The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control Galatians 5:23
August 24, 2014
- Last of the nine virtues listed as the fruit of the Spirit
- Self-control is the most difficult one for many people. A number of people joked that they were going to skip church this week because the sermon would be too convicting!
- Joking aside, the reality is that self-control is elusive. Our society has, for the most part, given up on it. What used to be considered a virtue is now considered restrictive, legalistic, controlling, old-fashioned, and even foolish.
• The message that comes from culture: Be controlled by self, don’t control yourself. Whatever impulses, whatever desires, whatever feelings, whatever thoughts, follow them, do them, indulge them.
• Perhaps this is exemplified most clearly in the message, “Listen to your heart.” It’s the name of a popular song. How many movies have a line, like, “What does your heart tell you?”
• The slide by the world into an absence of self-control is to be expected. 2 Tim. 3:1-3.
• This list describes the character of our world today, and the lack of self-control is part of the overall nature of it.
• One scholar wrote concerning society’s degradation, “It is not so much that they lead a dissolute life, but rather that they cannot control themselves, and so they no longer act as human beings–they are amoral beings.”
• Spicq is arguing that part of what makes us human is our ability to control ourselves. We are not savage beasts acting on impulse or mere instinct. Or, at least, that’s not how God designed us to be. But when we reject self-control, we descend into a lifestyle that is amoral, that can no longer even recognize right from wrong. It doesn’t even desire to recognize right from wrong. It lives, or attempts to live, as if these categories do not exist.
- As Christians, we must not follow the world down a path of self-indulgence. In fact, [Proposition] Faithful obedience to Jesus requires self-control.
• A Christian who lacks self-control will find his sanctification short-circuited and his holiness hindered.
• Why? Socrates taught that self-control was the foundation of all virtue. That certainly over- states the case. The Gospel is the foundation of all virtue, including self-control. But think about how important self-control is in the Christian life, just focusing on the fruit of the Spirit.
- We might think about patience. Patience means that we are able to endure because we trust in God’s sovereign plan. This endurance demands self-control. If you remember, we talk about the connection between patience and forgiveness. When someone has deeply offended you or wronged you, it requires self-control not to break out in fury against them. It requires self-control not to gossip about them to others, but to bite your tongue.
- Or we might think about gentleness from last week. The gentle person must have self- control. It’s an integral part of acting in a gentle way toward others.
• Many of the Christian virtues are connected to self-control. This makes sense because the fruit of the Spirit is a unity. You cannot have one without the others, at least not as the Bible defines these terms. So faithful obedience to Jesus requires self-control.
- That raises a few questions about self-control, which we’ll look at this morning. Let’s start with...
I. What is self-control?
A. Let’s start with a definition. Self-control is mastery over natural desires and is produced by the Spirit in all believers. There are two crucial elements to this definition, and I want to look at them in reverse.
1. Self-control is produced by the Spirit in all believers.
a) This particular aspect of the Spirit’s fruit can almost sound contradictory. Self- control: the ability to control myself. But isn’t the goal Christ-control? Shouldn’t the goal be to have Christ control me? Didn’t Paul write, For the love of Christ controls us (2 Cor 5:14)? How does self-control fit in this equation?
b) We have to understand that the fruit is the ability to control oneself. But the power, the ability itself, comes from the Spirit of God. It is not self-generated self- control. It is Spirit-generated self-control.
c) This distinction is important for a couple reasons:
(1) It separates it from pagan concepts of deprivation and an ascetic lifestyle.
(a) The Neo-Pythagoreans believed in a type of dualism, that the body had to be kept in check through asceticism, that is, severe bodily treatment and discipline, so that the soul could rise to God.
(b) The path to self-control is paved with severe treatment of the body, according to this group. In some cases, you literally have to beat the body into submission. You deprive it of food just for the sake of deprivation. The way you teach yourself self-control is to ritually and continually and painfully deny yourself what the body desires and even what it needs.
(c) This self-deprivation is foreign to the New Testament, except when it condemns it. The way we learn self-control is not by harming our bodies. Self-control comes from the Spirit of God, not from some humanly devised rituals or masochistic treatment of oneself.
(2) It reminds us that are responsibly dependent on God. What do I mean by that?
(a) We are dependent on God. We cannot generate self-control. We cannot master our natural desires on our own. It is an ability and power that God gives through the Spirit.
(b) We are responsible to master these desires. It is still self-control. As Christians, we must control ourselves. We must not wait around as if God is going to just take over while we walk around like robots or like puppets on a string. God wants us to be responsible for controlling our desires. We must do it. We must do it by His power and by His Spirit, but we must do it.
c) So, self-control is produced by the Spirit in all believers.
