easier to win.
Another reason self-control is so necessary is because self-control is the mark of a mature Christian. We see this most clearly in Titus 1:8, which is a list of what qualifies a man to be an elder of a local church. Remember, that elders are the men who are the most spiritually mature and lead the church by example of their godly life (1 Tim 4:12,16; 1 Pet 5:2-3; Jas 3:1). And so, it is no surprise that in the list of qualifications is the mature mark of self-control.
Think about it: if a man lacks self-control, we see them as immature, right? Think about the workplace. If a man does his work diligently and with integrity, even in the face of maybe gaining advantage if he cuts corners, he is respected and a great model to follow. We might say he is mature because he does what is right. On the other hand, if a man is willing to cut corners just to get the job done and does his work sloppy, even if it is socially acceptable, no one wants to follow that kind of a man, because you don’t know when he will cheat or cut corners with you. He is unreliable and lacks maturity. This lack of self-control is exactly why no culture automatically trusts younger people with a lot of responsibility, because older folks understand that they lack the maturity to do so, because they lack the experience of self-control.
And, by the way, who was the most mature believer ever? Jesus Christ. He only ever walked by the Spirit and He is our best example of what maturity looks like. And His maturity included self-control because He never gave into sin, but restrain sin in every thought, word, and deed.
So to pursue self-control is a sign of godly maturity and a sign of a Christlike walk. Self-control is not perfection, but means you have a clear conscience, you walk with integrity, and you consistently and constantly submit to the Holy Spirit.
With these two reasons for why self-control is necessary, I will show you next time HOW TO pursue self-control.
Until then consider again Galatians 5: “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.”