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August 28th, 2008 at 3:42 pm

The Fruit of Self Control

The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

When we think of the Ten Commandments we remember that most of them are framed in the negative – “thou shalt not” – yet each “shalt not” implies a “shalt.” I am not to murder. I am to preserve and protect human life. I am not to steal. I am to guard and protect my neighbor’s property.

Some of the fruit of the Spirit are more inherently active and some are more inherently passive. Faithfulness is more active. Patience is more passive. As we get to the last of the Fruit of the Spirit we are in the passive realm – the realm of “not doing.”

The moral necessity of self control comes into focus when we consider the works of the flesh listed out just before the works of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-21:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Did you ever see the Dennis the Menace movie with Walter Matthau? You may remember that Dennis, just before he would do something really bad, would twiddle his fingers. You could see the internal struggle in his facial expressions. He usually gave in.

Self control almost always involves an internal struggle of some kind. Should I? I want to. I shouldn’t. I want to. It’s wrong. I really want to…

It hurts to say no. Our spirit rebels against the pain of “no.” “No,” in the moment makes us feel diminished, alone, weary. Look at the list again of the works of the flesh. There are a lot of “no’s” required. It helps not at all when our friends, our bosses, or our peers are saying “yes.” “No” can get us ostracized, passed over, forgotten.

Because it is hard to say no to what we feel compelled to do, or what we may want to do, it really does take the power of the Spirit working in us to give us victory and to overcome the pain of the “no.”

But we must say “no” to the flesh to say “yes” to the Spirit. It’s a battle. The Apostle Paul speaks of beating his body into submission. He also promised that God would always provide an escape route, a way to say “no.” We simply never have to say “yes” to sin.

I come from a fairly hot tempered Irish family. When I get agitated it is very hard for me not to raise my voice and day things I wish I wouldn’t say. Even if the thing may be justifiable to say it is usually not helpful. It is hard to force myself into silence or into peaceful replies or responses. I still have a ways to go.

We face a threefold enemy of the world the flesh and the devil. We have these desires or inclinations of the flesh within us. The world, through media, collective values, and peer pressure (at all ages) discourages self control. If we have an urge we should satisfy it. What could be more right than the urges and desires within. How can we be our authentic selves if we don’t obey what comes naturally to us? Our entire economy is premised upon our lack of contentment and our inability to say “no.”

We have to say “no” to hate to say “yes” to love. We have to say “no” to laziness to say “yes” to faithfulness. We have to say “no” to immorality to say “yes” to goodness.

I wish I could say the battle will stop. But it won’t. We’re in it for the long haul. Once we think we’ve mastered one temptation up pops another one.

Thankfully there is also joy in obedience. This is the blessing of self control. When we exercise it, despite how painful it may be at the time, and despite how alone with God we may feel, the Spirit is there to minister to us, and to give us peace and to give us strength. He is there to minister the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit to us. Saying “no” may be painful at the time but as we grow in our ability to walk by the Spirit we do become stronger, and we do know a deeper joy. There is no joy to saying “yes” to the flesh. There is a deep and abiding joy to saying “yes” to the Spirit.

In Christ,

Joel

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