2. Self-control is mastery over natural desires. I have chosen this phrase, natural
desires, very purposefully.
a) Natural desires connote sinful desires, at least in our context. When we think of what comes natural to us as sinners, we probably think of sin. The natural person is opposed to God and God’s wisdom. Natural can have a dark side.
b) Natural desires connote human desires. The desires therefore do not have to be sinful in themselves. They can be things that are required because we are human beings, like sleep, food, drinks, and so on.
c) Self-control means mastery over every kind of desire we have, whether it is a desire that is inherently evil, such as the desire for revenge when wronged, or whether it is a desire that is morally neutral, like sleeping, which is neither good or bad in itself.
d) What we need to understand about morally neutral desires, like sleeping or eating, is that they can become sinful desires when they are indulged beyond what is necessary and reasonable. If we do not control even the normal, human desires, they will overtake us and enslave us.
B. To add some more clarity, Matt 23:25.
1. The word translated self-indulgence is the opposite of self-control.
2. This helps clarify what self-control means. What is the self-indulgent person like? He gives in and satisfies and indulges every desire he has.
a) Does he desire sleep? He sleeps.
b) Does he desire food? He eats.
c) Does he desire sexual pleasure? He commits acts of sexual immorality.
d) Does he desire a good time? He carouses and drinks and parties the night away.
3. The self-indulgent person gives in to whatever impulses he feels at the moment. Jesus said this characterized the Pharisees. Did they want something? They took it, even if it wasn’t theirs to take. They were self-indulgent, thieving hypocrites. They did not control their desires; their desires controlled them.
C. Self-control,then,istheoppositeofself-indulgence.Itismasteryovernaturaldesires and it is produced by the Spirit of God in all believers. Now, let’s move on to the second question...
II. Why is self-control necessary?
A. What do I mean by this question?
1. I think we understand that self-control is necessary at some level. We all recognize that to act on every thought or impulse we experience would be destructive both to ourselves and to others.
2. But here’s the thing: the level we are willing to accept as self-control is far too low. For most people, keeping their desires generally in check is good enough. But that’s not biblical self-control. Remember, self-control is mastery over your natural desires.
3. And this is where we need to focus. Why should we learn to master our desires?
B. It’s one of the reasons Jesus died - Titus 2:11-14
1. The grace of God teaches us self-control. Notice verses 11-12.
a) This point is absolutely critical. Some people think that grace means you can now do whatever you want, follow whatever urges or desires you have, because God’s grace covers all your sins, so sin doesn’t matter that much.
b) While it’s true that God’s grace does cover every sin a believer will ever commit, it’s also true that God’s grace teaches us not to sin. It teaches us to have self- control. It teaches us to live godly. It teaches us to deny worldly desires. It teaches us to say no to the flesh.
c) If you reject self-control, if you say you don’t need to master your natural desires, then what you’re saying is that you don’t understand grace. Because grace teaches you to do these things.
2. Grace teaches us self-control because Jesus died to make us pure. Notice verses 13-14. Jesus died, according to this passage, to make us zealous for good deeds.
a) We must master our natural desires so that they submit and conform to the desires of Jesus Christ.
b) Jesus died not so that you would be zealous to indulge your desires but so that you would be zealous to do His will.
3. If we treasure the cross, we will treasure its purpose as well. The person who lives a self-indulgent life, the person who has no desire for self-control, shows contempt for Christ and His cross. He shows contempt for God and His grace.
4. If we love the cross, we will want to learn self-control. We will want to learn to master our desires so that every single one submits to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Because that’s one reason Jesus went to the cross, to purify us, to teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires, and to make us eager to do good deeds that glorify His name.
C. It will ensure fruitfulness - 2 Peter 1:5-8
1. Here we have Peter’s version of the Spirit’s fruit. It’s a list of virtues that every
believer should seek to cultivate in his or her life. In verse 6, we see self-control.
2. Peter anticipates the why question in verse 8. Why should we cultivate all these virtues? Why learn to master our natural desires? Notice v. 8. When we possess these qualities, such as self-control, we ensure that we will be useful and fruitful in our knowledge of Christ.
3. You can have knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and be unfruitful and useless. Peter warns his readers later on that such fruitless and useless people should have no certainty about their salvation. It is a sobering reality that we can know lots of great theology, we can memorize lots of Bible verses, we can read books by great pastors and Christian scholars, and all that knowledge can be useless.
