The Fruits: Self-Control

Self-Control. Self-Control comes last in Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit. I remember that in Sunday School, we would end the fruits of the Spirit song with a resounding cry of “self controollllllooollll!” This trait deserves the extra emphasis! Self-control is the ultimate expression of selflessness which is needed for the other fruits. This virtue might just be one of the most important traits a Christian can develop in their lives.

But self-control gets a bad rap—or at least, it doesn’t get a lot of mentions in sermons, Bible studies, and Christian conversations. Love, kindness, and faith get the focus but not self-control. I have the feeling this is because we live in a world that prioritizes freedom, “being yourself,” and individual passions (a little too similar to Paul’s description of the “last days” in 2 Tim. 3:1-5). We hear “self-control” and think “I’m being forced against my will.” While loving others is not controversial, restricting freedom is a great offense for most Americans no matter your political party, background, or social class.

There is danger in lacking self-control. Proverbs 25:29 highlights this with a metaphor: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Proverbs 29:11 contrasts the fool and wise person: “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” Just before the fruits of the Spirit, Paul in Galatians 5:19-21 has already described many activities that keep one from the Kingdom that involve giving into desires over wisdom, such as sexual immorality, idolatry, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, and drunkenness. An uncontrolled shelf often leads to trouble.

Though it doesn’t seem obvious, self-control is freedom. Controlling our desires means we are free from the effects of Sin, the world’s influence, or heightened emotions. When you don’t punch the mean person, when you don’t eat your fourth cookie, when you don’t cheat when the opportunity presents itself—you have released yourself from the bondage of the forces that wish to control us. Saying “no” isn’t easy, but it brings us true freedom. Paul, using a metaphor from athletics, urges us to be well-disciplined and have self-control (1 Cor. 9:24-27). We must reign in our body and mind so that we can complete our mission—run to the prize—which is the Kingdom of God.

While there are lots of good tricks to learn delayed gratification, only God can teach us to master true Christ-like self-control. When 2 Timothy 1:7 suggests “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” it means that when Christ is in us, we should be pouring out with self-control. Paul in Titus 2:11-12 also remarks, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” The more we learn about God’s desires for us, study the life of Jesus, and let the Spirit dwell in our souls, the better we become at self-control that glorifies God.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is self-control so hard to accomplish, even in little things?
  • What are the results of a lack of self-control for a Christian?
  • How would the world change if Christians approached life with self-control?
  • What does it mean to you that “self-control is freedom?” How does this idea change our approach to mastering our desires?
  • What actions can you take to practice self-control?

Prayer Prompt

Confess that you are prone to give into your desires, emotions, and the promptings of Sin. Ask that God’s Spirit dwells in you and strengthens your resolve as we find freedom in fighting off the forces that control us. Thank God for vanquishing the powers of Sin, so that we might live a free life.

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