Most of us have heard the fruit of the Spirit since we were children. I find it entirely fitting that Paul begins the list with love and ends it with self-control. It seems as though both love and self-control should be present if we hope to persevere in bearing all of the fruit inbetween these two bookends.
Everyone struggles with self-control to varying degrees. We all have habits or tendencies that range from the simple to the more complex and debilitating. A quick temper, a distructive habit or addiction can hurt us and those around us, even destroy our lives. Some may need self-control because they are lazy, while workaholics may need self control to learn to back off and relax. We can easily make excuses and deceive ourselves when it comes to our lack of self-control. As Christians, we are not immune to the consequences of our lack of self control. While those with faith have new hearts by the power of Christ, we still battle ungodly impulses coursing through our veins. And while we know that Scripture commands us to “deny ourselves” and “crucify our flesh,” our weary and weak flesh is dominated and driven this way and that by the desires of the flesh and the pride of life.
Webster’s Dictionary defines self-control as: control over your feelings/ actions; restraint exercised over one’s own impulses.
This definition is insufficient to me when it comes to the fruit of self control in regards to a Christian believer. This definition makes no mention of the person and work of Jesus Christ. If a person has self control only as Webster’s defines it, then the strength comes from within themselves and they will receive the credit and glory. For a Christian believer, self-control is not about bringing our bodies/ mind/ emotions under our own control, but rather, it is about bringing them under the control of Christ by the power of the Spirit. True Christian self-control is from outside of ourself, and because God is the source of it, he merits the credit and the glory.
With that said, we do have a responsibility in the matter. While we are not the source of self-control, we are intimately involved in receiving this gift, opening it up and applying it to our lives. This gift is not just dropped in our lap, but received through hard work and commitment. The Israelites did not inherit the Promised Land by sitting on the other side of the Jordan and waiting for it to materialize. No, they crossed the Jordan and went to work, winning the Land. God gave them victory, but they received that victory actively, not passively. They battled. Likewise, we must set our hand to the plough and get to work. We must pick up our weapons and wage war on sin.
We will not live a life of perfect self-control in this fallen world, but self-control should be ever increasing in the life of a maturing believer. When a child is born, they lack self control. They have to wear diapers and be carried and coddled as they cannot control their muscles or their moods. However, the baby will develop more and more self control, which is a sure sign of healthy growth and maturity. The same ought to be said of Christian believers. The more we can allow the power of Christ to control us, the more evidence there is of our growth and maturity in our faith.
Scripture tells us if our eye causes us to sin, pluck it out. If our hand causes us to sin, cut it off. These members of our body would cause us to sin because of a lack of self-control. The issue is not our eye or our hand but our heart. In exhibiting self-control, we do not simply learn to say no to ourselves, but more than that, we learn that incomeptent and incapable to do it on our own. So when we inevitably fail to control ourselves, let us not look inward to our weakenesses but let us look upward to His strength.12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. –Romans 6:12-14