4. We avoid that by cultivating, among other things, self-control. See, what good is it if I know all the right things to say and do and think, but I have not mastered my desires? I will never be able to use that knowledge for anything useful or fruitful.
5. This reminds me of a former Phoenix Suns basketball player named Richard Dumas. He was a small forward on the Suns in the early- to mid-90s. He was a star rookie on the 1992-93 team that went to the NBA Finals, when he averaged almost 16 points and 5 rebounds per game. If you ever watched Dumas play, you know he had massive talent and could have been an all-star or even possibly an MVP caliber player. But Richard Dumas never amounted to anything in the NBA.
a) After the 1993 season, he went to drug rehab. He came back to the Suns in 1995, and this time only averaged 5.5 points per game in 15 games.
b) He then went to the 76ers, where he played 39 games and averaged just over 6 points per game.
c) Today, Richard Dumas is awaiting a trial to begin next month for eight felony counts of Organized Retail Theft.
d) It’s such a sad story of a person who could have risen to the top of the basketball world and been set for life financially, but who, because he had no self-control, and has never learned it, never was fruitful in basketball and now very well could be sent to prison for eight felonies.
6. That’s a sad story, but what is even more tragic is when someone knows the truth of Christ, and does the same thing spiritually because they have no self-control. They do not learn to master their desires, and so they become enslaved to their desires, leaving them fruitless and useless in their knowledge.
7. The good news is that the fruit of the Spirit is self-control, and as we learn self- control, we ensure fruitfulness and usefulness in Christ’s kingdom.
D. It prepares us for Jesus’ coming (Rom 13:11-14)
1. Paul exhorts us not to make any provision for the flesh or its desires. Notice v. 14. While he doesn’t use the word self-control, it’s the same idea. Don’t allow anything into your life that will indulge the desires of the flesh, the natural desires that can draw you away from Christ and His will if not held in check by the Spirit.
2. Notice why we need to do this in verses 11-12. The motivation Paul gives is the arrival of salvation. That means nothing less than the return of Christ, the resurrection from the dead. And as every day passes, we get nearer and nearer to that moment.
3. The point is clear: you’ve indulged evil desires long enough. The time is short. You only have so many days left to serve Christ before your life is evaluated and judged by Him. So now is the time to lay aside the deeds of darkness. Now is the time to put on the armor of light. Now is the time to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh and its desires.
4. If you want to be ready when salvation is consummated, when the resurrection of the dead takes place, then you need to practice self-control now. You need to lay aside wickedness and every natural desire that violates the law of Christ. Make no provision for the flesh or its desires. Jesus is nearer to coming now than when you believed.
E. So why is self-control necessary? It’s one of the reasons Jesus died, it will ensure fruitfulness, and it will prepare you for Jesus’ coming.
III. How can you learn self-control?
A. Thisiswheretherubbermeetstheroad.Wecantalkaboutself-controlalldaylong,but we must learn it. We must practice it. We must implement this mastery over our desires into our lives. So how do we do that? I want to give you three steps to learn this focusing on 1 Cor. 9:25. Notice what Paul says.
B. Focus on the goal.
1. Paul reminds the Corinthians why they exercise self-control. Because we receive an imperishable reward.
a) The analogy is drawn with athletics. The successful athlete always has his mind fixed on the prize. He knows why he is working out. He knows why he is training. It’s the old saying, “Eyes on the prize.”
b) As Christians, we need to remember why we discipline ourselves, why we learn self control, why this is important. We’ve just talked about that.
2. When we get tired, when the flesh starts barking at us, when we want to indulge the flesh, we need to remember where we are going and why we are going there.
3. There’s a book on time management called “Tell Your Time,” and in that book the author draws an analogy that is helpful in this regard. Imagine you planned a trip to Switzerland. You spent months planning where to go, saving to buy the tickets, and buying all kinds of Swiss gear and new luggage. The day of the big trip arrives, and you get to the airport. You make your way through security, and you suddenly have a realization. You’re in the wrong terminal. You thought your flight left at 8 AM but it’s actually leaving at 8 PM. And you will have to walk, carrying all of your carry on bags, to another terminal, and then sit and wait for hours. But what are you going to do? So you start walking, when you pass by a gate and hear that the flight is about to take off. You think to yourself, “Wow, what timing! What good fortune! If I board this flight, I won’t have to walk, and I won’t have to wait! I can leave right now!” The only problem is, this flight isn’t going to Switzerland. It’s going to Siberia.
