Summary: The struggle for self-control goes on entirely inside an individual, but the results of self-control, or lack of it, show up entirely on the outside of a person.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
It’s probably fitting that “self-control” is the last fruit of the Spirit in our nine week study. It may be the most personal of all the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. It’s certainly the most inward looking. The struggle for self-control goes on entirely inside an individual, but the results of self-control, or lack of it, show up entirely on the outside of a person.
Our struggles with fear, anger, addictions, indulgence, laziness, escapism all happen inside of us. Our struggle is with ourselves; it’s private. Yet the evidence of the struggle, defeat or victory, is very public.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness can all be demonstrated on others. I can only demonstrate self-control on me.
But if self-control is me acting on me, why is it listed as a fruit of the Spirit? Isn’t it, by definition, self-generated; something I’m supposed to do on my own?
If we look at the worldly (carnal) idea of success, self-control plays heavily. The self-made man or woman is supposed to demonstrate self control; a person that has mastered his desires, exercise regimen, eating habits, positive mindset, and time management.
Self-control seems to be a pretty worldly facet of success. If we’re Christians, isn’t God supposed to be in control of us? Haven’t we surrendered our wills to His? Shouldn’t we be shooting for God control rather than self-control? It just doesn’t seem to fit as a fruit of the Spirit.
There’s got to be a reason it’s on the list.
The apostle Paul had a lot to say about self-control. He said, “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to – what I hate.”(Romans 7:15) And “When I want to do good I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.” (Romans 7:19)
This is Paul talking. He’s the guy that came up with the fruit of the Spirit list in the first place. It sounds like he’s totally out of control. It sounds like he finds the concept of self-control completely unreachable.
The same Paul wrote to the churches in Corinth, “So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I fight to win. I’m not just shadow-boxing or playing around.” (I Corinthians 9:26)
So Paul, super-apostle, tells the Christians in Rome, “… I really want to do what is right, but I can’t.” He tells the Corinthians, “… I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step.” And he tells the Galatians that “self-control” is a fruit of the Spirit.
This guy is all over the place.
Was Paul a hypocrite? Maybe he was totally out of control when he wrote to the Romans but then developed the habit by the time he wrote to the Corinthians and the Galatians. After all, Romans comes first in the New Testament, then Corinthians and Galatians.
Nice try. Paul’s letters in the New Testament aren’t in chronological order. Fact is, Paul wrote his letter to the churches in Corinth and Galatia before he wrote to the Romans.
So how can he preach that he’s got his act completely together; “I fight to win.” And then confess that he can’t control himself? “… when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.”
Paul wasn’t a schizoid or a hypocrite. And he didn’t have behavior issues; at least not any more than you or me. He was trying to get a point across.
Paul was telling the Christians in Rome about human nature. It’s human to want to behave one way but behave another. It’s human to try to do right, but end up doing wrong. It’s human to be totally out of control.
No matter how much it looks like a person has his act together, if he’s operating on his own power, from his own will and direction, he’s not really in control at all. The surface may look calm, but down inside there’s a war going on.
That’s why the world’s idea of human potential, purpose, success and self control doesn’t work. Man can’t do it on his own. There’s a piece missing. It’s in our nature – something we can get rid of.
Unless. We get rid of our human nature and take on another nature.
Now we’re beginning to get Paul’s point.
Real self-control goes against human nature. We’re a bundle of desires. We want what we want and we’ll scream til we get it. No matter how hard we try to put a lid on our desires, they’re going to pop up somewhere, some way. It’s human nature. The only way to get real self-control is to loose self-control. Sounds a little confusing, doesn’t it?