Summary: self-control is about the Holy Spirit exposing the lies around us for what they really are, and thus setting us free to choose that which is right and best. To illustrate this sermon, I made chocolate covered strawberries for everyone!
Chocolate Covered Strawberries: The Fruit of Self-Control
Gal 5:13-26 October 24, 2004
“Try Harder!” How often do you hear that? How often do you feel that?? Life isn’t going the way you want it to, the solution must be to try harder. To work longer hours to get a promotion. To try harder to be a good student. To try harder to be a good parent, a stronger athlete, or a better patient. We think the answer is to be more motivated, to put more effort in, to simply “try harder.” Granted, sometimes if we’ve been lazy or neglectful, that is what we need. But more often than not, it isn’t very helpful. And when it comes to our spiritual lives, to simply yell “try harder!” is downright dangerous…
Fruit OF THE SPIRIT:
This morning we are beginning a new series on the fruit of the Spirit, which will take us through the advent season and into January, when it will be ok to have a foot of snow on the ground… Paul gives us a list of what are known as “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23, where he lists nine character qualities – we are going to look at one of those each week, starting with the last one and working our way backwards (which enables us to look at the qualities of love, joy, peace, and patience during the four weeks of Advent, as those are the major themes of Advent: it actually mapped out quite well!).
The last one is the fruit of self-control, but before we look at that I need to say this by way of introduction to each of the fruits of the Spirit: these character qualities are not about you and I trying harder. They are not about our effort, our work, our moral discipline. In fact, Paul’s point in the surrounding passage is exactly the opposite! These qualities are the work of God in us, not the work of us winning favor with God. They are about grace. They are about gifts. They are about God by the presence of the Holy Spirit doing what He wants in our lives. That is true of all of them, and I think that will become clear even as we talk about self-control.
Let’s back up and read the passage in context: Gal 5:13-26. (read). Before getting to self-control, let’s notice several of the main points leading up to the list of the fruits:
a. “called to be free” (vs. 13). Here is the over-arching idea behind the passage – it is about freedom. That is what God desires for us, that we be free to love and to be loved, and that is where it starts. It is actually one of the major themes of the entire book of Galatians. The Spirit of God lives within us so that we can be free.
Our society has a warped idea of freedom. We think freedom means that we can do whatever we feel like. If that were the case, self-control would almost seem to be the opposite of freedom – self-control would be denying ourselves something we wanted. In fact, freedom is the ability to choose that which we believe to be the best, and will in the long run bring us the things we want most – like greater joy, deeper love, an inner peace, etc... The freedom gives us the ability to choose that which is best. For example, we might have the freedom to eat nothing but chocolate bars. That might taste good, and it might be appealing (especially if you are a junior high boy…). But we know that would not be the best thing for us, in fact it might make us really quite ill. Self-control enables us to make the choices that are best for us, not just the choices that feel the best in the short term.
b. “live by the Spirit” (vs. 16). That freedom comes as we “live by the Spirit.” We do have a role to play, of course. We do have our part. But, and listen closely now, our part is not about trying harder, our part is about surrendering more. In many ways, living by the Spirit is about us actually doing less in our own strength and being more in tune with the Holy Spirit living inside us, and cooperating and surrendering to God’s control. It is as we surrender and live by the Spirit that God can set us free and then fill our lives with all of the good qualities listed in the “fruit” section.
Let me attempt to illustrate. I have a little black truck, which I use to get from place A to place B. Now, I don’t actually do the work – the engine in my truck does the work. I have to cooperate – I have to put in the fuel, start the ignition, regulate the speed – but it is not my effort that gets me from one place to another. It is actually kind of scary to consider, but it is really thousands of mini-explosions inside my engine that provide the power! Life by the Spirit is a little like that. The power is all from God. We choose to create the right environment, and then we let God provide the power and create the qualities within us that God desires.