4. Now, certainly none of us would board the flight to Siberia just to avoid walking and waiting for a while. But how many of us do the exact same thing, metaphorically speaking, spiritually, because we don’t focus on the goal? The goal is Christlikeness. The goal is holiness. But oh, how it requires we wait! And oh, how it requires we walk! And we are tired. We have competing desires, desires that come so much easier than holiness. And so we make very little progress in holiness, or we do things that actually take us to another destination, sin.
5. We must focus on the goal. Like a traveler or like an athlete, if we are not focused on where we are going and why we are going there, we will not have self-control.
C. Recognize the effort required.
1. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the Greeks had the Olympic games, and the training required for the athletes was rigorous and intense.
a) Athletes were required to abstain from all alcohol, from luxurious living, and from immoral behavior. Anything that might negatively impact their bodies was eliminated.
b) This meant that they had to abstain even from things that were not bad in themselves, but were harmful for someone who wanted to compete at the highest level of competence.
c) One ancient writer described the required training this way: “Do you wish to gain the prize at the Olympic games? Consider the requisite preparations and the consequence. You must observe a strict regimen; must live on food which is unpleasant; must abstain from all delicacies; must exercise yourself at the prescribed times in heat and in cold; you must drink nothing cool, must take no wine as usual; you must put yourself under a pugilist [athletic trainer, especially boxing], as you would under a physician, and afterwards, enter the lists [of competitors].”
d) Another wrote poetically, “A youth who hopes the Olympic prize to gain, all arts must try, and every toil sustain; the extremes of heat and cold must often prove, and shun the weakening joys of wine and love.”
2. Even today, the greatest athletes are the ones that train most rigorously, recognizing the effort required.
a) Jerry Rice, the greatest WR in the history of the NFL, was known for his rigorous training.
b) His diet was regulated. During the off-season, when other players went home to be with their families and friends, Rice was in the gym every day, working out. He was on the field every day, running practice patterns.
c) When people have asked what set Rice apart from the rest of the WR who have played the game, the answer comes back again and again, it was his discipline and dedication to the game. His self-control.
3. To be self-controlled will not be easy. It will require great effort. It will come at great cost. When others are enjoying leisure, you may be in prayer. While others are at sporting events, you may be worshiping with the saints. While others are sleeping, you may be reading the Word of God. While others are enjoying a free evening, you may be discipling someone or serving in ministry. While others are eating, you may be fasting. While others are purchasing the latest fashions, you may be giving to support the ministry of the Gospel here or abroad. Nevertheless, it is worth it. We stay focused on the prize, and we recognize the effort required.
4. Listen to what Paul told Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:7-8. Yes, great effort is required, but this effort holds promise not only for this life but the life to come! The strenuous exertion is worth it.
D. For those of you who are now exhausted, here’s a little relief. Start where you are.
1. I remember Randi and I were going to run a 5K a couple years ago. I hadn’t run in quite a while, at least not in any serious way. And I didn’t begin by working my way up from couch potato to 5K athlete. In fact, early on in my training I ran a 5K to see how fast I could do it. Now, by the time the race came around, I had shin splints. I made it through the race, but it was uncomfortable.
2. A good exercise program will always allow you to start where you are and work your way up.
3. And that’s what we need to do spiritually. If you have very little self-control right now, recognize the need to grow. But also recognize that jumping into a severe regimen might be a little too much all at once. Here are some suggestions.
a) If you’re not serving in any ministry areas because you’re too tired, or you have other interests, or whatever other reason you have, just pick one thing to do and start with that. Serve in one ministry. It can even be a temporary ministry for a special event or something, but find something to do to make a start and mastering your desires so that you live your life doing God’s will and not the natural things you want to do in the flesh.
b) Maybe you have no self-control when it comes to money, and so you don’t give to support the Lord’s work, or you only give sporadically. You need to recognize the problem, recognize where you are, and take a step in the right direction. Maybe that means you start to give 3% or 5% of your income for now. Maybe that means you set a fixed dollar amount for a while that you can manage. You start where you are. You find someone to help you understand budgeting and money management. You learn how to handle money so that you can give generously and faithfully as you grow in your self-control.
c) Many other areas we could address: time management, Bible reading, prayer, diet, and so on. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control. If you’re not exercising mastery over your desires, take one step in the right direction. Then master that step and take another. You’ll be amazed at how the Spirit grows self-control in your life when you are obedient step by step, day by day, moment by moment.
- The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
- If we would be obedient to Christ, if we would carry out His desires and not our natural impulses and desires from the flesh, we must learn self-control.
- Self control is mastery over our natural desires and is produced by the Spirit in all believers.