The Fruit of the Spirit - Self-Control

August 18, 2020

We’ve been looking at the fruit of the Spirit for the last few weeks—the fruit God grows in us as we live and abide in Christ. Tim Keller’s lens has served us well as we have looked at a strong definition of the fruit, its opposite, and its counterfeit. I think it is instructive and helpful that the list began with love and ends with self-control. Love is the all-encompassing fruit that contains all the other fruit, and self-control, guided by the Spirit, is necessary to keep our sinful nature from rising up and destroying or tainting the fruit.

Self-control is the ability to choose the important thing over the urgent. That sounds simple and easy, but any honest, self-aware adult knows that it is not. Too often our desires trump everything else. When we want something, without self-control our desires take over kindness, faithfulness, patience—you name it. Every fruit of the Spirit will be undermined by a lack of self-control. Our desires amp up our emotions and we determine that getting them met is urgent. We then choose the temporary over the permanent, the urgent over the important, the momentarily satisfying over the significant.

The opposite of a self-controlled person is a driven, impulsive, uncontrolled person. That person compulsively goes after what they want, and they pursue it to the point of actually being driven. They may believe they are “self-controlled” and disciplined in their pursuit of it, but this desire becomes the first thing they think about and the thought that compels them until they satisfy the desire. Most often they find that obtaining the prize they pursue does not provide the satisfaction and fulfillment they believed it would, so soon they are possessed with another compulsion, and it is off to the races again. Persons without self-control often mow others down in their drive to get what they feel they need or deserve.

Counterfeit self-control is a step beyond the driven nature of the opposite of self-control. The counterfeit version actually does involve willpower, but it is not for the good of others, and certainly is not produced by abiding in Jesus and having the Spirit of God shape our natures and reactions. It is willpower exercised for the personal good of the person, for the purpose of achieving a goal, pacifying an “idol,” or accomplishing something that is of great value to the person. The “idol” could be physical fitness, a relationship, a job, a position, financial security—anything they believe will make them more significant. This idol is what drives them, and the pride that comes from the accomplishment.

You know the people with counterfeit self-control. They get a lot of attention for their success in a particular area. They are touted for their physical fitness or financial status, and little or no attention will be paid to the unhappy and hurt people they may have tromped over and ignored on their way to their goal. Their willpower is simply applauded.

The fruit of the Spirit that is self-control steers clear of driven behavior and self- centeredness. It pursues godly goals, of course, but does it while staying centered in all the other fruit of the Spirit. The reason God wants us to grow in self-control ties in with all the other fruit of the Spirit that are listed in Galatians 5:22-23.

We are in a battle. As we read in 1 John 2:16, “All that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” That is Satan’s idea for the world, as we see in John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”

God’s idea for the world, on the other hand, includes having His children demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Pray daily for God to develop these qualities in you, including the self-control to demonstrate the fruit and avoid temptation. The more we abide in Jesus the more we will have the control to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is how Christians show God’s character and message in their thoughts and actions. We are to be walking billboards for the kingdom of God and His righteousness.