I realised something recently that sounds like a contradiction. Imagine “self-control” without any “self” involved! Is such a thing really possible?
Self-control is a major challenge for people. Many struggle for the whole life to rein in their words, addictions, urges, reactions and so on. Most resolutions that people make are probably focused on gaining some new level of control over their actions, thoughts, words, spending, and so on. Self-control is a major component of personal development and making progress in life.
I Will Succeed
We admire people with strong wills, who can overcome obstacles and achieve things that others cannot win over. Losing weight, getting fit, quitting smoking and slugging through difficult studies are just some of the areas in which people have shown their determination to succeed.
Determination and self-control by sheer willpower is seen as a great achievement and a true credit to those who display such things. These are the people held up as examples to us all.
If It Is To Be …
The saying goes, “If it is to be, it is up to me!”
That catch-cry is meant to rally people to improved resolve of will to push ahead and make the changes that need to be made. They are told not to rely on others or to dump their challenge onto some other person, but personally persist, until they get the breakthrough.
It’s great stuff. We applaud those self-reliant people who know that it is up to them to make things happen, and who get off their chair and get things done.
But, In The Bible…
However, despite the popular human notions of self-will and self-reliance, leading to self-control, the Bible has something to say about this stuff. And what the Bible has to say is quite surprising. It is the Bible that suggests to us the idea of Self-Control without “self”.
Let me show you where I get this from. Self-Control is shown to be a “Fruit of the Holy Spirit”.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, he listed a bunch of things that were the fruit coming from the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. Self-control is listed as one of them.
Fruit of the Spirit
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, self-control: against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22,23
The King James Bible uses the word “temperance” in that text, while modern translations use the updated term we are more familiar with: self-control.
So, self-control is a “fruit of the Spirit”. Self-Control does not come from “self”, but rather comes from the work of an agent separate to our “self”. It comes from the work of the Holy Spirit of God.
It is Not Up To Me!
Imagine that! If it is to be, it is NOT up to me. If it is to be, it is dependent on God. If self-control is to be part of my life, I am dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit to create that fruit within me!
That does not mean that I am relieved of the responsibility to gain self-control. What it does mean is that the best way to get self-control is not through the determination of my own will, but through yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.
I have seen many people whose personality and character has been transformed as the Holy Spirit worked in their life. Anger and hardness gave way to joy and peace. Explosive reactions and addictions fell away and a quiet spirit emerged instead. When the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in a life the fruit is really sweet.
Fruit not Sweat
Notice that self-control is listed among the “fruit” of the Holy Spirit. Trees don’t groan and struggle to pop their produce at the end of the limb. You do not get kept awake at night by the sound of fruit trees grunting to grow their fruit. You do not see fruit trees in a lather of sweat as they struggle to be fruitful.
Fruit just grows. It starts small and gradually fills out until it is ripe and ready to be eaten.
And that’s how it is with self-control in our lives. When we yield to the Holy Spirit and allow God to minister into our lives we develop lovely, fresh fruit. There is no sweat or struggle. We don’t curse ourselves and chant encouragements to ourselves to keep pressing on. It just happens naturally and almost unseen on a day to day basis.
Self-control is a Fruit of the Spirit, not a Work of the Flesh.
Worship Will or God
The apostle Paul, writing in a letter to the church in Colosse, used the term “will worship” (Colossians 2:23). He referred to those who become committed to human rules and religious ordinances. They display great discipline in neglecting themselves and maintaining the various rules they have adopted.
People caught up in such things, however, are not living in the freedom purchased for them by Christ. If you have chosen to follow Christ, then you won’t be party to those things and the will worship that goes along with them.
Serving religious duties can cause those with strong wills, who keep the rules most diligently, to look better than others. But all that counts for nothing. We are not to worship our will, but to worship God.
I want you to gain self-control. I want you to have so much of it that you rule your own spirit and are stronger than the mighty ones who capture whole cities.
“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit is better than he that takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32
Don’t build up your self-control by reliance on your own self-will. Build self-control by looking outside your “self”. Find it in the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit in your life. Be filled with the Spirit. Be baptised in the Holy Spirit. Be led by the Spirit. Do not quench the Spirit. Soak in Bible truth for it is the sword of the Spirit. Walk in the Spirit every day. Pray in the Spirit and sing in the Spirit. Stay under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
As you let the Holy Spirit into more and more of your life you will discover that self-control is developing within you, without any demands upon your self-will. And along with it will be “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness and faith”. Now, that’s a pretty good deal, eh?