The fruits are born out of love but they are supported by the ability to master our sinful impulses. To be under self-control is not to pretend that temptation doesn’t exist, but instead to have the humility to acknowledge that we need deliverance from it. We cannot live out the fruit without yielding control from the flesh and to the Spirit! Our call — and indeed, our opportunity and blessing — as Christians is that we can submit to the will of our Father.
What is Self-Control?
When you think of self-control, what do you think of? For many, an easy illustration is of the calorie-counter who passes on a second slice of cake. But self-control goes much further than managing our physical hunger and love of sweets. Below is a more expansive definition.
Self-control: the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites.
Because of our sinful nature, we are constantly bombarded with temptations. But what we want is not always what is right! And as many of us know all too well, what we want is not always even good for us. To be under self-control is to be able to manage our emotions, feelings, and the desires of the flesh in a way that honors God and loves our neighbor. To be under self-control is not to pretend that temptation doesn’t exist, but instead to have the humility to acknowledge that we need deliverance from it.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. 1 Peter 5:6
The world encourages us to live like our “authentic selves.” The world tells us that doing so is the ultimate good. But Christ-followers know that they live in a sinful and broken world. We know that, if we follow what our “selves” want to do, we’ll become less and less like Jesus. When we let our “self” call the shots, it will run amuck. We will only be committing the acts of the flesh:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. — Galatians 5:19-21
Biblical self-control does not mean putting oneself in control. It means putting the self under control. If we are to put ourselves under the control of ourselves, we haven’t really done anything, have we? We’re back to where we started: living self-focused lives, for the benefit of our “selves.”
But our call — and indeed, our opportunity and blessing — as Christians is that we can yield control over to our God! Once we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are given the Holy Spirit who will guide us toward living like Christ.
Last, But Not Least!
Why is self-control listed last of all the nine characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit? Hint: it’s not that it’s the least important!
Love is listed first for a reason. If the fruit of the Spirit aren’t born out of love, then they aren’t from the Spirit. Love is the fuel for all the rest of being genuinely Christlike! For example, you cannot be truly kind if you do not have love as your motivation. You cannot be good without being loving, or else you’d be little more than a Pharisee. There can be no peace apart from the love of God, and we cannot bring peace to others in times of angst without first loving them.
Love answers the why behind the rest of the fruit.
The fruits are born out of love but they are supported by the ability to master our sinful, fleshy impulses. We cannot live out the fruit without yielding control from the flesh and to the Spirit! We cannot submit to God’s will but leave our flesh behind the wheel.
Without self-control, you can’t respond to people with kindness and patience when things don’t go your way. You can’t look at the damaged world we live in and bring joy and peace in response without submitting to God.
Practical Steps for Self-Control
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. — 1 Peter 5:8
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. — Ephesians 6:11
To remain in step with the Spirit, and to avoid falling victim to Satan’s temptations, we need to be alert and of sober mind. This goes beyond just avoiding drunkenness.
To be alert and of sober mind means you’re collected in spirit. You have a number of tools at your disposal to guard against Satan’s schemes:
- Center your heart and mind on the truth by being in the Word daily
- Pray, especially when your self-control is tested. Read and live out 1 Peter 5:7
- Remember that you are a son or daughter of the King. With Jesus, you have already overcome Satan and you are saved from sin.
- Remember your role: you get to call Him Father, and He loves you. So, submitting to His will is for your own good!
- Live in community to keep yourself accountable. You need more than you to protect yourself from evil. God has given you the Spirit, and he’s also given you the community of believers.